Tuesday 21 November 2017

Pat is on track for success

One enterprising engineer made the most of things when recession hit his steel business, writes Tom Prendeville

PAT Foley was a mechanical engineer by profession and ran a very successful construction steel business in Borris, Co Carlow, employing 40 people.

Then along came the bust -- and demand literally collapsed overnight.

Rather than give up, Pat decided to follow his passion for trains and built one for fun. He later bought a mini train, which can carry dozens of people, and introduced it to Kilkenny. A rip-roaring success, the Castle Express is now one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city.

He is now introducing two tourist trains to Dublin city this summer and is gearing up to start manufacturing them for export.

The mini trains, which don't need a track, have three carriages and carry 72 people. Pulled by a petroleum engine vehicle, the trains are 75 foot long.

Pat takes up the intriguing story of his journey from construction to the railway business.

"When I came back from England nearly 40 years ago and set up Foley Engineering, we were doing metal grain stores. Then when the Celtic Tiger came -- and we all went mad altogether -- we got into structural steel.

"We had one of the best engineering works in the country. Then it all hit the deck and went down like a lead balloon. We couldn't get paid and orders weren't coming in. As far as I was concerned, structural steel was history, so in 2009 I decided to retire."

During the long winter months, Pat decided to build a working train in his workshop as an attraction on his Southern County Fishing Resort in Garyhill, Co Carlow. To his surprise, it was a huge hit with visiting fishermen and their families.

"It has one carriage and can carry 25 children and adults. I have 3km of paths and I run it around the lakes here," he says.

On a trip to Portugal to study a mini train design that he planned to build, Pat ended up buying it. Not one to let the grass grow under his feet, he introduced it to Kilkenny.

"It is now a regular tour train, which we drive around all the town's tourist attractions. The lead vehicle is like a small tractor and is quite powerful. "The train itself travels on rubber wheels and the carriages are all covered and have seat belts to match safety requirements -- it's the full monty," he says proudly.

The business has done so well that Pat is planning to introduce two trains in Dublin this summer. He also plans to manufacture the vehicles, which will be the first time trains have been made in Ireland since the CIE Inchicore Railway Works shut up shop several decades ago.

"We are manufacturing nothing here now, but our end line plan is to build trains for global export.

"There is a big demand for them in America. The little indoor machines are beautiful; you have all the sound effects, you would swear to God it was the Orient Express," adds Pat enthusiastically.

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