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The Rise and Fall of the First Dublin Tram Network – Part 2: Electrification and Unification

Part 1 – beginnings, can be found here


Before the last independent horse tram company was founded, some of the early companies had started talking about joining forces, and in 1881 the DTC, NDSTC, and the DCT merged into the Dublin United Tramways Company (DUTCo). This company would become the basis for one, unified, Dublin tramway system (and later Córas Iompair Éireann) but they were still facing competition from the South Dublin tram companies who had both been acquired in 1893 by Imperial Tramways of Bristol and merged into one company.


The “Tramway King” Clifton Robinson ran the new company and immediately started making changes. Firstly the rails running from Dún Laoghaire to Dalkey were standardised to the same gauge as all other rails, but more importantly he wanted to electrify the whole line from Haddington Road to Dalkey, and reduced the fares by 50%. Despite objections from the railway company and the DUTCo, he did get all necessary permissions, built a new power station and car shed on Shelbourne Road (as of writing this is now a Mercedes car dealership), and installed the overhead wire system. The power station was capable of driving 50 trams, weighing 10 tonnes each, at the same time.

With the restrictions of how much horses could pull removed, the new tram itself could be made bigger and it could pull a trailer to double the available seating space. The top deck was still completely open to the elements and the pantograph was connected to the overhead wiring through a pole sticking out from the upper deck. The driver’s position was at the front of the tram, out in the open, and was expected to manage the controls while standing.

The line was opened to the public on Saturday the 16th of May 1896 with the Lord Mayor, the Directors, and other Dignitaries travelling on the first tram.

The First Electric Tram Service in Dublin with William Martin Murphy (one of the more influential directors of the DUTCo) standing with one foot on the tram and Clifton Robinson at the controls. In the background is the Dún Laoghaire Town Hall. May 17th, 1896

The tram fare from the starting point was three pence to Dún Laoghaire and four to Dalkey, and this aggressive pricing caused the DUTCo and railroad companies to reduce their prices as well. The speed of the tram was around 13km/h, which, according to a newspaper of the time was:

…good but not excessive, for the cyclists on the road had no difficultly in pacing and out-pacing them. It is worth noticing that the horses the trams encountered along the line seemed to regard them with perfect composure and complacency.

(Freeman’s Journal, 18-05-1896)

Clifton Robinson had already started negotiations to extend his electrical line to the city centre and northern suburbs, but this faced very stiff opposition from DUTCo, who saw the city as “theirs”, the Corporation who objected to overhead wires in the city centre (which had so far delayed any plans by DUTCo to electrify their network as well), and the jarveys, who were worried this would be the nail in the coffin for their business and at some point resorted to violence to break up one of Robinson’s meetings with local businesses.

Robinson’s bill was delayed in Parliament and ran into trouble in 1896. This caused financial trouble for the company, and the final merger happened when DUTCo bought out the Dublin Southern Districts Tramways Co. for £243,000. A new company was set up the same year, called the Dublin United Tramways Co. 1896 Ltd. with William Martin Murphy as chairman.

The new company started electrifying their lines almost immediately, starting with the Clontarf line. But since the Corporation still objected to overhead wires in the city centre, the line stopped at Annesley Bridge. Until in 1898 the tram company came to an agreement with the Corporation and agreed to “pay £500 per route mile per year for wayleave and to maintain the roadway between the rails and for 18″ on either side” and electrification of the city centre could begin (although the wrangling about how much the company should actually pay to the Corporation went on to 1925).

The first electric tram arrived in the city centre on the 19th of March 1898, when the Dollymount line was extended to Nelson’s Pillar. Electrification of the rest of the network happened at record speed, and by 1899, the only route still to use a horse tram was the single decker route to Sandymount – all other routes used double-decker trams. This route was eventually electrified in 1901 but remained a single-deck tram due to the low bridge on Bath Avenue (this bridge is still a very low one and can be found next to the “Old Spot” pub).

By 1904 the Dublin Tram system was regarded as one of the most impressive in the world, and representatives from other cities would come to inspect it.

Eason & Son. (1900). Sackville Street (now O’Connell Street), with multiple trams, Dublin City


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