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Tuesday 12 December 2017

Howth tram is on course to be running again

Tom Prendeville

THE Howth Head tram line could be running again within a year if a team of dedicated volunteers has its way.

Members of the Howth Transport Museum have been labouring away night and day for over 20 years to restore tram No 9, which carried its last passenger in 1959.

The Hill of Howth Tram Road Company began the service in 1901 and in its heyday 10 electric trams trundled up and down the hill.

The scenic five-and-a-quarter mile route began at Sutton Station and ran along the seafront, up to the summit, before freewheeling downhill again to Howth village.

The only surviving tram is the Number 9, which was built in 1902 and could carry 73 seated passengers.

Former architect and expert vintage tram restorer Jim Kilroy, who heads up a dedicated team of craftsmen, takes up the story.

"The tram is at a very exciting stage. For a number of years it was sitting up on the tram jacks but we are now reassembling it.

"We have the two motors repaired, which cost €8,500 each, and the wheels are being re-machined in a factory in Whitehead, Northern Ireland. What you see here is history being made and the tram is the heart of it.

"We always wanted to lay tracks; that was always our dream. One option would be a quarter-of-a-mile line made from salvaged sleepers and steel track and drawn by horses. That could be done very quickly and cheaply.

"We have done a report and a much longer overhead electrified tram could be done at a cost of around €2m."

The original gauge tramline went in an anti-clockwise direction around the Howth peninsula. It was popular with tourists, as they could take in a variety of stunning vistas from spectacular seascapes with sheer cliffs to woodlands, wetlands and moors covered in lichen and wild garlic.

Thrilled day-trippers could also observe colonies of seals and porpoises, who still live offshore. Extensive sections of the original tramline route still exist and are now pleasant, grass-covered walkways.

Mr Kilroy said: "Travelling along at tree level, looking out to sea with sparks trundling down from overhead wires, the tram was like a floating magic carpet."

The cost of the entire voluntary project to date has been in the region of €30,000. The money has been raised via fundraising and generous public subscriptions.

Michael Corcoran, a draughtsman and dedicated member of the museum, said: "When the Howth service ceased in 1959, the trams were sent everywhere, but three were set aside for here and kept in the open.

"Unfortunately, two ended up in terrible repair, but No 9, one of the original trams, survived and has now been completely restored.

"The trams were electric and ran off 550 volts. Of the original line, a good section of the route was on its own tracks.

"Unfortunately, none of the Howth line survived, not even a yard of track."

The transport museum opens every weekend and bank holidays and is located on the Howth Castle estate.

The museum also houses four old Dublin trams, including the famous 'Director's Car', which carried the tramway company's elite.

Lavishly outfitted with its own bar, it was memorably described by Dublin wits during World War Two as "a mobile gin palace".

The famous car, along with the rest of the Dublin tramway fleet was eventually decommissioned in 1949.

To this day, sections of the original Dublin tramway tracks lie buried under the city's streets, covered over by layers of tarmac.

Sunday Independent

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