Monday 27 March 2017

The big day is here: Phoenix Park's 139-year-old tunnel reopens for rail commuters

Much-needed relief for commuters

Transport Minister Shane Ross gets ready for his journey
Transport Minister Shane Ross gets ready for his journey
Transport Minister Shane Ross
Conor Feehan

Conor Feehan

Commuters got their first glimpse of the Phoenix Park tunnel today when the new train service from Kildare to Grand Canal Dock went live.

Transport Minister Shane Ross got a view from the engine at the break of dawn, and everyone involved in Irish Rail and the National Transport Authority breathed a sigh of relief when they saw the passenger numbers using the new service on a cold winter morning.

The introduction of the service follows an investment of €13.7m in upgrading the route.

Seven new morning peak trains serving all stations from Newbridge/Hazelhatch to Grand Canal Dock, including Drumcondra, Connolly, Tara Street and Pearse Street, and eight new evening peak trains from Grand Canal with limited stops in the opposite direction will now save time for train passengers on weekdays.

Transport Minister Shane Ross
Transport Minister Shane Ross

Commuters working in the IFSC and Grand Canal districts used to travel from Kildare to Heuston and then make their way to work by Luas, bus or bike.

But now they have a direct link that takes them under the Phoenix Park.

There are future plans to expand the service to include off-peak and weekend services.

Standing on the platform at Grand Canal and looking forward to his first trip through the tunnel Minister Ross was upbeat.

“It’s going to hopefully remove some of the congestion on the roads and I think it is a really encouraging development,” he said before boarding the train.

Chatting with driver John Cleary, he listened with great interest as different railway landmarks were pointed out to him.

“My mother was from the Grand Canal dock area, and as a child I would watch all the trains. I never thought I'd be driving them one day,” said Mr Cleary.

Then the tunnel came into view. Built in 1877 it runs underneath the Phoenix Park for just over one kilometre.

The tunnel was originally built by the Great Southern and Western Railway company to connect Kingsbridge station to the Dublin docklands and was primarily used for freight or carriages and engines that were shunted between Connolly and Heuston for maintenance.

Corkonian rail workers on board the train bragged that their tunnel is bigger, and sure enough within about a minute we were out the other side.

“People don't realise that the tunnel is there because it was mainly used for freight and was very under-used and now it is great to see it being used on an almost daily basis,” said Minister Ross after emerging from the tunnel.

“People from west Dublin can now go across city by train. It would take them an hour and a half by car and now they can do it in 25 minutes,” he added.

David Franks, larnrod Eireann Chief Executive, said the new service offers direct connections from stations between Newbridge and Parkwest to the south city business district, which were not previously available by public transport.

“We will encourage more commuters to switch from our congested roads to a fast and efficient rail transport alternative,” he said.

Commuters gave the new line a thumbs-up, with some quibbles about the service and frequency of trains from parts of Kildare in general such as Sallins.

“This makes a big difference to me. I bought my house in Lucan in the hope that this link would happen. I have waited four years now and here it is,” said Mairead Byrne (34) with a smile.

“I used to have to drive to Leixlip and pay for parking, and leave for work at 7.35am to be in work at 9am, but now I can stay an extra half an hour in bed. This should have happened years ago,” said the Google worker whose offices are across the road from Grand Canal Dock station.

She said she was looking forward to going through the tunnel, but seemed a little underwhelmed by it once the novelty was over.

“I think more people will make decisions on where they buy their homes based on train lines like this,” said Mairead.

Two commuters coming from Kildare and working the IFSC area said the new train will mean they won't have to get off at Heuston and get a Luas anymore.

“Seeing the tunnel will be interesting for the first time,” said Stephen Loughnane (35), making the journey from Sallins.

“The new line gives me more options when commuting, but the frequency of the trains from Sallins needs to improve,” he added.

Stephen’s travelling companion, Michael Monahan (27) said having more options was also an advantage for him.

“Sometimes you might make it to work quicker getting the train to Heuston and making your way to Connolly by bike or Luas, but this is a direct service that means you don't have not make those links,” he said.

Train enthusiast Tony Gray (60) went out of his way to be on this morning’s historic service. He usually travels to Dublin from Drogheda.

“I’ve been in the tunnel before but it will be useful for list of commuters and looks like it will be popular,” he said.

“It’s a red-letter day for Irish Rail I suppose. It’s a little bit of history,” he added.

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