A view looking north at Donemana station in 1950. A Londonderry Victoria Road to Strabane service is standing at the down platforn. By this date this was the only platform that was in use as the up side of the passing loop had been removed in 1946.
Donemana is a small settlement in County Tyrone, Ireland, located to the south of the River Foyle between the town of Strabane and the city of Derry/Londonderry. On 7 August 1896 the Donegal Railway (DR) obtained an act to build a 14½ mile single track 3ft gauge railway between Strabane and the Waterside area that lay on the eastern bank of the Foyle opposite Derry/Londonderry. The course of the line passed to the west of Donemana which was to be served by a station. In 1896 the DR had a 74 mile network of railways of the 3ft gauge that had Strabane as their easternmost point. To get goods and passengers to and from the important city of Derry/Londonderry required the use of the Great Northern Railway Ireland (GNRI) 5ft 3inch gauge line between Strabane and Londonderry Foyle Road. Financially this situation was to the detriment of the DR and to the advantage of the GNRI, which was the primary reason for the line.
The line opened for goods services on 1 August 1900 and passenger services began six days later. A station was at provided at Waterside which was called Londonderry Victoria Road. Passengers and goods could move into the city via the double deck Carlisle bridge which was adjacent to the station.
The station at Donemana was located to the north of the bridge that carried the line across the Burndennett river and just to the north of the level crossing that carried Ballyheather Road over the line. Donemana lies approximately 3.5 miles to the east of the level crossing and the hamlet of Burndennett lies nearly a mile to the West. To the north of the station, towards Derry/Londonderry and after a curve, the line passed under a bridge that carries a minor road from Ballyheather towards the main road towards Donemana village itself. It was 6¼ miles from Strabane and 8¼ miles from Londonderry Victoria Road and it was chosen as the point where there would be a loop which would allow trains to pass. It was therefore the only intermediate station on the line that had two platforms.
The main passenger facilities were located on the down (Strabane direction) platform. They were housed in a simple single storey building. A barrow crossing connected the down to the up (Londonderry Victoria Road direction) platform. It was located at the south end of the station. There was no form of shelter on the up (Victoria Road direction) platform.
The station had goods facilities which consisted of two sidings and a corrugated iron goods store and some cattle pens.
A signal cabin controlled the line through the station. It was located at the north end of the down platform.
At the time of opening there were 6 trains each way between Victoria Road and Strabane and the CDR hoped to develop some commuter traffic along the Finn Valley through to Derry/Londonderry. Trains left Victoria Road from 07.15 to 7.25pm and some of these trains continued to Stranorlar and even Killybegs. In the return direction trains left Strabane for Victoria Road at times from 08.30 to 7.25pm and most of these trains crossed at Donemana. Even in the 1910 timetable there were still 6 departures from Victoria Road and 5 from Strabane with a special express service on Fair days only from Letterkenny which was not booked to call at Donemana. The 1922 timetable just after Partition shows a reduction in services with just 3 trains from Strabane and 4 in the return direction from Derry/Londonderry with no regular services booked to cross at Donemana By 1930 the NCC were operating a more convenient bus service for villages like Donemana .In the 1938 timetable there were just 3 trains in each direction and many of them were mixed trains, which remained the pattern of services until closure.
The 1904 Handbook of Stations listed Donemana as being able to handle general goods, parcels, furniture vans, livestock and horses.
Victoria Road was not the only station at Waterside. Londonderry Waterside station had opened in 1852, and since 15 May 1860 it had been the terminus of the Belfast & Northern Counties Railway (BNCR). In 1903 the BNCR had been taken over by the Midland Railway (MR) an English company that had aspirations for expansion in Ireland. They looked west from Derry/Londonderry and saw an opportunity in the form of the DR. They entered into discussions with them with regards to a takeover. The GNRI saw this as a threat and made it clear that they would try to block such a move. A compromise was reached which involved the MR and the GNRI taking control of the DR as equal partners. On 1 May 1906 the DR was absorbed by the two larger companies who ran it through a board as the County Donegal Railway Joint Committee (CDR). As the GNRI had a route between Strabane and Derry/Londonderry the line through Donemana (between Londonderry Victoria Road and Strabane) passed solely to the MR. Staff at Donemana station became MR NCC employees and as the sole owner of the branch that company was responsible for all of the infrastructure. However as the line was actually an integral part of the CDR network all of the train services (passenger and goods) were operated by them.
