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Docklands, a Station in 51 Weeks



It is generally accepted that, with the opening of the Dublin & Kingstown Railway on 17 December 1834, Dublin was the first city in the world to have a commuter service. The line’s terminus was at Westland Row. However, when the Dublin & Wicklow Railway opened its line, it followed a faster inland route with the terminus at Harcourt Street. The Great Southern & Western Railway would naturally require a terminus in the south-western area of the city and opted for a large site adjacent to the King’s Bridge. When the Midland Great Western Railway was incorporated in 1845, its Act allowed it to purchase the Royal Canal Company in the process of developing the railway. The company constructed its terminus on the canal basin at Broadstone, within a few minutes walk of Drogheda Street, which later became O’Connell St. The Dublin & Drogheda Railway had a number of engineering features to penetrate the city. Approaching from the north, it constructed a long causeway across the bay at Fairview making Fairview Stand a thoroughfare with a park on its east rather than a strip of beach. Bridges were constructed over the River Tolka and the Royal Canal with a high embankment between. Finally the company built its terminus along Amiens Street. Thus, Dublin had five termini initially.

In 1864, the MGWR became the first railway to reach Dublin docks when it opened a 21/4-mile branch from Liffey Junction. The company realised to great potential of ship/train interchange and embarked on an ambitious plan to provide two linear docks for sea-going vessels along the route of the Royal Canal almost as far as North Strand, giving a total quay-side length of 5,500 feet. On the eastern side the company provided goods and cattle transfer facilities while on the opposite bank sidings were provided.

On 15 August 1873, the HMS Hawk  entered the dock with a party of invited guests onboard including John Poyntz Spencer, the 5th Earl Spencer KG, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, who officially opened the docks which were named Spencer Dock in his honour. Two stone tablets to mark the occasion were erected on the eastern side of the lift-bridge and these have been restored as part of the construction of the new station. After the ceremony a special train conveyed the guests to Broadstone where a dinner was held in the Boardroom with its fine black Connemara marble fireplaces inscribed Midland Great Western Railway. Here the Lord Lieutenant conferred knighthood on Ralph Cusack, the MGWR chairman.

In 1877, the GS&WR secured a connection to the docks. In the same year, the London & North Western Railway, which stood to benefit most from a good rail connected port in the Dublin area, transferred its cross-channel steamer services from Kingstown, which was unsuitable as it was unconnected to the bulk of the rail system, to North Wall, where it built a substantial station, complete with a hotel. Even the signal arms were L&NWR but never did a L&NWR train enter the station! It was mainly used by trains of the GS&WR and MGWR, with some Great Northern Railway (Ireland) services. This completed the Dublin termini and within a half century it was to be consolidation.

With the opening of the City of Dublin Junction Railway in 1891, the Dublin, Wicklow & Wexford Railway then had a connection to the rest of the system at Dublin. In 1921, the cross-channel passenger services were diverted to Dún Laoghaire (Kingstown having been renamed following the partition of Ireland) and this reduced the importance of North Wall (L&NWR) as a passenger terminus. In 1937 western services were diverted from Broadstone to Westland Row and the former became simply a locomotive depot. In 1959, Harcourt Street closed and trains from the Wexford line were diverted to Westland Row. With the dissolution of the GNRB, in 1958, CIÉ gradually developed the north-south commuter services leaving terminus. In 1972 services from the Sligo and Rosslare lines were transferred to Connolly, while those on the Galway and Westport routes moved to Heuston, Dublin thereafter having just two rail hubs.

Until 30 November 1981, the Dublin-Mullingar section was the longest stretch of passenger railway in Ireland or Great Britain without an intermediate station. On that date a limited commuter service was introduced between Maynooth and Dublin with intermediate stations at Leixlip and Clonsilla. Ashtown was added five weeks later on 4 January 1982. Dublin was expanding and was in need of more land for house building and along the Sligo line there was considerable acreage of agricultural land, which could be developed. The initial service, using rolling stock of advancing age, did not deter the development of service and, on 2 July 1990, four further stations were added at Broombridge, Castleknock, Coolmine and Leixlip Confey. During the 1980s and 1990s the area to the east of Connolly Station was being developed as Ireland’s International Financial Services Centre. Many of those working at the IFSC were anxious to limit their commute time and purchased houses along the Maynooth line. Drumcondra was opened on 2 March 1998 and proved a popular interchange with the many bus routes passing the station to destinations such as Dublin City University and the Airport.

