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Red Luas - early life and times

A little off-topic, but it's been suggested that I post this piece to save it "for posterity". Hmm - not sure that this website will be around in 20 years time let alone posterity, but here's my account of part of a week that's unlikely to be repeated

It's been a long time in coming, but Red Luas was opened by the Taoiseach on Tuesday ... and I've had a chance to sample it Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

Perhaps I should translate. Bertie Ahern, Ireland's Prime Minister, opened the new red line of the Dublin tram / light rail system last Tuesday. I was working for the week in Dublin, staying at a hotel near the Red Cow roundabout (the busiest in Ireland), and travelled on it in and out of the city centre several times.

First impressions? It's going to be a huge HUGE help to Dublin's traffic problems, especially from Tallaght, Ireland's largest "town", into the city ... but there are already teething problems showing up in the first few days, and how they're sorted out over the coming weeks will be critical to its success. Fascinating to see how the "metrics" of its usage changed in just a few days.

I didn't travel on the Tuesday - in fact, I only heard that the tram was opening that day, with free travel for 6 days, by con-incidence. In any case, I was working out of town. I did spy a tram from the hotel, though, running through what has appeared to be a construction site for years. I understand that the trams were all crowded, and I saw all the crowd control barriers down town in the following days, so I don't think this was unexpected. I do understand there was a collision between a car and a tram on Tuesday - apparently, the drivers haven't got use to the trams yet, and apparently there's been a noticeable increase in broken legs at Dublin's emergency room due to cyclists getting their wheels caught in the tracks. No doubt they'll learn or sue ...

Wednesday, early evening, and I walked across to "The Red Cow" stop and boarded the tram that pulled in within a couple of minutes. They're three articulated sections long and declare they have seating for 56 and standing capacity for a further 198 (and space for 2 wheelchairs). Modern, sleek, well lit.

We pulled out.

And we stopped one tram length later at a light controlling traffic coming off the M50 motorway; move on after what seemed like an age to a bridge over the motorway where ... guess what ... we stopped at the lights controlling traffic going ON to the motorway. Moved on a few seconds later to a third set of lights where the tram tracks cross the main N7 coming into the roundabout and after this third pause, we moved on (with a squealing of wheel flanges) to run down a reserve in the middle of the dual carriageway N7. Standing behind the driver, looking ahead out through the cab and reading his instruments I saw that we were rapidly up to 70 Km per hour - not a bad speed - as we covered the mile or two down to Kylemore, pausing only at one or two other sets of lights along the way. Then on to Bluebell and Blackhorse, where the tram joins the Dublin South canal.

This is a rougher area of town; anonymous housing in blocks of perhaps 30 to 50 years vintage, with very little for the children and teenagers to do. Ah - except this week. Free tram trips! And in they all pile! In at Blackhorse and out one stop later at Drimnagh. Or in at Goldenbridge and out again at Suir Road, in at Rialto and out at Fatima. Or if they're not pushing in and out of the tram, they're playing "chicken" and staying on the track until nearly hit, or putting pennies on the track to see if the tram will squash them. There's a youth with blood pouring down his face who just wanders clear of the tram as we get to Suir Road. Is his wobble the effect of his injury, or has he been drinking and fallen over? Everyone looks as we pass him, but the tram carries on.

After Fatima, the tram goes onto its own track into "James" (like all stations on the line also named in Gaelic - Ospidel san Seamus) and then runs down to Heuston Irish Rail station; I'm glad to see that connected, as it's always struck me as being rather out of town. After further traffic light delays (but shorter ones than at the Red Cow - it turns out that the trams can request light changes in some places), we cross the river Liffey and (more wheel squeals) turn right to follow the river, one street in. We've lost all the children now, but the tram is still full of people going down town, and as we approach Abbey Street (where I got off), you realise just how central you are and how much night life the city has. Truly, it has a good prospect of bringing in not only commuters but "ordinary folk" who live out in Tallaght for an evening in the town; no bad thing, me thinks - Tallaght is said to be housing and little else.

I wasn't just joyriding that evening - I was in the city to locate my venue for the next day, in the area between the docks and the city; I knew it to be a maze of one way streets and likely to be hard to find by car. Glad I made the trip; it looked like a shopfront in a steel-shutter secured semi-derelict back street (one way, of course!) ... which I could have driven past half a dozen times.

On Thursday, I drove into town and discovered that behind that roughlooking shop front was an elevator up to three floors of brand new, lovely offices in the walls of an old Grain Warehouse ... a lovely boardroom in which to present my course, a pleasant office environment and a great glass roof. A beautiful mixture of ancient and modern. And, as always seems to be the case, a great bunch of trainees. And (!!) they even have a few parking spaces in a secure garage a few streets away - one of the attractions of the building, I'm told.

Now - I had expected my tram trip on Wednesday to be my only use of the Luas in the week but a thought struck me ... why fight my way out and in by car that night? A quick check with my hosts and, yes, it was fine for me to leave my car in their garage overnight. So ... back to the Luas.

Rush hour, so I walked up to the terminus at Connolly to see if I could get a seat and so had the rest of the world. Three lines of crowd control barriers and a queuing system reminiscent of Disney (but no Mickey Mouse entertaining the crowds) and a not-too-long queue which I joined. But no trams at all. Never mind. The newly switched-on system told us that there would be one along in 5 minutes and another in 8; turned out to be accurate, but also to reveal a new problem of bunching; the Dublin trams have already learnt from London Buses that they should run in clumps - it's naturally going to happen as a slight gap in service leads to crowds that make loading an unloading slower for the first tram after the gap, thus delaying it further.

I GOT A SEAT!! And I was joined by a Mom and Dad and their two bright young children; out after school for a trip on the new tram. Mum and Dad doing their best, but Adam and Eden are going to grow up into interesting cases; running rings around their well meaning parents already, who are responding with empty threats. Eden did get a bit of a jolt when he didn't sit down when told (for the umpteenth time) and the tram started and threw him off his feet. Children are resilient, though ... he quickly bounced back to his mischievous self.

But there was something different that evening. As we went through the centre of town there were children, for sure, but - it seemed - more controlled. Ah, and then I noticed. People here and there in purple of Yellow jackets. And as we got out to Suir Road, where the bloody youth was yesterday, each of the stops was being looked after by a Garda [Irish Policeman] or two. Of course, you can't keep the Irish down and a merry local lady and her daughter of 9 or 10 took a seat nearby. The Mom pulls a can of Guinness out from inside her jacket, has a quick drink, and starts chatting with the lady and her daughter opposite, suggesting to that lady's daughter that there's no harm in having a quick drink even though it's against the rules. "Sure, but who's gooing to stop me ...." she says while her own daughter looks on, clearly very used to this and it's the most natural thing in the world ....

And, early Friday morning, I used the Luas to return to town to complete the course. Starting to settle down. No Garda, nor youth riders, probably because of the early hour. But a well filled tram that they think's going to carry 20000 a day into town. Took about 20 to 25 minutes, versus twice that in a car, and dropped me off in good time in the City centre. Quick breakfast, and on to work with the happy thought that this *is* going to solve some of Dublin's access problems, and to wish it well.

(written 2004-10-02, updated 2008-05-10)

 
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