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Dublin goes back to the future (with free trams)

By David McKittrick, Ireland Correspondent

30 June 2004

Free public transport will be on offer in Dublin - at least for the next few days - as trams return to the city after an absence of half a century.

Their appearance will revive memories of a bygone era when trams were very much part of the city's life and indeed its literature. Writing of Dublin, James Joyce referred to "the heart of [its] life: its trams."

The new system is being introduced today as part of Dublin's efforts to cope with the traffic congestion that has been an inevitable but unfortunate spin-off of the city's recent prosperity. It is called Luas, Irish for speed, indicating its mission of whisking travellers from the suburbs into the city centre past lines of barely moving vehicles.

Instead of the clanging hulks that carried Joyce's hero Leopold Bloom around the city on Bloomsday, the new trams are sleek and streamlined in tune with Dublin's image as a city under rapid modernisation.

Publicity for the new system, says it "connects to Dublin city centre with high capacity, high frequency, high speed services. There are convenient stop locations and excellent levels of comfort and safety with easy access at all stops."

The system is operated by the French company Connex, which runs tram and light rail networks in countries that include Australia, New Zealand, Spain, France, Germany and Denmark. Its experience in Britain has not been so successful, losing the rail franchise for two routes in the south of England.

The Dublin tram line, which starts running today, links Sandyford in the south of the city to St Stephen's Green in the centre, following, for the most part, the course of an old railway line.

A second line, to be opened later, will run through the north of city. The two lines will initially not be linked, though plans for a metro system which would do that are under consideration.

The trams carry up to 320 people, the equivalent of four double-decker buses. Being powered electrically, they are described as pollution free.

One woman living in the south Dublin suburb of Dundrum said she thought the new system should bring her to St Stephen's Green in 10 minutes or less. At the moment, a bus-ride lasts about 45 minutes, while a car journey takes longer.

The new system is not expected to solve all of Dublin's transport problems. Many of these are caused by the rapid growth of commuter areas miles from the city which generate long morning and evening tailbacks.

Seamus Brennan, the Transport minister, has predicted that Luas can meet a target of carrying 20 million passengers each year. Speaking at the new Sandyford depot he added: "This is part of my own constituency and I know the people fairly well, and I can sense great excitement." He has appealed for particular care to be taken as the system comes into operation to protect pedestrians, motorists and cyclists.

Travel will be free for the next few days before a €2 (£1.30) fare comes in on Monday. In Joyce's day, a tram ride cost one penny.

2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd