The Listowel & Ballybunion Railway, a steam operated Lartigue monorail, ran from 1880 -1928 and is another good example that proprietary railways, even though they may operate in revenue service on one or two lines, fail to become a successful transit mode and are seldom copied.
Intriguing yes, practical no, but for fun let’s have a look at a restored Lartigue demonstration line in Ireland.
The Listowel Ballybunion Railway opened on 1st March 1888; it ran the ten miles between the two towns and was remarkable because it was the first monorailway in the world. How two small towns in the south west of Ireland came to be linked by the world’s first monorail is a fascinating story.
The monorail employed on the Listowel-Ballybunion line was invented and developed by a French Engineer by the name of Charles Lartigue, hence the name Lartigue Monorailway by which the line was best known. Lartigue had built a prototype monorail in Algeria, it was about 90Km in length and was used to carry esparto grass across the desert. The cargo was carried in pannier-like wagons slung on either side of a single rail, which was itself mounted on A-shaped trestles. The wagons were connected to bogies whose wheels ran along the rail. Lartigue is reputed to have got the inspiration for this design from watching camels serenely carrying large loads in panniers balanced either side of their backs. There is no doubt that the single raised rail was a distinct advantage in the desert where shifting sands would have made a conventional rail line virtually unusable.
In 1886 Lartigue brought a length of his line to an exhibition in London in the hope of selling his idea as a viable railway option. Coincidentally at this time the populace of North Kerry were lobbying for the railway system to be extended to include a link between Listowel and Ballybunion. This request was at that time lying on a minister’s desk in Westminster, the rest as they say is history. It was decided that the Lartigue idea would be tried out on the Listowel-Ballybunion Railway.
The Listowel-Ballybunion Railway was opened in 1888 at a cost of £30,000 and it ran for 36 years until it was closed in 1924. The closure was hastened by the severe damage that was inflicted on the line during the civil war of 1921-23. The line was only barely financially viable for the whole of its existence, it is reputed never to have made a profit. The train carried freight, cattle, sand from the beaches and passengers. Among the passengers were Ballybunion school children going to the Listowel Secondary Schools, Kerry and Limerick people making their way to the beach resort of Ballybunion and golfers going to the fledgling golf course at Ballybunion which was to develop into one of the greatest golf courses in the world.
Now, like a Phoenix arising from the ashes, a Irish preservation society has resurected the Lartigue monorail with an exact (diesel powered) replica, operating on a km. of monorail track.