A look at the Luas (Dublin Part 3)

This is the final part of my trip report of rail journeys in the Republic of Ireland.  I’ve previously wrote about my rides on the DART and Intercity & Enterprise in the previous 2 posts.  This post, as promised, takes a look at Dublin’s tram system: the Luas.

The Luas network consists of 2 unconnected lines: the Red Line and Green Line.  The Red Line covers the city centre north of the River Liffey before crossing the river to connect with Dublin Heuston station, before continuing on further south to Saggart and Tallaght.  The Green Line, on the other hand, starts at St Stephen’s Green and then winds down south to Brides Glen.

A route map taken from the Luas website:

zonemap

At the time of writing the only way to interchange between both lines are to walk across the river from St Stephen’s Green to Abbey Street station, a journey that takes approximately 20 minutes if you brisk walk.  Its a less than ideal connection, but works are well underway on the Luas Cross City, an extension of the Green Line across the river to connect with the Red Line, before continuing on to Broombridge Station in the north of the city.

Information signage on construction hoardings:

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Route map taken from the project website (https://www.luascrosscity.ie/):

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Given that Tengku Adnan, the Federal Territories Minister seems intent on introducing trams in Kuala Lumpur, I thought I’d do a simple write up on what a tram system should feature as part of their infrastructure, as well as serving as a photo essay for my geeky part of my Dublin trip.

Quick note: Trams are an entirely new idea in Malaysia.  No other Malaysian city have had trams as part of their transport infrastructure with the exception of the city of Georgetown on the island in Penang.  Georgetown at a point in time featured a tram network, but it was replaced by a trolleybus network in the 1920s.  I should also note that Dublin is a relatively suitable case study as the Luas was only opened in 2004, making it a newly built modern tram system instead of an upgrade of a colonial era system.

Operator: The Luas network is operated by Transdev, not Irish Rail (IÉ)

Station Infrastructure

A common feature of all Luas stops are their ease of access.  Platform height is low compared to conventional train stations, and platforms are essentially a slightly raised section of the pedestrian sidewalks.  The sides slope down as a ramp instead of staircase, making them easily accessed by the disabled.

Each stop features a large station signage, shelter, ticket vending machines, and an LED information board that shows the timings of the next trains.  I was unable to get any pictures of the ticket machines, but I can say they were quite user friendly.

A view of St Stephen’s Green station, showing the shelter, LED board, station signage, and ticket machines:

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James’s station, showing the low platform height and lack of ticket barriers:

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Closeup of station signage:

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Station built as a part of the ordinary sidewalk:

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An advantage of the system was that as the running lanes for trams in the vicinity of the stations were restricted to trams only, passengers could easily switch platform by simply running across the gap in the absence of an arriving or departing tram.  The separation between tram and traffic also meant that for the most part, tram operations were kept smooth.  Of course, the trams are still subject to traffic lights, though I’m not sure whether they are given priority.

Green Line tram at St Stephen’s Green:

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While no dedicated cycling parking rings were installed at stations, one could easily chain their bikes to the metal railings as seen in the picture above.

Unlike ordinary train systems, the Luas operates on an honour system: There are no ticketing barriers for the magnetic tickets.  Passengers are expected to buy their tickets by virtue of it being good character.  Theoretically, one could ride the tram for free, but be prepared to pay the fine if caught during a surprise inspection.  The lack of ticket barriers also mean that there will be no congestion at stations caused by passengers lining up to validate their tickets on the relatively small station platforms.

Users of the Leap card (a transport card) can tap on and off at readers located on poles on the platform.  It is the only form of ticket verification installed.

A Luas ticket; Fares are charged by zone.  Travel within the same zone and the fare is the same no matter which stop you disembark at:

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A tram arriving at St Stephen’s Green.  Note the separated running way:

 

The same tram leaving St Stephen’s Green.  Note that it stopped for traffic lights at the end of the video where the tracks join the main road:

 

General Infrastructure comments

Speaking about separation of running ways, one of the main concerns surrounding the installation of a tram network in a built up city is the trams’ interaction with existing road vehicles.  The worry is that it either hits motorists, gets hit by motorists, or simply gets stuck in existing traffic congestion.  The last bit is particularly worrying as the main reason for trams is to reduce traffic congestion by providing a speedy alternative: It can’t do much good if it gets stuck in traffic can it?