In 1912 a Sunday service of one train in each direction was introduced. There was an up service to Victoria Road at 9.20am and a down for Strabane at 7.30pm. In 1913 an additional Sunday out and return working was introduced.
On 7 September 1913 a serious accident occurred at Donemana station which resulted in the death of a passenger and injuries to six others. The locomotive crew were also injured. The accident occurred at 9.28pm when the 9.00pm Londonderry Victoria Road to Strabane train (which had departed from Victoria Road 6 minutes late) entered the down side of the Donemana station loop, which had a speed restriction of 6mph, at a speed of between 30 and 40mph. The train consisted of DR 2-6-4 Class 5 locomotive number 19 Letterkenny and 5 coaches. The coaches were as follows; eight wheeled bogie third class carriage number 51, eight wheeled bogie composite brake number 52, eight wheeled bogie third class carriage number 20, six wheeled third class carriage number 5 and eight wheeled bogie composite carriage number 1. The train was thrown violently to the left, the engine and the first two coaches overturned and the other three coaches were derailed. Station staff and passengers from the rear coaches effected the rescue of the people in the overturned coaches. The Donemana Station Master, James Stuart alerted the Strabane Station Master, George Roe Lavery, who assembled a relief train and with three doctors and other railway staff on board the train departed from Strabane at 10.15pm. It arrived at Donemana at 10.30pm. Some motor cars were also sent to the crash scene to move injured people to hospital.
The behaviour of the driver Neil Fullerton and the fireman William Doherty came under suspicion when John T Heggart, District Inspector of Police, suspected that they had been drinking. They were both examined by Dr John J McNicoll of Strabane. All of the injured had been treated or sent to hospital by 12.30am, when the relief train arrived back in Strabane. It took days to clear away the wreckage and repair the track.
The Board of Trade Accident Investigation was carried out by Major J W Pringle. It was established that driver and the fireman had made two visits to a pub in Duke Street, close to Londonderry Victoria Road station, and that they had become unfit to carry out their duties through the consumption of alcohol. Criminal proceedings followed and Neil Fullerton, the driver, was jailed for three months. The fireman William Doherty was dismissed.
On 4 August 1914 the British Empire declared war on Germany and entered the Great War. From 1 January 1917 the CDR was taken under government control (along with all of the other Irish railways). The Sunday services were withdrawn in 1917 and never reinstated. The weekday service was also reduced to four trains in each direction.
In 1919 the Irish War of Independence broke out and it caused much disruption to the CDRJC system. In December 1921 a treaty was negotiated which resulted in the island of Ireland being split into two separate countries, the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland which remained as part of the United Kingdom. The majority of the CDRJC lines were located within the Irish Free State but the route through Donemana lay within Northern Ireland. This caused difficulties for the company, which were exacerbated by the outbreak of the Irish Civil War (1922-23) which caused even more disruption. The least disrupted route was the Londonderry Victoria Road – Strabane line on which no major incidents were recorded as it ran through a mainly Unionist area.
The July 1922 timetable showed Donemana as having three up and four down passenger trains Monday-to-Saturday. The first departure was the 7.18am down train for Strabane. The other three down services departed at 10.38am, 2.40pm and 5.28pm. The up direction trains ran to Londonderry Victoria Road departing at 8.45am, 9.43am and 3.55pm. The journey time to Strabane was 22 minutes and to Victoria Road it was 30 minutes.
In 1934 (following the closure of the engine shed at Londonderry Victoria Road) the passenger service was reduced to three trains in each direction.
