21st Century Railways2012-2012
Railways in Ireland have been around for almost 180 years. When they first arrived they brought Ireland to the forefront of cutting edge technological change. The railways took over from canals as the new means of mass transportation of people and goods.
Having once enjoyed a Golden Age, railways were to enter a long period of decline - but today their revival is being championed once again.
The early years of the New Millennium witnessed the greatest investment in the Irish rail network since railways first came to Ireland. A sort of renaissance has taken place right across the network and, despite the current recession, is set to continue albeit slowly into the future..bringing the railways out of decades of neglect and into line with 21st Century expectations.
Towards the end of the last Century. an exception to decades of rail neglect was the Dart...
The arrival of the Dart in 1984 so happened to be exactly 150 years after the launch of Ireland's first Railway - The Dublin to Kingstown (Dunlaoire) - and like the Dart today proved a great success....the Dart travels along the same route that Ireland's first rail commuters used...
After the success of Ireland's first Railway - rail mania gripped the nation and Investors decided that rail services should extend to the far reaches of the country, first north and then west of Dublin...Kingsbridge (Now Heuston Station) was built with ambition of extending railways to the entire south and west of the country....The Golden Age of the railway had begun and railways became an integral part of everyday life ultimately surviving famine, two world wars and Civil war.
But the 1st and 2nd World Wars also brought the development of the combustion engine... the motor car became the preferred mode of transport across Europe...
Also the Irish Civil War destroyed much of the railway network. The golden age of the railway in Ireland was coming to an end and the new revolution in transport - the motorcar - took hold for generations to come....
The late 1950s and early 1960s saw renewed effort to hold the rail network together....Musical expresses and mystery trains were part of an unsuccessful attempt to lure commuters away from their cars. The 70s, 80s and 90s saw little or no investment in railways.
It was not until the late 1990s when the love affair with the motor car turned sour that the railways fortunes would change for the better. Congestion, endless traffic jams in cities and towns across the country brought transport issues to the forefront of national debate. Gridlock became the buzz word of the day and the car which was once the most serious threat to Rail travel looked like it was going to put railways back on track. clearly there was an appetite for a more balanced approach to the nations transport problems.
Making the case for the railways couldn't have been better timed. The Celtic Tiger lashed its tail and groaned and a benign Europe smiled. The Government coffers were full.
But where to invest, what to invest in, expansion of the current system, the development of new lines, the re-opening of old ones, new life for the regions, a renaissance for the railway? Perhaps - the first of its kind in over a Century.
With over 40% of the population living in Dublin, its not surprising that priority for new rail projects is given to the city because of the need for efficient mobility into and out of the capital. But many argue there are still missing links needed to complete the transport jigsaw in order to persuade motorists to consider leaving their cars and the NOW much improved motorway network. These include development of the Western Rail Corridor, Dart Airport, Metro North and the much-favoured Dart Underground project - all which would radically transform rail interconnectivity.
Today we owe a great deal to the early railway pioneers - they started something that was to have a profound effect on Irish life. The latest transformation continues that legacy but ultimately a good railway will depend on decisions informed by the kind of society we want for future generations.