At a glance:
Builder: Metropolitan Vickers (Dukinfield, Manchester)
Build date: 1956
Original company: Córas Iompair Éireann
Withdrawal date: 1995
Final company: Iarnród Éireann
Arrived at DCDR: 2009
Current status: Operational
Current owner: ITG

A39R is one of the five diesel locomotives at Downpatrick owned by our friends the Irish Traction Group, and one of just four survivors of the 60-strong ‘A Class’ built for CIÉ in the 1950s by Metropolitan Vickers. The A Class, along with the 34 members of the similar-but-smaller C Class that were built as part of the same order, were revolutionary for Irish railways. They were the first large-scale fleet of mainline diesel locomotives in Ireland, where only prototypes and small shunting locomotives had gone before. Though they were not responsible themselves for putting an end to steam trains on CIÉ, they were the first wave of dieselisation and instrumental in modernising an archaic network.

Like the rest of the class, A39R was originally powered by a 1200hp Crossley engine, but with these proving to be unreliable it and its classmates received 1325hp General Motors engines in 1969. It was only at this point the locomotive became A39R, having been simply A39 prior to being re-engined. Later on in its working life the letters were dropped altogether and it became 039. As the most powerful locomotives on the network at the time, the A Class were mainly to be found on top-link expresses and heavy goods trains, which took them all across the country.

The A Class lost their ‘top spot’ in the locomotive rosters in the mid-1970s following the arrival of the 071 Class, built by General Motors of Illinois. However they carried on with their passenger and freight duties for another two decades until the 1990s when another batch of General Motors locomotives, the 201 Class, were delivered. Now 40 years old, the A Class locomotives began to be withdrawn, with A39 coming out of service in 1995 due to a bogie defect. It was at this point that it was acquired for preservation by the Irish Traction Group, though not before it gad been painted into its original silver livery for use on the Class’s farewell railtour.

Though A39 was used briefly for mainline railtours, this came to an end in 1999 due to the unsustainability of diesel tours in Ireland. The locomotive went into storage at Inchicore until 2009, when an agreement was reached with DCDR to take it on long-term loan similar to the Group’s two G Class locomotives we had taken on in the mid-90s. This agreement is incredibly beneficial to both parties, as ITG gets a railway to run their locomotives on, whilst DCDR gets an incredibly useful diesel for nothing more than the cost of fuel. A39 made such a good impression following its arrival in November 2009 that two more ‘big locos’ would follow it, with B Class 146 in 2010 and C Class 231 in 2014. Today the partnership between DCDR and ITG is stronger than ever, and we are very glad to host them at our railway.

In 2015, A39 was repainted into its old livery of black with tan bands, becoming A39R once again in the process. In May 2019, it was started for the first time in three years following some engine maintenence and has since returned to normal traffic as part of our diesel fleet.