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0Mg - Magnesite Wagons Next For IRM

We're become a bit notorious for our wagons, so it's great to be able to announce an all new wagon to kick off a busy 2022. Welcome to the CIE magnesite wagons!

History

Magnesite, the mineral magnesium carbonate (MgCO3), is a member of the calcite group of carbonate minerals that is a principal source of magnesium (Mg).

During the 1960s, the American multinational Quigley Co., Inc. acquired sites at Ballinacourty, near Dungarvan in County Waterford, and at Tivoli just east of Cork city. The company specialised in the manufacturing of refractory products for industrial use and its Irish operation was concerned with the production of heat-resistant bricks for lining blast furnaces. The venture was championed by Quigley’s CEO, John A. ‘Jack’ Mulcahy, a native of Dungarvan who emigrated to the USA as a teenager and it took advantage of tax breaks offered by the Irish Government to attract foreign investment at the time.

The primary mineral used in the manufacturing process was magnesite, which was extracted from dolomitic limestone. Seawater was necessary for this process, which made the coastal location of the Ballinacourty plant ideal. However, the source of the dolomite was a quarry at Bennettsbridge in County Kilkenny, some 85kms away. At the same time, Quigley required a means of conveying magnesite in bulk from Ballinacourty to its factory at Tivoli, where the finished product was manufactured for export. The solution to both traffic flows lay in the region’s railway infrastructure.

Construction of the processing plant at Ballinacourty began in 1969 and was completed the following year, by which time Quigley had been taken over by Pfizer. Dungarvan had been served by the former Great Southern & Western Railway route between Waterford and Mallow, but this had been closed by Córas Iompair Éireann (CIÉ) as recently as 1967. With track lifting crews working eastward from Mallow the most direct route to Tivoli was severed and CIÉ determined that the anticipated traffic levels did not warrant its reinstatement. However, the link to Waterford remained in place and offered connections to both the quarry on the Kilkenny line and Tivoli via Limerick Junction. CIÉ subsequently laid a new 2km spur to the facility which joined the existing track alignment east of Dungarvan at milepost 49.

The quantity of dolomite required by the plant necessitated trains of up to 24 open hopper wagons to serve it twice daily. Until the advent of rail-bourne ore traffic from Tara Mines in the late 1970s, these trains were the heaviest to run on the Irish railway network and required two General Motors Bo-Bo diesels to haul them, although A Class locomotives sometimes deputised if a shorter rake of wagons was operated.

Magnesite was conveyed from Ballinacourty to Tivoli once a day in distinctive covered hopper wagons which were constructed specifically for the task. This duty was almost exclusively hauled by A Class motive power and could consist of anywhere between 12 and 22 hoppers. Additionally, a cut of three-to-five fuel oil tankers was sometimes attached to this train to supply diesel for plant machinery, although this service could also operate separately. Besides operating on their regular route, these wagons often appeared in Limerick for exams and general repairs at CIÉ’s wagon workshops.

Traffic remained steady for the next decade but by the early 1980s a number of factors were conspiring to darken the future of the Pfizer-Quigley plant at Ballinacourty. The tax breaks which had enticed the company in the first place had expired and high energy costs in the wake of the 1970s oil crisis were taking their toll on balance sheets. Meanwhile, overproduction of magnesite led to a worldwide slump in the mineral’s value and the company’s Irish operation struggled to be competitive. The final nail in the coffin was driven home when Pfizer-Quigley made the decision to construct a new processing factory in Asia to avail of cheaper operating costs, resulting in the Ballinacourty facility closing in July 1982.

The Model

Following on from the modular approach CIÉ took with its wagon fleet in the 1960s and 1970s, we have been able to capitalise once again on our common chassis first used under the ballast hopper wagons. This allowed us to create a whole new body tooling for these distinctive wagons, featuring the intricate loading hatches, discharge mechanism and profile of the hopper body.

The models are set off beautifully with fine etched metal walkways and fine ladder detail, as well as an array of chassis detail to create a wagon to the excellent standards of fidelity we have become renowned for since their inception.

We have taken this opportunity to refine the existing chassis tooling, so that features such as the brake levers and their ratchet/pin-down loops have been improved with additional finesse and detailing. Further additions to this tooling include the correct style of axleboxes used on the magnesite wagons and similar stock during this era. These adjustments and improvements are proof of IRM's commitment to authenticity.

As can be seen in the photographs, tooling is already complete and these samples have now been assessed, with feedback sent to the factory, including improvements to the springs and the ladders as well as fit and finish and better seating of the walkways. Production will commence after Chinese New Year.

A limited run of four different packs of three wagons per pack will be on offer, with a bonus exclusive limited edition single wagon pack also offered. This will be a first from us, and  will feature distinctive decoration which adorned one end of the wagon on its final working in 1982. It will be limited to 350 pieces, complete with limited edition certificate and special presentation box, marking the 40th anniversary of the closure of the plant. 

 

Prices for triple packs is €124.95 and the special edition single wagon is €44.95, with 10% when you buy two or more packs. Delivery is expected in Q3 of 2022.

Modellers can place their orders directly with IRM by clicking here!

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