Dublin Learns the Joys of Streetcars

It cost $433 million for 3.66 miles, or $118 million a mile. It’s slower than walking, at least for some trips. It significantly increased street congestion and has had an especially “negative impact on other forms of public transport,” namely buses. What is it? Dublin’s new Cross-City Tram.

Note that the videographer had to speed up some scenes so people wouldn’t lose patience with watching the slow-moving tram.

Instead of being divided into three segments on four wheelsets, like many so-called modern streetcars in the states, the Dublin trams are seven segments on eight wheelsets. That means they can carry 358 people. It also means that, much of the time, they will run even emptier than American streetcars, since it is not easy to reduce the number of segments in a car for low-use periods.

The Cross City tram is an extension of one of two tramways that first opened in Dublin in 2004. Before the Cross City extension, trams on the two lines operated about 700 trips per weekday carrying about 90,000 passengers. That’s an average of 130 passengers per trip. Assuming the average trip is about half the length of either of the lines, the average tram would have about 65 passengers, making it about 18 percent full.

So why did Dublin wreck its bus system to build a tram that is likely to run less than one-fifth full most of the time? It turns out the European Union gave the city huge grants covering, in some cases, more than 50 percent of the cost of the tram lines (the Cross City tram is an extension of one of the city’s two lines). No doubt some politicians in Dublin argued that they couldn’t afford to turn down this “free money.”


3 thoughts on “Dublin Learns the Joys of Streetcars

  1. prk166

    There’s something about what Dublin is doing that could be interesting to explore, calling it a streetcar. As the Anti-Planner uses it, it’s not a problem. After all, tram, light rail, trolley and streetcar are all the same thing. But in some circles they are becoming enamored with the term “streetcar”. In fact, some of the behavior is arguably an unhealthy obsession.

    We saw this in 2010 in Politifact. Milwaukee Mayor Barret and Wisconsin Governor Walker had a single debate for that 2010 recall election. Poltiifact made the obviously unsubstantiated and wrong claim that streetcar is the modern term, the proper term and that using trolley was wrong. There’s a niche group of urbanistas that have put on this yoke of fighting for the term streetcar.

    We see it recently in St. Paul ( MN ). Local reporter Melo repeatedly invokes “modern streetcar”. It’s not just weird because no one talks about buying a “modern car” they buy a new car nor does Delta put out a press release stating they’re buying “modern airplanes”. And it’s not just off because there’s no need for it. It’s odd because they’re picking up the marketing spit out by these gigantic multi nationals.

    The links are below. The 2014 document form the Riverview Committee starts off with a table showing the difference between a trolley and a light rail vehicle. It’s not really much. But note that Melo, like so many others that have drank the koolaid, is fully on board with it being a “modern streercar” even though the Riverview Committee’s own documentation indicates it’s light rail.

    Again, reality is that they’re all the same thing. The idea of using the term streetcar and trolley was to differentiate a specific type of operation from another one. There was never a hard and fast line between the two.

    In the case of the proposed West 7th line, they’re spending light rail money and using light rail vehicles but bending over backward to call it a street car. The original trolley proposal for 2014 on W. 7th said they’d spend a couple million on operating it. This proposal calls for spending $35 million / year for operating it That’s light rail money, not street car.

    And the’re spending light rail money to build it. The proposed Southwest Light Rail line is currently estimated to cost $2 billion to build. This west 7th “modern streetcar” is going to cost….. drumroll, $2 billion!

    Now they play these games with these words because the business owners on west 7th have already put the brakes on a light rail project. They know it’ll kill them. And they know buses can give just as good service.

    Sooooooooo…. it’s interesting to contrast that with Dublin where they just call them trams and move on with life.



  2. The Antiplanner Post author

    As used today, the difference between streetcar and light rail is that multiple light-rail cars can be coupled together while streetcars have no couplers. Also streetcars tend to always be in streets while light rail often has its own right of way. Europeans use tram to refer to both. Trolley is a colloquial term that technically applies to any line with overhead wires.

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