The growth of traffic on all lines was outstripping the capacity of the consolidated city centre stations and, with the planned re-opening of the line to Dunboyne and Pace, an alternative city centre destination was needed. By 2005, freight services to the former Midland Yard had ceased and the area between Sheriff Street Viaduct and the River Liffey was being developed as high-rise residential area. It was then decided Dublin’s first new city-centre terminus in more than a century would be located north of Sheriff St. Viaduct and east of the Royal Canal. Docklands was chosen as the name of the new terminus.


The Customer Requirement Specification for the new facility required a station building with access for all to Sheriff Street, a booking office and retail outlet, as well as space for entrance/exit ticket validation and ticket vending machines.

Two platforms were deemed adequate for the new station and it was decided this would be a single peninsular structure with straight edges. To achieve the straight edge and yet keep the track close to the banks of the Spencer Dock waterway, the platform left the station at an angle of 11O. A total of 200 metres of platform length were provided to the top of the ramp. Allowing for the friction buffer stop and the run-off behind, this gave a useable platform length of 174 metres – sufficient for eight 21-metre suburban railcars and 6 metres stopping leeway for drivers.


In January 2006, the concept of a 200m platform with two containers for staff and ticketing facilities was mooted. Quickly it became clear that a semi-permanent structure would be possible, perhaps a train-shed like structure at the arches that could be moved eventually. Between 18 and 25 February, it was clear Dublin City planners were unhappy with the type of structure IÉ envisaged. The area to be developed was a clear rectangular site bounded to the south by Sheriff St. viaduct, to the East by the route identified for the future interconnector tunnel to Heuston, to the west there is the site of a proposed canal side linear park and to the north by the platform area which would allow a dead straight 200m platform before the railway would curve left to follow the line of Spencer Dock to Newcomen. The city planners wanted a two-level structure to have entrances from both sides of Sheriff St., while the IÉ plan was to have the passengers access the station down an existing canal-side ramp to the south of the viaduct and through the masonry arches. Access for all was required in both concepts as well as visibility along the platform by station staff at all times.

For the purposes of Planning Permission, the project was divided. A formal planning application was submitted to Dublin City Council for the erection of the station buildings and the associated entrances. The planning legislation allows IÉ to carry out railway development for railway use on its lands without planning permission. This was availed of to develop the track-work, platforms, fencing and landscaping thereby allowing work to commence immediately. Negotiations were carried out on a continuing basis with local resident groups to ensure local interests were met.

Not having to wait for planning permission allowed the old track and derelict gantry to be removed. The track-work was swiftly dismantled over St. Patrick’s holiday weekend 2006 and by the Tuesday only the old ballast remained. This was moved to the spoil heap for disposal. Some of the rails had inscriptions such as ‘MGWR 1891’ on the web of the rail.


As the station was deemed temporary, platforms capable of being relocated were necessary. The total length including the 'runoff' behind the friction buffers was calculated at 202 metres from top of platform ramp to the station building. At first, a piled platform foundation was envisaged but was expensive. In preparation the platform site was excavated to a depth of one metre, which was mainly ballast accumulated over 133 years. It was decided to threat the ground in situ by vibrocompaction using a square wheel roller. Lime and cement were ploughed into the ground as it was being compacted. Some excessively soft areas were further excavated and filled with life-expired concrete sleepers. When finished, the surface was compacted to 25kn per square metre and this was checked by plate-bearing tests. A 75mm nominal blinding layer was then applied to the created level ready to accept the precast platform units. Sheer plates connected the platform sections to ensure they remain inline. The final design, then unique in Ireland, called for 80 pre-cast concrete units each 2.5 metres in length. The units are 8m metres between platform edges and 1.3m high. Four different unit types were cast. 28 units capable of taking vertical supports for the canopy, 26 with 600mm2 access hatches and 26 plain units. Additionally, one interface section, where the platform connects to the station building, was also required. This is trapezoidal shaped and allows the platform to leave the building at an angle of 11O. Ultimately, only a few of the 26 hatches were kept accessible. Because of the use of ‘box sections' the platform, by default, had to be straight – always desirable to avoid gaps with the trains.

