The other day I was riding on the Luas from Abbey Street to Smithfield on my way home from some Christmas shopping. As I stood there holding the rails, I overheard an old man talking to a friend about how this was his first time riding a tram since 1949. This caught my attention and I listened to the old man explain how his father had taken the old city trams to work every day, but now today’s trams do not even service the part of the city where his father had worked. When I arrived home in Blackhall, I decided to look up the former Dublin tram system to see if this man was telling the truth or if he was just exaggerating in the typical “in the good old times” fashion.
As I poured over pages of Internet-based information about the old Dublin trams, I discovered that this man was right. The old tram system in Dublin in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s was cutting-edge for its time and covered roughly three times as much ground as the Luas covers today. In the early 20th century this tram network was hailed as one of the most advanced in the world, since it was extensive, fully electrified, and efficient. The network had over 300 trams at this time, which is significantly more than are in use with the Luas today.
Why did such an advanced and wide-scale system fall into decline? From the 1920’s to the 1940’s, the rather “socialist” ideas of mass transit fell out of fashion with the Irish. The appeal of mass transit systems was overshadowed by the appeal of having a car, like in America. With this shift in consumer taste, the demand for buses and taxis rose. Buses often followed the same tram routes, which made them a direct competitor with the trams themselves. The last tram in Dublin ran in 1949, which meant the man on the Luas was telling the truth about his only other time riding a Tram. The tracks from the trams were all removed and for years the buses and cars ruled transit in Dublin without any challenge to their authority.
When the Celtic Tiger boom took hold in Ireland, demand for more mass transit skyrocketed. Proposals were made for a metro and for tram lines. The government only sanctioned the construction of a tram system, which became the Luas – taking its name from the Irish word for speed. The Luas opened in 2004 and is much smaller in size than the former Dublin trams. It only has two lines and 54 stops, compared to the sprawling network of trams that once served the population of Dublin. However, in the future this mass transit system is poised to serve a larger area of the city. Work has already begun on extending the Green Line to the north bank of the Liffey and there are other plans in place for new lines in the near future. If all goes well, the Luas can further boost efficient mass transit in a city that was once famed for its trams.