There is a simple solution to this problem: Separated running ways.  In essence it requires dedicated corridors to be set aside for the running of trams, but forbidden to other vehicles.  This requires a reduction in the road’s existing capacity as it effectively takes lanes away from cars.  While that is certainly a clear disadvantage, it would help to ensure a good frequency of service, which means people would be able to rely on it as a viable alternative to driving or the bus, allowing the system to achieve its aim.

Another way to carve out a dedicated running lane for trams is to take over the entire street for tram running.  This is usually done on narrow streets instead of wide ones, and also involves the pedestrianising of the parts of the street not taken up by the tram.  By itself, the wider pedestrian sidewalks will allow greater foot traffic, increasing the accessibility of the area in question.  Also, given the low profile nature of tram stops, a station can be built along the wider sidewalks, or can even be part of the sidewalks themselves provided the sidewalks match the trams’ floor height.  Such a setup would benefit from the ease of pedestrian access, not to mention the presence of a tram stop would greatly help the area’s connectivity.

Here’s a video of a Luas running through a low traffic side road near the Guinness Storehouse.  With some imagination one can imagine it as a pedestrianised street:

 

Picture showing the low floor height of the trams, allowing for a step free entry:

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The interior is much like a normal train, though it could certainly use more grab-handles:

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Journey times are also relatively fast.  A trip from Dublin Connolly to James’s on the other side of town took around 15 minutes-Something that cannot be achieved via the ordinary bus network.

Here’s a video of a portion of said trip:

 

If we had to compare it to a BRT/Bus system instead

One disadvantage of tram systems are that it can be prohibitively expensive to install.  This is because a tram system would require the laying of tracks, overhead catenaries (power lines), as well as a signalling system.  Also, the maintenance of the vehicles themselves are not exactly cheap.  The disruption caused by the laying of tracks may also be unacceptable to certain parties, and certainly does affect traffic flow for the required duration of time.

Heavy works needed to install the tracks:

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At a glance, it seems the only difference separating a Tram and a BRT network is the difference in vehicle: one being rail based while the other being bus based.  While it is possible that a system like the Luas can be replaced by a BRT system using the same infrastructure (with some tweaks), it is undeniable that rail services offer a certain kind of certainty to the public eye which a BRT cannot offer.  At the end of the day, BRTs will be seen as simply common buses running on its own lane by the average person in the street despite utilising the same branding.  Trams are distinctive and a highly visual landmark of a city by itself: You can tell its a tram by the sound of the bells, the soft rumbling, and the shape of the vehicles.

In fact, the same certainty is present in conventional rail systems as well.

Romanticised views of the trams aside, trams are predominantly electric, giving them lower emissions per vehicles than buses.  This is important as the spectre of global warming means that we have to seek cleaner alternatives for our everyday needs.  Buses consume fossil fuels, whereas trams rely on an electricity grid powered by a central powerplant.  This author is no expert but surely an electric vehicle is better than one run on finite fossil fuels?

Granted, there are electric buses with a notable example being the ones used on the Sunway BRT.  However, whether or not they are capable of carrying the same number of passengers as a tram throughout a day remains to be observed, not to mention that they have to be charged back to full power after a few hours of used,  whereas trams receive a constant power supply.

 

Ultimately, both systems are quite similar and serve the same functions with their own sets of advantages and disadvantage.  Personally, this author rather likes trams (ding ding!), but acknowledges that a BRT system could also get the job done depending on the circumstances.

——

This wraps up the Dublin series.  I hope it has been an enjoyable read.  Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

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2 thoughts on “A look at the Luas (Dublin Part 3)

Add yours

  1. Nice writeup DOCTORJONSMITH. Please do update with pictures of the ticketing system when you manage to get it. That ticketing vending machines with honour system removing needs for gates or barrier while entering the tram is a major contribution to capacity of that tram. Otherwise, the ticketing gates would be a bottleneck.

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