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Passenger services through the Phoenix Park Tunnel


ALAN O’ROURKE, with input from Richard Maund and others

The GS&WR opened its line from Islandbridge Junction through the Phoenix Park Tunnel in 1877, to Glasnevin, where it joined the MGWR Liffey branch, opened in 1864. At the other end, West Road Junction gave the GS&WR access to the docks, where it had its own goods yards, and to the L&NWR station at the North Wall. The GS&WR lost no time starting a passenger service to the L&NWR North Wall depot in Nov 1877. By 1901 (just before the Drumcondra line opened), there were two daily North Wall to Kingsbridge passenger trains (one on Sunday) and four eastbound trains, starting from Inchicore, Kildare or even Queenstown.

The line was also used by the American Mails (see DB McNeill’s paper, IRRS Journal No 67, 1975). The idea here was that transatlantic passengers and mails could be speeded up by going by train to Holyhead on Saturday; boat to Kingstown; and continue on Sunday morning by train to Queenstown to pick up the Cunard liners to America. The GS&WR began this service from Kingsbridge in 1859, with horse-drawn road conveyance from Westland Row, clearly the weakest link in the chain, but after 1891, it could provide a through quayside-to-quayside service from Kingstown direct to Queenstown. The DW&WR worked the train to Islandbridge, where a GS&WR loco took over.  Until 1894, the Down American Mail called at Kingsbridge; after that it stopped briefly at Amiens St instead to pick up any Dublin passengers. In 1896, Cunard moved their Dublin point of disembarkation to the North Wall, which became the starting point for the American Mail, with GS&WR motive throughout. In 1892, a second weekly American Mail service on this route began for the White Star Company’s steamers to America, running each Thursday from Kingstown to Amiens St (five minute stop); Islandbridge Junction for a loco change from DW&WR to GS&WR, then through to Queenstown.  By 1901, both American Mails ran from the North Wall, Sundays for Cunard, Thursdays for White Star. The working timetable for March 1901 showed a 3-05am departure (earlier if the mails were promptly loaded), running through to Queenstown, with short stops at Portarlington and Limerick Junction (presumably for water) and a brief call at Cork to set down only, mails and passengers. DB McNeill says the American Mails appeared in the public timetable as running non-stop between Dublin and Cork. Information on the Up connections is not so clear. I am guessing that the Down train had to run promptly, as the liner could not be held at Queenstown for the arrival of the train from Dublin, but Up timings were not so crucial as the steamer from the North Wall or Kingstown was of a more local nature. In practice, it seems that mails and passengers back to Dublin were conveyed on the next available mainline train, and then shuttled round to the boats. In 1901, the obvious candidate was the rather slow 5-25am from Queenstown, reaching Kingsbridge at 11-35am, and providing a connection from Inchicore to the North Wall, arriving there at 12-05pm.  If the mails arrived at Cobh between 10pm and 1-30am the following morning, the PO could request a special train to Dublin, as also happened if demanded by a suitable number of first class passengers. The American Mails latterly also provided second class, but never third class, accommodation. All these American Mail trains ceased running in 1914.

The link south of the river took much longer and was promoted mainly by the City of Dublin Steam Packet Co and the DW&WR, who were wary the L&NWR might capture the PO mail contract and who therefore wished to speed up connections from Kingstown Pier to the other Dublin termini. The rather complex railway politics behind the construction of these links is fully covered by KA Murray in IRRS Journals Nos. 66 and 67 (1975). The first, but longer, part of the City of Dublin Junction Railway (the Loop Line) opened from Westland Row to Amiens St in 1891. The short connection from Amiens St to the MGWR Liffey Branch at Newcomen Junction was more controversial and the subject of a pitched battle between staff of the MGWR and the DW&WR. The Midland seems to have considered the gradient unsafe. In the end, the connection was made and approved by the BoT inspector in 1892, but the GS&WR was reluctant to send its engines over it, and the DW&WR acquired the three big Sharp Stewart 4-4-2Ts to work the mail trains from Kingstown Pier round to Islandbridge. By this time however, the GS&WR was engaged in moves to provide its own independent link to the North Wall (see Murray’s papers again), and it opened its own line from Glasnevin to North Strand Junction, via Drumcondra, in 1901. From April 1 1901, trains ran from the GS&WR to the L&NWR station at the North Wall via Drumcondra, and I assume GS&WR local passenger trains on the Liffey branch ceased. These trains did not serve Amiens St as only two rather awkward links existed between the GS&WR and the DW&WR:

*Via the Liffey Branch and the steep line at Newcomen Junction, which avoided both Glasnevin and Drumcondra stations.

*Via East Wall Junction (the Drogheda Curve), opened in 1877, but mainly used as the GNR’s access to the North Wall.

