Gauges Broad and Narrow

By the year 1860 most of the country's railway network was substantially in place, though in the course of the next 60 years it was to add further 2000 miles, reaching its maximum of some 3,350 in 1920. By 1891 the five Dublin terminals were linked by rail, enabling the through carriage of mails arriving at Dún Laoghaire to all parts of the country. With the development of steam navigation in the 19th century Irish Sea passenger shipping services had begun to operate from Cork, Dunmore East (later Waterford), Wexford, Dublin North Wall, Drogheda, Dundalk, Newry, Belfast, Derry and Sligo, run by local companies. With the coming of the railways new services, operated by British companies, were introduced at Rosslare, Greenore and Larne, while other rail-linked ports established important rail-sea connections. Cork, Rosslare, Dún Laoghaire, Dublin, Belfast and Larne became in the later 20th century car-ferry ports linking Ireland with Britain and France.

Up till the 1880s all railways had been constructed to the standard gauge, but when it became clear that several remote areas were unlikely to attract investment, consideration was given to building light, or narrow-gauge railways with the intention of reducing costs. An extensive minor system developed, largely along the western and northern seaboard, utilising the 3 foot (914mm) gauge. These lines, such as the Co. Donegal, the West Clare and the Tralee and Dingle, served local communities which would otherwise have lacked public transport until the arrival of the motor-bus.

In addition to these 'light railways' there were several ventures of an experimental nature, including the 'Atmospheric Railway' (worked by compressed air) from Dún Laoghaire to Dalkey, commemorated in the latter town in the name Atmostphric Road', and the Lartigue monorail from Listowel to Ballybunion (now partially reconstructed as a tourist amenity). Later developments saw the introduction of the innovative Drumm battery-powered trains on Dublin suburban routes (1929-49) and, towards the very end of steam traction in the 1950s, experiments with a large turf-burning locomotive.

In 1899 the Giant's Causeway, Portrush and Bush Valley Tramway became the one of the first electric railways in the world and the first to use electricity generated by water power. The Portstewart Tramway, opened 1882, was the first roadside steam tramway in Ireland, but by then the tram had already established itself as an effective mode of urban transport in the major cities. The Dublin Tramways Act of 1871 granted powers to the Dublin Tramways Company to build a number of lines, the first, from College Green to Rathgar, opening the following year.

Expansion thereafter was rapid and on 16 May 1896 the first electric tram ran from Ballsbridge to Dalkey. The system expanded rapidly and in 1905 was consolidated as the Dublin United Tramways Company, (DUTC) operating some 41 miles/66 km of lines. It was built to the 5ft 3in standard (with the exception of a steam tramway to Lucan, later regauged) but Belfast favoured the British gauge while Cork opted for 3ft 6in. In 1925 new legislation enabled the DUTC to open its first bus route and progressive replacement of the trams continued until the last route, the No 8 to Dalkey, closed on 10 July 1949. The last Dublin area tram service was in fact that operated by the GNR over the Hill of Howth which survived until 1959.

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