The Neighbourhood of Dublin

The History of the Dublin and Kingstown Railway

Early in the last century, proposals were made to connect the Port of Dublin with Kingstown by ship canal, but the project was abandoned when railways were introduced into England, and a number of Dublin merchants recognising the value of the new mode of transit resolved to run a railway to deep water at Kingstown. For this purpose a company was formed, with a capital of 200,000, and the necessary Act of Parliament (I & 2 Wm. IV, Cap. 69) received Royal assent on 6th September 1831.

From the outset the project was most unpopular; it was met by every possible kind of opposition, and everything that could be said or done, appears to have been tried to defeat the proposal. The directors, notwithstanding, had raised over three-fourths of the estimated cost and in May, 1832, they approached the Board of Works for a loan of 100, 000, but that body, which appears to have had the support of popular opinion in its action at the time, refused the loan, stating that it did not appear to them that the construction of a railroad from Dublin to Kingstown for the purpose of expediting the conveyance of passengers between these places, would be a work of sufficient public utility to warrant them in recommending the issue of so large a sum by way of loan from the funds placed at their disposal.

The directors, undaunted, continued the agitation, making themselves still more unpopular, but their belief in the line never wavered, and as one discouragement after another was met, they only became more determined to succeed. The whole project was decried at a huge piece of dishonesty-the directors were denounced as if they were a pack of swindlers, and a further application for a loan was met, as might be expected, by another refusal. The directors on this occasion, however, succeeded in getting a hearing, by means of a deputation to the Board of Works, and ultimately, in August, 1832, a loan of 75,000 was obtained.

In the contract was the somewhat unusual provision that the contractor, Dargan, was to give his whole time to the undertaking, though, in view of the time allowed, it would seem to have been an unnecessary condition.

It was stipulated in the specification that the retaining walls of the embankments were to be of stone from the Donnybrook quarries, also that every part of said railway and works shall be ready to be opened for the public conveyance of goods and passengers over the entire line thereof on or before 1st June 1834 - thus allowing for the entire execution of the undertaking, a period of only about eighteen months from the date of the contract.

As a result of this undue haste, for which there appears to have been no adequate reason, much of the masonry was of an inferior character, and in the section from Westland Row to Barrow Street, the retaining walls, when the embankment was filled in, exhibited such ominous symptoms of yielding outwards, that heavy iron tie-rods with cast iron washers had to be inserted at frequent intervals to prevent absolute collapse. These pins may still be seen along this portion of the line. Several of the bridges, too, proved unsatisfactory, and within ten days of the opening of the line, the one over the Dodder where Lansdowne Road station now stands, was swept away by a flood. A temporary bridge was erected in its place, and was replaced, in 1847, by the existing iron structure.

It was originally intended that each of the bridges over streets should consist of a single semi-elliptical arch, but the Wide Streets Commissioners interposed and insisted on having two small side arches for foot passengers added in all the principal thoroughfares.

To obtain water supplies for the engines at Westland Row, a well was sunk at Sandwith Street, where water was obtained in plenty, but of such bad quality that it was deemed unfit even for locomotive consumption.

The line was formally opened for traffic on 17th November, 1834, and trains were run at intervals during the day, but no constant service was maintained until the following January, when trains were run on week days, every half hour, both ways from 9am until 5pm, while on Sundays trains ran every 20 minutes, with the exception of an interval from noon till 2pm. The single fare were 1s, 8d and 6d. for the three classes.

This, the first railway in Ireland, seems to have been constructed more with a view to the conveyance of goods than passengers, but as happened under similar circumstances, with several of the early English railways it was almost from the outset swamped with passenger traffic.

As the Kingstown railway became more and more used by the public, so the road fell into disuse, and a great change soon became noticeable in that ancient highway. Formerly presenting a most animated appearance, traversed as it was by a succession of outside and "low-backed" cars and "jingles", with their jovial jarveys and passengers, it now became comparatively deserted, and used mainly for the conveyance of goods - the merry sound of the hoofs and wheels was replaced by the roar of the adjacent trains, and the humours and traditions of the Rock Road, told in many a song and story, ended with the advent of the usurping locomotive.

The first sleepers supporting the rails were made of granite but it did not take long to discover the unsuitability of this unyielding material for the purpose, and they were soon changed for wooden ones. Some of these granite sleepers may still be seen in places along the line.

Connection between the engine and carriages was at first by means of chains, which as may be imagined, produced very unpleasant results when starting or stopping - the carriages crashing together again and again before they came to rest. The spring buffer to some extent remedied this, but it took some time before a silent and satisfactory method of coupling was evolved.