These services seem the most direct ancestors of the new suburban services as some began from stations on the GS&WR main lines (Sallins, Tullow, Thurles, Kildare, Inchicore, Clonmel, Athlone, and even Queenstown, over the years) and some of these services avoided reversal at Kingsbridge and ran direct from Islandbridge to the North Wall. The return workings seem to have all called at Kingsbridge, but then (sometime in multiple portions) went forward to places like Sallins, Thurles, Queenstown, Clonmel (via Fethard), Limerick Junction, Cork, Athlone, and Kilkenny. At one stage, you could even go through from the North Wall to Limerick, in a slip coach dropped off at Ballybrophy.

The local North Wall via Drumcondra service varied over the years between three and six trains each way, but there were usually more advertised departures from the North Wall than from the western end. These services ceased on 30 June 1910 and Glasnevin and Drumcondra stations closed then. Oliver Doyle has given a detailed account of these local services on the Drumcondra line (IRRS Journal, No. 135, 1998).

The short and more easily graded line from North Strand Junction to the DW&WR at Amiens St was not opened until 1906, and with its own independent route all the way from Islandbridge to Amiens St, the GS&WR instituted another local service in Dec 1906 of seven trains a day from Kingsbridge and eight from Amiens St, also serving Glasnevin and Drumcondra. However these were poorly used: there seems to have been little attempt to provide connections with the GNR and DSER services at Amiens St, and for what local traffic there was, the railway was in direct competition with street trams. These local trains ceased in 31 Dec 1907. This left the services to the North Wall and the boat trains to Kingstown Pier as the only regular passenger services through the Phoenix Park tunnel. Any remaining passenger service to the North Wall ceased in 1922, and for the next thirty years the only publicly advertised regular passenger services through the Phoenix Park Tunnel were the Dún Laoghaire Pier boat trains.

Once it had access to Amiens St, the GS&WR ran a daily early morning train from Kingstown Pier, which on weekdays provided a connection into the Down Cork day mail; and an evening (Monday-Saturday) one, with a connection into a slower train to Cork. There was one return working: weekdays about 7-30pm Kingsbridge-Kingstown Pier. On Sundays, an Up afternoon train from Queenstown was extended from Kingsbridge to Kingstown. By 1922, the link was provided by starting the Down Cork day mail from Kingstown Pier (dep 6-10am), and extending the Up day mail (usually about 3-20pm from Cork), which reached the Pier at 8-35pm. These were weekday only services. Later the GSR added a weekday evening train at 5-40pm, Dún Laoghaire Pier to Kingsbridge, and on Sunday a morning train from the Pier and an evening train (an extension of an Up Cork service) to the Pier. These trains vanished in the fuel crisis during the Emergency and did not reappear in the working timetable until Oct 1950, when a similar service of a morning train to Kingsbridge and an evening extension of the Up day mail to Dún Laoghaire Pier were provided. Also in 1950 the line through the Phoenix Park Tunnel was used by the daily joint CIÉ / GNR Belfast-Cork Enterprise, which left Amiens St after a loco exchange  at 1-40pm, called only at Limerick Junction and reached Cork at 5-10pm. The Up train was 1-15pm from Cork, 4-45pm from Amiens St. The through Belfast-Cork Enterprise commenced on 2 October 1950 (IRRS Journal No. 7, Summer 1950, p. 229) and was withdrawn from 21 September 1953  (IRRS Journal No. 13, Autumn 1953, p. 167).

But, by this time, CIÉ was getting a bit more adventurous about using the link between the two main Dublin termini, and in 1952 it started using Amiens St for the Cork and Killarney radio trains, Down at 9-10am, by-passing Kingsbridge, as did the evening return workings. Most people, if asked when the migration of the Galway and Mayo trains to the Southern route happened, would I think answer “1973” when all these services except the mail trains began using Heuston as their Dublin terminus. But, in the summer of 1953, CIÉ introduced several trains which, although they began at Westland Row, went down the Cork line and avoided Kingsbridge:

*8-25am Westland Row to Killarney (ran fast to Mallow) and evening return. This seems to have been a summer only experiment, and in the September timetable, it was replaced by an 8-25am Westland Row to Cork express, which returned from Cork at 6pm, also running non-stop, but to Kingsbridge.

*11am Cú Na Mara Westland Row to Galway via Portarlington and return. In 1954, an Up morning Galway train on the southern route was added, balanced by a 6-50pm Westland Row to Galway. These trains initially ran fast to and from Athlone, but later stops at Portarlington and Tullamore were inserted.

From 12 Sept 1960, Heuston was closed on Sundays, and the rather spartan Cork service ran to and from Amiens St, augmented from 1964 by one sabbath service each way for Limerick and Waterford. Heuston did not reappear on Sundays until the 14 Septmber 1970 timetable. The Galway radio train also seems to have used the southern route in the Down direction, but to show the tourists a different bit of the country, it returned via Mullingar. With the 9 June 1969 timetable, two weekday Westport trains each way, although still using Pearse, ran via Portarlington (plus a Summer-only Sunday Westport-Pearse round trip). At least by 1972, a connection to the day boat was provided in the summer timetable by extending an Up Galway-Portarlington-Pearse train to Dún Laoghaire Pier.

