RPSI Santa SpecialEach year the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland (RPSI) runs two sets of “Santa Specials”, one set operating out of Belfast, the other, out of Dublin. In general, the RPSI try to have two steam trains certified for use one the mainline at all times, one based in Whitehead near Belfast, and one based in Dublin. This means that in general, there is a steam train available to operate each of the two sets of Santa Specials.

2011 was not a normal year though. The venerable steam locomotive No.4’s boiler certificate had expired in the summer, before work was finished on former DESR loco No.461 which was due to replace it. It was hoped that No.461 would be ready to work the Santa Specials from Dublin by December, but it wasn’t to be, she failed to perform on her trials, and had to go back to Whitehead for more work. She’s in service now, but her debut was not until March 2012. This meant that, for a change, the Dublin Santa Specials would be worked by Irish Rail diesel locomotives.

I’m sure the lack of steam was a great disappointment for the children, but, for rail fans it was a real treat. There are no scheduled locomotive powered trains on the line between Dublin and Maynooth any more, so 12 scheduled locomotive hauled services was a real treat!

On the first two weekends the trains were hauled by 071 class locomotives, No.080 on the first weekend, and 083 on the second. These were once a common sight on the line, having worked the InterCity services between Dublin and Sligo via Maynooth until the modern Diesel Multiple Units (DMUs) replaced them. Back then they were still painted in Irish Rail’s old orange and black InterCity livery, but on their return last December they were painted in the new black and silver Irish Rail freight livery.

Irish Rail 071 Class Loco

On the last weekend the trains were hauled by 201 class loco No.215 in the new Green and Silver Irish Rail InterCity Livery. These locomotives have never been a common sight on the Sligo line. Before the line was renovated they were too heavy to run on it, and since the line has been renovated the new DMUs have worked the InterCity services. To be best of my knowledge this is only the second time that a 201 class locomotive has been to Maynooth. The first being on the 13th of December 2009 when steam train No.4 broken down and NIR loco No.8208 in Enterprise livery had to step and and work the day’s Santa Specials between Dublin and Maynooth.

Irish Rail 201 Class Loco

The first day the specials ran was the third of December. The weather was really not great, so I only ventured out to capture one of the two trains that day (the later one). My favourite shot from the day is the one below, taken in Maynooth station when the train was waiting to depart.

Santa Special in Maynooth Station.

On the second day the weather was even worse, so I didn’t get any shots at all.

The third day was the 10th of December, and although it was dry, it was a very dull day with very poor light. My favourite shot from that day was also taken in Maynooth station, this time showing the locomotive in the process of running around it’s train.

Running Around in Maynooth

The next day, after a very wet start, the weather finally broke, and I was able to get my first few shots in nice light. My favourite shot by far from the day was taken as the train was on the return leg of the last special of the day. The sun had just broken through the clouds and was low in the sky giving amazing light, and I found a vantage point that let me shoot the train as it rounded the series of turns between Blakestown level crossing and Matt Goff Bridge in Leixlip.

The Home Leg

The first day of the final weekend of the specials (17 December) was the only day where the weather was truly glorious from morning till evening. It was such a pleasure to be able to shoot in soft winter sunshine with beautiful blue skies over head. The shot below is my favourite from the day, showing off both the nice light and that lovely blue sky.

RPSI Santa Special

The weather on the last day was poor again, but, with a lot of good shots safely in the bag, I used the last day to experiment with some more unusual compositions and locations. As with all experiments, the success rate was not 100%, but, I do quite like the shot below, showing the special passing under Pike Bridge along the banks of the Royal Canal as it approached Maynooth.

Passing Pike Bridge

You can see all my shots from the five days on Flickr where I’ve collected them into a set.

Flickr Set

As well as shooting Stills with my trusty Nikon D40, I also shot some video on my iPhone 4. I used this footage, combined with the stills, as the raw materials for my first editing project with Apple’s relatively new Final cut Pro X. I’ve uploaded the videos to my YouTube Channel, and combined them into a playlist which I’ve embedded below.