TARA STREET STATION IN DUBLIN ON A BUSY SATURDAY
The station was unusually busy for a Saturday as there was a Rugby Match at Lansdowne. As soon as I arrived there was a special train and that reduced the pressure on the southbound service however because of the crowding I abandoned my plan to visit Greystones and travelled North to Howth instead.
The Dublin Area Rapid Transit system (stylised as DART) is an electrified commuter rail railway network serving the coastline and city of Dublin, Ireland.
The service makes up the core of Dublin’s suburban railway network, stretching from Greystones, County Wicklow, in the south to Howth and Malahide in north County Dublin. The DART serves 31 stations and consists of 53 route kilometres of electrified railway (46 km (29 mi) double track, 7 km (4.3 mi) single), and carries in the region of 20 million passengers per year. In a similar manner to the Berlin S-Bahn, the DART blends elements of a commuter rail service and a rapid transit system.
The DART system was established by Córas Iompair Éireann in 1984 to replace an ageing fleet of diesel-powered locomotives. It was, and still is, the only electric mainline railway in Ireland, and one of two currently operating electric railways, the other being the Luas tram which opened in 2004.
Since 1987, the service is operated by Iarnród Éireann, Ireland’s national rail operator. Contemporary rolling stock on the DART network is powered by 1,500 V DC overhead lines and uses the 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm) Irish gauge. All trains in the Dublin suburban area, including DART services, are monitored and regulated by a Central Traffic Control (CTC) facility located in Connolly Station, known as Suburban CTC. This facility has been extensively automated and requires a staff of five; two signallers, one with responsibility for level crossings, an electrical control officer, who supervises the electrical power supply equipment and an overall supervisor.
The main CTC is staffed at all times however, there are also backup local control rooms which allow services to continue in the event of serious technical problems.
A single driver is responsible for the management of each train from the cab in the leading carriage. Automatic doors are controlled by the driver and are armed upon arrival at stations. Real-time passenger information displays on station platforms offer passengers updates on the next train arrival times, service updates and outages.
Automatic PA announcements are made in case of service disruptions and are tailored to each station. The majority of stations on the network have been renovated to include automatic barriers which require passengers to submit their tickets for verification before they can set foot on the platform.
A ticket is required in advance of boarding DART services and can be purchased at stations from staffed kiosks and automated machines. Passengers can also avail of the option of using a Leap Card, Dublin’s integrated ticketing scheme. Leap cards are offered as contactless cards onto which passengers can load set ticket options or a cash balance. Leap fares are typically cheaper than paying in cash for a journey.
On the DART network, users tag on at their point of entry and tag off at their exit point. Irish Rail, along with Dublin’s other public transport operators operated its own smart card system which was phased out to coincide with the Leap Card’s introduction. Revenue protection officers check passengers’ tickets to ensure validity both onboard trains and on station platforms at random intervals.
Several proposals have been made to expand the DART network beyond the coastal mainline and provide service to the north and west of the city. These expansion plans included a proposed tunnel linking the Docklands Station at Spencer Dock in the city’s quays and Heuston Station. This proposed DART Underground project, first posited in 1972, included plans for services from Celbridge/Hazelhatch to the Docklands via St. Stephen’s Green.
The DART Underground project was put on hold in September 2015. While included in the Greater Dublin Transport Strategy 2016-2035 (published in 2016), the DART Underground proposal was not included in the Greater Dublin Area Strategy 2022-2042 (published in 2021). In 2017, IÉ announced plans to procure a new fleet of trains with the intention of extending DART services from 2023 onwards.
An initial purchase of 100 vehicles was proposed to allow replacement of the existing fleet; this proposed purchase would include bi-mode units to allow services to run beyond the existing electrified network. In December 2021, IÉ announced that Alstom had been selected as the provider of up to 750 new vehicles, with 325 planned as part of the DART+ plan. Part of Alstom’s X’Trapolis family, an initial purchase of 95 vehicles is to be undertaken, formed into 19 5-car units. A total of 13 of these are due to be fitted both with pantographs to operate using the 1,500 V DC OHLE on the main DART network, and batteries to allow operation on non-electrified routes.
The battery operation is planned to allow the extension of DART services as far as Drogheda. The remaining units in the initial batch are expected to also be 5-car, fitted with pantograph only. In 2023, Alstom revealed prototypes of the new DART trains. The prototype plans include 4 bike spaces per car, space to charge e-bikes and scooters, dedicated wheelchair areas, and automatic ramps for passenger accessibility.
In April 2023, TD Fergus O’Dowd suggested that the first set of trains were due to be delivered by 2025, enabling expansion of DART services to Drogheda along the DART+ Coastal North route.