During the early years of the Second World War (1939-45) the Donemana station was chosen as the location at which a special train was to be stabled. The purpose of the train was to evacuate personnel and equipment from the city of Derry/Londonderry should there be an attack. Its probable that the train was stabled on the up loop at the station. With only three passenger trains per day in each direction, and none of them scheduled to pass at Donemana, it would have been quite possible to stable the special train this way. Using the loop would also have meant that the goods sidings could continue to be used for their intended purpose which would have been necessary as the CDR network saw an upturn in traffic during the war years. There were high volumes of cattle movements from the Irish Free State to Derry/Londonderry
Because the GNRI main line between Londonderry Foyle Road and Strabane passed through the Irish Free State it could not be used for the movement of war materials or troops (the Free State being a neutral country). As the Londonderry Victoria Road and Strabane line was located entirely within Northern Ireland serious consideration was given in 1942 to making it dual gauge (3ft and 5ft 3in), so that GNRI trains could reach Londonderry without having to pass through the Irish Free State. In the end the idea proved to be too complicated and all war related traffic had to operate via the LMS NCC main line to Derry/Londonderry, a vital wartime naval port, instead.
The 1946 timetable (see below) showed 3 trains in each direction Monday-to-Saturday.
In 1946 the NCC finally rationalised the layout at Donemana station. The up side of the loop was removed and the signal box was closed, which put the up platform out of use. However both of the 2 goods sidings remained open and access was controlled by a key from the staff held by the crew for the Derry branch. The station remained staffed until closure. Goods like agricultural machinery and coal were still imported and goods like linen, flax, foodstuffs and cattle were still exported.
In January 1948, when the LMS was nationalised as part of the Railway Executive the NCC share of the CDR passed to the London Midland Region of British Railways. By April 1949 the railways of Northern Ireland, with exception of the CDR, GNRI and the SL&NC (as they operated in two countries), were also nationalised as part of the Ulster Transport Authority (UTA). In April 1949 the former NCC network was purchased by the Northern Ireland government on behalf of the UTA for £2.67 million. Being part of the NCC network the Strabane – Londonderry Victoria Road line passed to the UTA but it continued to be worked by the CDR. The UTA paid the costs of the Londonderry Victoria Road service and that meant that there was no incentive to economise. For this reason the trains on this section of the CDR network were always steam operated and the CDR designed their timetable after the 1930s so that all steam locos in service would visit Victoria Road.
The UTA announced its intention to close the line between Londonderry Victoria Road and Strabane in October 1954. The last trains ran on 31 December 1954. The very last passenger departure from Donemana was a down train that departed for Strabane at 7.35pm.
On 29 June 1955 a light engine made a journey through Donemana as part of a round trip between Strabane and Londonderry Victoria Road. The purpose of this movement was to test the permanent way for a special excursion train that was to run on 30 June 1955. The excursion train carrying, Sunday School children as part of an outing to Portrush (via a short walk between Victoria Road and Waterside stations), operated as scheduled. The down train that passed through Donemana on the return leg of the journey would be the very last train to pass through the station.
Track lifting began at Londonderry Victoria Road in November 1955. Donemana had been reached by 3 December 1955 and all rails had been removed from the station area by the end of that year.
Today there are few obvious signs of Donemana station. However the station building survives as does the Goods shed. What was the former tracked of the main platform is now a private lane way and the main platform survives hidden behind a row of hedges. The station building is now a modified private dwelling but no trace remains of the up platform of the passing loop.
Looking towards Derry/Londonderry the bridge carrying a minor road over the line survives and has not been filled in. Finally on the minor road to the south of the station remains of the level crossing posts survive and the former tracked towards the river bridge is now a private laneway. After closure the station site became the property of the family of the last stationmaster, whose family still live in the old stationmaster’s house to this day. The old stationmaster’s house is extant but much modified.
Full size copies of the Donegal Railway Company poster (shown above) can be purchased from the Donegal Railway Heritage Centre