The opening of the new central sorting depot near Connolly in 1974 saw the remaining mail trains diverted there from Heuston. This was certainly the case in the 10 June 1975 WTT. In return, Heuston got the other Mayo and Galway services and the radio trains. At first, no-one noticed that with the Up day mail running to Connolly, there was now no evening Heuston-Dún Laoghaire service! In fact, the June 1974 WTT did show a 7-25pm weekdays Heuston - Pier train, running 13 July to 7 Sep 1974, but this seems to have got overlooked in compiling the public timetable (the train was advertised in summer 1975 public timetable, and thereafter).

According to the 3 March 1975 (i.e. summer 1975) timetable, the Up day Cork day mail train avoided Heuston - and the "in-and-out" working at Heuston by the 3-20pm from Cork, before heading round to the Pier, did not re-appear until the 14 May 1979 timetable (but disappeared again with the 12 May 1980 timetable).

In fact, the boat trains enjoyed something of an Indian Summer in these last years, with additional trains from Dún Laoghaire Pier at 10-15am and 6pm, and services back from Heuston at 10-25 and 11-20 am, and on Sundays, a morning train from the Pier and an evening service from Heuston. Some of these were summer only trains, and in later years they suffered from ‘bus substitution. Also, in the 3 March 1975 timetable, the long-standing all-stations 7-10am Cork-Heuston train (it got overtaken at Thurles by the 8-00am from Cork) gained a new new extension to Connolly - but this disappeared with the 3 November 1975 timetable (leaving the about-to-be-closed roadside stations on the Cork mainline without their once a day all stations Up train)

By 1978, the Up Cork day mail again declined to serve Heuston and a local 7-15pm or 7-25pm Heuston to Dún Laoghaire Pier provided the link. This service was was summer only (like its middle-day counterpart) and ran seasons 1974 to 1978 - and then again, all-year, at 7-05pm from Heuston from 12 May 1980 timetable.

But the end was near, and the 12 May 1980 timetable saw both the withdrawal of passenger accommodation from any mail trains that still provided this, and the severing of the Pier rail link as part of the DART works at Dún Laoghaire in October. The pier trains were withdrawn with effect from Saturday 11 October 1980 upon closure of Dún Laoghaire Carlisle Pier branch for DART electrification works (i.e. last trains ran Friday 10 October 1980). In the final year, the long association with the Up day mail was broken, and the evening Pier connection was provided on weekdays by "change at Heuston", going forward by the "pier train", or by the Tralee train (Sundays), which was booked through to the pier. Morning and evening local Pier-Heuston trains operated on weekdays, and the line briefly obtained a regular Sunday service from 10 January 1988 until July 1989 in one direction only, viz. the 7-23am SUN Dún Laoghaire – Dublin Heuston (normally worked by the hired-in NIR railcar). The cessation date of this service has not been pinpointed more precisely, although the NIR unit was returned to them on 3 July 1989.

From 25 October 1993 there was a relief train, on Irish public holiday Mondays if they were followed by a normal working day, which appeared in the weekly circular but not the working timetable. This service ceased after 1 June 1998. However, the line again got a regular Sunday train from 8 June 1998, an innovation by Doyle & O'Meara to provide additional capacity on Sunday evenings by extending the 16:25 from Galway, which ran through from Heuston to Connolly and Dundalk. This was also a handy way to get the two four-car 2600 units back to Dundalk. This ran for the last time on 23 September 2001, as did a similar Sunday evening service, 19:30 Limerick-Heuston-Connolly, worked by push-pull, which also went forward to Dundalk, and had appeared in the 19 September 1999 timetable. The line has had no timetable passenger trains since, until the announcement of the new commuter services.

I would like to thank the following for information on this topic: Michael Walsh, Oliver Doyle, Richard Maund, Tim Morton, Roger Joanes, John McCullagh, Martin Baumann, Gerard McMahon


Doyle O (1998) Drumcondra Journal of the Irish Railway Record Society 20: 84-89

Murray K (1975) The Drumcondra Link Line  Journal of the Irish Railway Record Society 12: 12-19; 80-86

McNeill D (1975) The American and Canadian Mails Journal of the Irish Railway Record Society 12: 96-8

For listings of regular trains booked to use the line from 1967/8 onwards, see the "historic" listings on Richard’s web page at

The remainder of this article appears in IRRS Journal number 192, published February 2017

Copyright © 2017 by Irish Railway Record Society Ltd.
Revised: August 20, 2017 .