The 81 sections were cast by Banagher Concrete Ltd. at their works in Banagher, Co. Offaly. They were then conveyed by road to the site one per lorry and lifted directly to the final position while others were stored on drop trailers on site. Apart from the interface section, each unit weighed 25 tonnes. The interface section was put in place on 28 July and the last section lifted in by early September.

The platform is fitted with help points, one for emergency use and the other for customer information. The standard IÉ train display system is used to advise passengers of train departures and stopping pattern. This is automatically updated by the Central Traffic Control auto-routing system incorporated in the suburban signalling system. The cables for the various platform services were embedded in the platform surface.  Some 200 coping stones were required, 100 each side, and the surface is asphalt with an initial 40mm and a top surface of 25mm. The platform is completed with a 1:8 ramp using concrete block walls in-filled and again finished with asphalt. Acodrain runs along the middle of the platform to take the storm water, which is fed into an attenuation tank from which it releases slowly into the ground. This was necessary as the foul and storm drainage in the area is now in a common system though it is planned to have separate systems.


The platform roof is supported on 28 stanchions of 273mm circular hollow section affixed by 8 bolts pre-cast into every third platform unit giving 7.5m between centres. The stanchions support the main curved rafters formed of 150mm rectangular hollow section on which purloins are affixed. The curved decking is 35mm deep of double-coated 1mm gauge steel crimped to form the tight curvature. The roof outer edges are curved upwards to give guttering. For the glazed section Brett Martin supplied 6mm polycarbonate vaulted roof light. It was the first time the company ever did the length required at Docklands – 200m. In a diesel-powered railway, this is the most satisfactory type of protection for the passengers as it provides shelter while allowing the fumes to vent to atmosphere.


The track layout for the new station is simple. The railway from Glasnevin Junction to Newcomen Junction had been relayed in the recent past and was fully signalled for passenger trains to Platform No. 7 at Connolly. However, it had not been used since 18 May 1998 when it was closed for the redevelopment of Croke Park stadium. It was decided to start the Docklands connection at Newcomen Junction, follow the bank of Spencer Dock, and terminate either side of the new Docklands platform. A turnout and traps were installed to give connection to the freight and permanent way yards at North Wall. This is mainly to allow engineering trains good access to the South Eastern section from the permanent way depot at North Wall via the Newcomen Curve and Connolly No. 7 platform. This track was laid with 54kg/m rail on wooden sleepers.

The turnouts and crossovers selected for the Docklands project use the Swiss Schwihag roller/slide plate system, the first use of these on Irish Rail, though popular on the French and German national railway systems as well as London Underground Ltd. The rail used was standard 54kg/m with cast manganese crossings. With the Schwihag system the switch blades run on rollers rather than the traditional lubricated slide plates. The rollers are on eccentric axles so as the blades move they lift and roll into the opposite position. Experience elsewhere indicates a 50% reduction in points failures when the Schwihag system is used.

The system works on having every fourth or fifth sleeper fitted with rollers, while the remaining sleepers have slide chairs with a Molybdanum coating, From a railway operators’ perspective, the major advantage is the slide chairs do not need regular oiling. This is something traditional points require and is labour intensive, particularly since it is necessary to contact the controlling signalman as each points is oiled to have the points swung to spread the lubricant across the slide plates evenly and avoid it being washed off by rain. Where the rollers are fitted, the switch blades need to have a minimum of 30mm horizontal movements. The Schwihag system greatly reduces the power needed to operate the points, needing just 3Kn to 1Kn. The eccentric axles allow both vertical and horizontal movement.

The permanent way was installed by the Dublin Division staff under Inspector Paul Reilly. By the end of November the track had been laid along the two platforms and ballasted and tamped to a point where final settlement would give the required relationship between the railhead and the coping stones. The site was somewhat remote from the general day to day operation of the railway and we felt we needed a ‘significant event’ to highlight the project was on time and running revenue earning trains within a year from the start date was a reality. We decided it was time to bring in a full size 29000-class DMU set to ‘gauge the platform’ – in lay persons’ terms check the height of train floor above the platform surface and the distance between the train and the coping stones. This plan came as a surprise to some but at 11:00 on 18 December 2006 the train left Platform No. 7 at Connolly, descended the Newcomen line, and entered the possession for the construction project with the permission of the PICOP (person in charge of possession). After passing over the Royal Canal lift bridge and clearing the points at Newcomen Junction the permanent way staff scotched and clipped the various points for the train to run to Platform 2 at Docklands.

