The Londonderry & Lough Swilly Railway Company opened its first railway in 1863 and it operated 99 miles of railways extending from Derry westwards to Letterkenny, onwards to Burtonport and north to Carndonagh.
The Railway cut through the heart of the Lagan with stations at Carrowen, Newtowncunningham, Sallybrook, Pluck and into Letterkenny thus providing vital transport for farmers and facilitating the export of farm produce and cattle. By 1863 the City of Derry had become an important trade centre and a major port and the L & LS Railway was constructed to provide services from Derry to Donegal.
The line from Letterkenny to Burtonport travelled inland and avoided the coastal villages - the stations were located two or three miles away. The Railway lacked a catchment population and was heavily reliant on freight traffic which ultimately led to the railway's demise.
On the night of January 30th, 1925, a violent storm with winds reaching 120mph caused major destruction with a section of the railway being blown off the Owencarrow Viaduct (near Creeslough) resulting in four lives being lost and many serious injuries.
By the 1920s and 30s the Co. Donegal Railways (CDR), operating in the south of the county, were using petrol and then diesel railcars but the L & LSR did not adopt this option. It was decided instead by the company that its future lay with road transport and it started to buy suitable vehicles. Over the next two decades the road transport fleet expanded and the railway became increasingly unsustainable. The last Londonderry and Lough Swilly train ran from Letterkenny to Derry on August 8th 1953 and arrived 50 minutes late with 14 wagons of cattle for export.
Elements of History
The L & LS Railway relates to economic and social history in so far as in the mid 1800s, very shortly after the famine, the construction of 99 miles of railway, as well as embankments, bridges, station houses and good sheds etc provided valuable employment for locals. The operation of the railway provided employment for people as drivers and stokers as well as station masters and clerks.
The railway was a very efficient means of transport for fish from Burtonport, turf from Gweedore to the Lagan and for transporting farm produce and cattle that previously had to be walked to Derry for export. The Railway contributed a lot to the local economy during its 90 years in operation.
The introduction of passenger and freight trains into remote areas of Donegal heralded a new era in technology. The early decades of the century saw the L & LSR at its most developed with 99 miles of narrow gauge line, a fleet of locomotives and new passenger coaches and goods vans.
From a political perspective, L & LSR trains were used to transport British troops during the War of Independence resulting in the railway itself being attacked and damaged. Local staff frequently refused to operate the trains if troops were on board. On one occasion there was a running gunfight with plain clothed British agents. Throughout the L & LSR area the war was hard fought and many incidents involved the railway and trains until hostilities ceased in 1925.