By James Scannell
Following the passage of The Transport Act, 1958, unrenumerative was the one single word that C.I.É. employees working on branch railways lines dreaded hearing as it meant that the line in question had become loss making and had no possibility of breaking even in the future and ultimately meant closure.
Many lines were closed with one of these being 10-mile long Harcourt Street, Dublin, to Bray, Co. Wicklow, line, known simply as the ‘Harcourt Street Line’ which operated its last service on 31st December, 1958, amid great public criticism and outcry.
Opened for traffic on 10th July, 1854, the Dublin end of the line was located in a temporary terminus in Harcourt Road, Dublin, near the current Luas Green line Charlemont station. Between 1854 and 1859 the stations on this line, running north to south were Harcourt Road, Dundrum, Stillorgan, Carrickmines, Shankill, and Bray.
In 1859, the line was extended a ¼ mile northwards from the Harcourt Road terminus to the fine imposing above street level building the Harcourt Street terminus, designed by George Wilkinson, opened on 7th February, 1859. Between 1859 and 1896, stations added were Harcourt Street (1859), Milltown (1860), Foxrock (1861), and Rathmines and Ranelagh (1896), renamed Ranelagh in 1921.
In the 1950s the south Dublin area was becoming increasingly affluent but was still largely undeveloped by way of housing and industrial development sites. It was a traumatic time for Irish railways as C.I.É attempted to reduce its losses through Dieselisation and the elimination of uneconomic services while facing competition from cars and road freight vehicles.
Diesel railcars were introduced on some of the Harcourt Street-Bray services in 1954 as a cost saving measure, and by 1956 had replaced steam locomotive working. In south Dublin, thirteen bus routes served areas through which the line passed with most being able to bring passengers directly to Dublin City Centre i.e. O’Connell Street.
In the latter half of the 1950s as the C.I.É deficit continued to rise, following the passage of The Transport Act, 1958, the company was given the statutory power to close uneconomic lines without having to seek prior authorisation from the Minister for Transport, then Erskine Childers, T.D. Dr. C. S.
(Todd) Andrews, a former managing director of Bord na Móna was appointed chairman of C.I.É effective from 1st September, 1958, and with power to act as Chief Executive with the target of bringing the company to self sufficiency by 31st March, 1964.
In mid-October, 1958, Dr. Andrews presided at a C.I.É. board meeting at which General Manager Frank Lemass presented recommendations concerning two uneconomic branch lines – the 30-mile Sallins – Tullow branch line which passed though Dunlavin, Co. Wicklow, and Baltinglass, Co. Wicklow, to Tullow, Co. Carlow, and the Harcourt Street, Dublin – Bray line to Shanganagh Junction line. The board recommended closure and this decision received scant coverage or comment in the newspapers.
At the formal press conference in Kingsbridge Station, Dublin, on Tuesday, 28th October, announcing the line’s closure, Dr. Andrews said that the company was required under the recent Transport Act to be financially supporting within five years and that radical economies had to be effected.
The seventy-four employees affected would be compensated or transferred to other lines; a substitute bus service (No. 86) would be introduced, and that all the land and permanent way would be offered for sale, and that an improved service on the Bray-Westland Row line might be provided.
At the end of October, Frank Lemass issued a circular headed ‘Withdrawal of Services from the Harcourt Street line on and from 1st January, 1959’ to commuters which explained the reasons behind the closure decision with the bottom line being that the closure would save C.I.É. £71,000 annually.