The Atmospheric Railway

By H. Latham


Nov 1974 Newsletter No. 8

The Kingstown and Dalkey Atmospheric Railway:

This line operated for ten years between 1844 and 1854. The distance was a little less than two miles, and ended between Castlepark Road and Barnhill Road (old Glenageary Road). On the site of "The Barn" house (now the residence of Mr and Mrs Smyth), the engine-house and pond were situated. Old residents say that the pond was fed by a little stream running down from Killiney. According to a private survey-map of 1756, the engine house site was a gravel pit.

The atmospheric line had a 4ft 8½in gauge track, and lay about nine feet below ground level in a narrow cutting following the alignment of the old tram-road, known locally as the Metals. There were ten bridges, and a tunnel giving 3 inches clearance above the train which made it hazardous for passengers to stick their heads out! Atmospheric traction was used on the upward journey to Barnhill, and the trains returned to Kingstown by gravity; the last third of a mile was covered by the trains under their own momentum, having left the tube at about 30mph. If a train stopped short of the station, the third-class passengers were requested to help push the train, while the others walked.

In 1844, when the line was opened, trains left Kingstown every half-hour between 8am and 6pm. In 1845, when the Dublin and Kingstown line was providing trains between 6am and 11.30pm, the Dalkey service was extended to 9.30pm. In the first years of operation, it was recorded that the average speed of trains was about 26 and a third mph, from start to stop. The maximum speed obtained during tests was 51 and a half mph which considering the curves, was quite fast. No buffer stops were provided at the Dalkey end and, sometimes a train ran right through the station and off the rails without coming to any great harm. Trains would return "very lady-like" to Kingstown by gravity at an average of 18mph

Jan 1975 Newsletter No 9

For the convenience of residents in east Kingstown and Glasthule, Samuda, the engineer suggested a means of operating short-distance service from Kingstown station to the Bullock Road Crossing. A carriage to the intermediate station would be attached to each Dalkey bound train, and slipped at Bullock Road. For the return journey it would use a separate 9 inch atmospheric tube. This tube was actually supplied, but never laid down, for Samuda had changed his mind. He now planned a large spring, to be connected to the carriage axle by a clutch. On the way from Kingstown the spring, being put in gear, would be wound up. The carriage having been detached at Bullock Road, would be held there by its brake until it was ready to start. Then the brake would be released, and the spring would give the vehicle a push off which, with the help of gravity, would take it to Kingstown. But though Samuda paid for at any rate some of the material to be supplied, no intermediate station was built, or short distance service worked, on the atmospheric line. After its conversion to Steam, Kingstown Sandycove station was provided at Bullock Road, all trains having to stop there to prevent excessive speed in either direction.

On24th November 1848, the air pump fractured badly and stopped working. Hurriedly the company converted PRINCESS the first locomotive to be built in Ireland. Her chimney was cut down, a shelter built over the footplate, and from 23rd December 1848 to 4th February 1949 she coped with the light winter trains, pulling three coaches and taking six minutes.

Work began on a railway from Dublin through Dundrum to Bray with a branch from Bray to Dalkey. These lines were brought into use on 10th July 1854. Before that, on the evening of Wednesday 12th April, the last atmospheric train had run, the section being handed over to the Dublin and Wicklow who for a time substituted an omnibus service. The Dalkey line was then converted to the standard Irish 5ft. 3in. gauge, the curves being eased, the track lowered to save raising bridges, and the narrow Dalkey coaches being fitted with wide footboards. On 11th October 1855 the Bray-Kingstown section was reopened, steamworked, but on 20th March 1856 was again closed for further improvements. On 2nd July 1856 the line reopened. Soon afterwards the Dublin & Kingstown itself was also converted to the 5ft. 3in. gauge.

Feb/Mar 1975 Newspaper 10

So after ten years of public working, atmospheric traction ended on the Dalkey. Though not cheap to maintain, the line was probably more economically worked in that way than by steam, and its ending came as part of a process of gauge conversion and rebuilding, and not of any failure of the system. Engineers had come from far and wide to see it, admire it, experiment with it, and for a time the name Dalkey had attained a European fame on the strength of a pump, a tube and a piston. Now they were gone, and only in France did Clegg and Samuda still have a working memorial.

Some general information of above

The line was 1¾ miles long, falling for a short distance from Kingstown and then rising 71ft mostly at a gradient of 1in 115, but with a 400 yd section of 1 in 57 at the Dalkey end. It included three curves in ½ a mile, varying from 570ft to 700 ft radius.

The steam engine, which had been built by Wm. Fairbairn of Manchester for the Samudes, had a hugh 36ft diameter-fly-wheel, and was supplied by 3 Cornish boilers. It was rated at 110h.p at 24 rpm and worked at 40 psi, the cut-off being varied automatically according to the load. (Fairbairns rated their engines by actual power developed, whereas others used a nominal power rating: by Boulton & Watt's rating this engine was 41½ h.p)

The tube connecting the engine-house to the main tube was 483 yds long. It was not flexibly jointed like the main tube and being laid on the ends of the sleepers, tended to move. A good deal of unnecessary leakage resulted. Barry Gibbons, who had become engineer to the Dalkey & Kingstown company, estimated that operating costs would have been 30% less if the engine and connecting tube had been better built

The extension cost £39,000.00. Engineer: Charles Vignoles

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