The Dublin Penny Journal of 25th October 1834, gives the following description of the opening runs: On Saturday the 8th instant, the first trial of the steam engine 'Vauxhall' with a small train of carriages filled with ladies and gentlemen, was made on the line of railway from Dublin to the Martello tower at Williamstown. The experiment is said to have given great satisfaction, not only as to the rapidity of motion, ease of conveyance and facility of stopping, but the celerity and quickness with which the train passed, by the means of the crossings from one line of road to another. The distance was about two miles and a half (Irish?) which was performed four times each way at the rate of about thirty-one miles an hour. The control over the machinery was complete, the stopping and reversing the motion was effected without a moment's delay.

On the 9th instant a train of carriages, crowded with ladies and gentlemen, proceeded the entire length of the line from the station-house at Westland Row to Salt-hill. There were eight carriages attached to the train; one of the first class, three second, and four of the third class. The first trip was made by the locomotive engine called the 'Hibernia", and with the many disadvantages attendant on a first starting, the trip to the station-house at Salt-hill was performed in fifteen minutes and a half; and back to Dublin in twenty-two and a half minutes Having joined in one of these trips we were delighted with the perfect ease and safety with which it was performed; there is so little motion perceptible even when going at the quickest rate, that we could read or write without the slightest inconvenience.

The illustrations accompanying the articles in "The Dublin Penny Journal" for 1834, are of great interest at the present time, showing as might be expected, considerable changes in the district since the line was constructed, 88 years ago. The bold cliff scenery appearing in the view at Blackrock, has all but disappeared as a result of the alterations in the coastline at the Public Park, while the tract enclosed between the embankment and the Rock Road, shown in the picture as under water, is now dry and grass grown. This tract became in time a very objectionable feature in the neighbourhood and caused much annoyance to the inhabitants by the foul odours proceeding from it, its normal condition being that of a salt swamp.

What seem now, curious notions as to speed, persisted for some time after the beginning of the railroad era, and one eminent authority writing on the subject, expressed the hope that he would not be confounded with those hot-brained enthusiasts who maintained the possibility of carriages being driven by a steam engine on a railway at such a speed as twelve miles an hour.

"The Quarterly Review" for March, 1825, in reference to the line proposed to be constructed between London and Woolwich, sagely remarked "What can be more palpably absurd and ridiculous than the prospect held out of locomotives travelling twice as fast as stage coaches! We should as soon expect the people of Woolwich to suffer themselves to be fired off upon one of Congreve's ricochte rockets as trust themselves to the mercy of a machine going at such a rate. We will back old Father Thames against the Woolwich Railway for any sum. We trust that Parliament will, in all railways it may sanction, limit the speed to eight or nine miles an hour, which we entirely agree with Mr. Sylvester, is as great as can be ventured on with safety".

The prejudice again railway travelling long survived its introduction, and when at length it was proposed to popularise it by means of cheap 3rd class fares, the measure was opposed in Parliament by ministers of the Crown, on the ground that "it would only encourage the lower orders to wander aimlessly about the country."

The first carriages were called coaches, and in appearance were really coaches bolted to wooden platforms supported by flanged wheels, in some cases several coach bodies being fixed to one long platform, but this early type of carriage never made its appearance in Ireland. The persistence of the coach idea in the designs of railway carriages would afford an interesting field for research, and even at the present day some of the features of the old horse coaches are quite discernible in the carriages of certain companies.

In the early days of the Dublin and Kingstown, and of other railways also, a man sat in a box seat on the front carriage, in a similar position to that of the driver of a horse omnibus, immediately behind and over the engine tender, but diligent inquiries have, so far, failed to elicit information as to the duties of this mysterious functionary. It has been averred in some quarters that he carried a whip, but of this allegation, confirmation is lacking. Of his existence, however, there can be no doubt, as apart from the evidence of old people who have seen him, several illustrations in the author's possession, apparently issued with the sanction the Railway and dating about 1845-50, show this officer in situ.

When one considers that these men were without any kind of protection except the clothes they wore, that they must have received a goodly share of smoke and smuts from the engine, and that they were driven at 30 to 40 miles an hour in all weathers, times and seasons, it would not be surprising to learn that promotion in this branch of the Company's service was rapid.

After the determined opposition to the construction of the Dublin and Kingstown Railway, it might reasonable have been expected that similar hostility would have been shown to the Atmospheric Railway, an extension of the former line, and a further innovation, but strange to say, the project received every encouragement, apart from the opposition of the engineering experts who discredited the "Atmospheric" system.

The Dublin and Kingstown Railway though still preserving its separate identity as a Company, is incorporated in the Dublin and South-eastern company's system, of which it has formed a part since the extension of the original line to Bray.

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