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Through Streets Broad and Narrow: Dublin Tramways

It has been more than 75 years since there has been a continuous tramline crossing between the north and south of Dublin. However, in June this year, the new cross-city Luas line was tested for the first time. Two trams travelled the 5.9km route in a ‘gauge run’ from St Stephen’s Green to Broombridge, Cabra, signalling the final stages of the new line’s development which will link the Luas Red and Green Lines, when it opens to passengers in December 2017.

This is all a bit strange considering that in the past, Dublin boasted a very impressive and expansive tram network. Up until the 1920s the tramways provided the city with its main mode of public transportation. At its peak, the system was known as technically innovative, and was described in 1904 as “one of the most impressive in the world” by Moving Through Modernity: Space and Geography in Modernism.

Tramlines extended miles in every direction, spreading from O’Connell Street outwards like arteries from a heart to Dublin’s rapidly expanding suburbs; its comprehensive coverage included varied routes such as Dublin to Blessington, Phoenix Park to B dge, Rathfarnham to Drumcondra via Harold’s Cross and Nelson’s Pillar to Howth.

The new technology was introduced to Dublin by an American entrepreneur, George F. Train, who, in 1867, laid a demonstration section of rails along Aston Quay. The Corporation decided these were a nuisance and ordered their removal.

However, the first Dublin tram did come into service in February 1872, operating between College Green and Rathgar. These trams, pulled by two horses, were doubledeck with the driver and the passengers on the top deck at the mercy of the elements. In the early days at least, travelling by tram was predominantly the preserve of the more affluent citizens of Dublin.Trams travelled mainly to the
southern suburbs of the city and catered for a mainly middle-class clientele.

As the tramways were private undertakings, their primary aim was profit over public service. Over time, the tram network did spread from the lucrative southern routes towards the north side, with trams running along North Circular Road, Parkgate Street and through Drumcondra and Clontarf.

In those fledgling days, three companies operated the trams in Dublin; the Dublin Tramways Company, the North Dublin Street Tramways Company and Dublin Central Tramways. The trio of companies amalgamated in 1880, forming the Dublin United Tramways Company (DUTC), with 137 trams running routes totalling over 32 miles. As the 1880’s progressed, further developments for trams were headed down the tracks.

The world’s first electric tramway had been developed by Werner von Siemens in Berlin in 1881 before spreading to the United States, where by July 1890, one sixth of the tramways there were electrified. Electric trams had a number advantages over their horse drawn counterparts. They were faster, with the same number of cars, operated at a greater frequency and a greater overall carrying capacity could be

They would also prove more economical, alleviating a heavy financial burden of maintaining fleets of horses (the DUTC operated a ratio of around ten horses per tram car) and not to mention the problem of horse manure dispersal.

Despite concerted opposition, a reconstituted Dublin United Tramways Company set about total electrification. The project was completed in four years and by the time the last horse tram ran on the Bath Avenue line in January 1901, the Dublin area had about 66 electric route miles, of which nearly 50 were owned by the DUTC. For over twenty years following the introduction of electric trams to Dublin, the city became a world leader, pioneering several developments which were later adopted universally.

The works in Inchicore provided great employment, producing carriages whose design would be replicated the world over and they established a wonderful reputation for engineering excellence. The golden age of tramways in Dublin was not to last though its decline was brought about by the rise of the bus service in the city. Buses were to prove more mobile and had the ability to travel to areas that were a long distance away from tram stops.

Dublin’s first official bus route opened in 1925, running from Killester via Clontarf to the city centre and by the mid 1930s the General Omnibus Company had approximately 40 buses on the road. Buses in Dublin at that time were predominantly single deck and petrol engine, and they were uneconomical to run.

Leyland Motors then introduced the metal frame bus body which was very light, very easy to build, and they also introduced the diesel engine. When the diesel engined 56 seater bus became available, large numbers were ordered and tramway abandonment began, first with the Ballybough route in 1938 and it proceeded very rapidly over the next few years.

The last tram in Dublin City before the establishment of the Luas ran 9th July 1949 – the No. 252 required police protection from souvenir hunters on its last trip to the Blackrock Depot – with the Howth Head line lasting another ten years before it too succumbed to ‘progress’. Some of their lines can still be found around the city, relics of a time past.

Article written by Barry Healy, Universal Media

Further reading:
J. Kilroy, Irish Trams (Omagh 1996).
M. Barry, Transport in 19th Century Dublin
( 2014)
D. Johnston, The Dublin Trams
(Dublin historical record, November, 1951)


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