The media had been pre-advised that the train was operating and positioned themselves on Sheriff St viaduct to capture the train arrive. We eagerly awaited the morning papers, delighted to find a colour picture in the Irish Independent – a clear indication to all, both within and without the company, trains would run to Docklands within the year. Better was to come, in the Evening Herald of the same day two colour pictures appeared with the leading paragraph ‘Forget the Port Tunnel, the first train has pulled in Dublin’s new €26m Dockland’s station yesterday’.


The Dockland line is relatively short and required only one mile post. Measured from Glasnevin Junction the existing MP 21/2 is under North Strand road over-bridge, which left MP 23/4 on the bank of Spencer Dock. 


The signalling was simple as all that is needed is to arrive or depart from either platform or occasionally run to or from North Wall. This became part of the existing Connolly West interlocking. This is a Westinghouse Solid State Interlocking with which IÉ signalling staff is very familiar. In total only four running signals were required, two platform starting signals and one from Church Road direction. In the down direction there is one running signal. Only one ground disc was required. The points are operated by standard Westinghouse Type 63 machines – a long time favourite on the IÉ system. The signalling system was tested and commissioned over a two-day period in readiness for the opening.

On Friday 9 March, the Operations Schemes Development Manager walked the route with the Connolly District Traction Executives to familiarise them with the new layout so they could give drivers ‘route knowledge’ on Sunday 11 March.


The architect selected for the design of the station was Bernard Dinsmore, of Warrenpoint, Co. Down, with Roughan & O’Donovan as consulting engineers. There were a number of ‘givens’ which the architect had to take into account. Two glass walls were required on the sides facing the platforms and the linear park while blank walls were needed facing the masonry viaduct and the future work site of the interconnector. The building had to encompass two levels – the bridge top and the platform. Polycarbonate as a roof glazing was deemed too expensive to maintain.


Though not a ‘listed’ structure, the historic nature of the masonry arches had to be sympathetically treated. The undersides of the arches were cleaned by sand-blasting and the original track level was in-filled so the new entrance surface was 915mm above the original level. This was to align with the station concourse and ensure it was above any possible flooding. No fixings to the arches were used and the lighting was under floor. The barrel of the arches in relatively shallow, about 400mm, and the planners defined that there should be no bus stop or parking atop.


The architect tried to tie in the station design with the arches. It had to have tall space to account for the two levels, lots of natural light was needed, some cedar wood finish and patenated copper to tie in with adjacent architecture, brick work from original railway colours, easy and low cost maintenance for the future. The roof design is hyperbolic paraboloid using coloured aluminium rather than copper due to risk of theft. Planning permission was submitted late February and was granted after the statutory three-month period in late June.


Before construction commenced an Environmental Study was undertaken. As a result methane was found to be present and had to be dealt with. The site was a possible flood plain at its existing level and some in-fill was necessary. It also ascertained that the site was in esturial clay and gravel was some 12m below the surface. While it was intended that the entire structure would be removable, the practicalities of the site dictated that the foundation required for any structure would have to be permanent. A piled foundation was examined and initially it was intended to use bored piles to reduce vibration but this would have produced contaminated soil which would have to be properly disposed of. This method was abandoned in favour of driven piles. The local residents were informed and the services of an acoustic consultant secured to monitor the vibration, which was set at a maximum of 10mm per second. However, it was limited to 5mm and was monitored on the surrounding buildings by meters. The piles were capped in situ and ground beams then cast on top of these. Precast floor beams, supplied by Banagher Concrete, were then placed on the ground beams to carry the hollow core floor slabs. Anchor bolts for the structure columns were attached to the foundation beams.

The remainder of this article appears in IRRS Journal number 168, published February 2009.

Copyright © 2009 by Irish Railway Record Society Limited
Revised: January 04, 2016 .