April 19th 2021
Today’s speaker is Gerry P. Cahill, Presenter 103.2 Dublin City FM who talk on “Aspiring to be Terry Wogan”.
Forthcoming Speakers and Events
Apr 26th James Innes - Bitten by the Black Dog
May 3rd Public Holiday
May 10th Annual General Meeting
May 17th Rotary Foundation: Rotarian Delma Sweeney : Transforming the World.
May 24th Dr Nnamdi Elenwoke, RC Barcelona Pedralbes – Covid Review and Contrast.
May 31st TBC
Jun 7th Public Holiday
Jun 28th Club Assembly
Jul 5th Presidential Handover
Jul 12th Patrick Hamilton Walsh, former member, from Stockholm
Jul 19th David Ellis – How Rotary is perceived by the public.
President Alan Davidson was in the Chair at our meeting last Monday.
Thought for the Day
Last Monday Alan Harrison offered us a short quotation from Wendell Berry. Wendell Berry was born in 1934 in Kentucky and is an American novelist, poet, essayist, environmental activist, cultural critic, and farmer. He is an elected member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers, a recipient of The National Humanities Medal, and the Jefferson Lecturer for 2012.
“We have lived by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. We have been wrong. We must change our lives so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption: that what is good for the world will be good for us.”
Visitors and Apologies
Last week we had apologies from members Delma Sweeney, Eamonn Allan, Veronica Kunovska, Brian O’Boyce and Hon Secretary Tony whose Internet service was down. We had one guest, Fergus Quinlivan, introduced by PP Tom.
There were 23 members in attendance.
Rotary Rangers Schedule
Rotary Rangers outings are cancelled until further notice due to Covid19 restrictions.
Hon Secretary’s Announcements
• There were no secretarial announcements last week as Hon Secretary Tony was off-line alas.
• President Alan said that Hon Sec Tony would be circulating information about the next District conference.
• Our club is in discussions with Dublin North and Dublin Fingal about the possibility of a joint venture. There is up to €35,000 in District funding available to support a suitable project. We are also in contact with DG elect Dave Murray about this. One possible project was a machine for Crumlin Children’s hospital which is used to treat a childhood disease. The cost of this machine is €60,000 for which €35,000 is a pretty good start. However, the clubs are open to other ideas – preferably ones that will benefit children. Any ideas or proposals should be sent directly to president Alan.
Members Wishing to Speak
• PP Ethna said that she had noted the decisions taken by Council in relation to members advertising to other members and asked for some clarification. President Alan said that, having tried and failed to get a response from District to our enquiry about this, we had decided that Rotary rules prevented direct advertising to other members via, say, the club’s mailing list. However, it was permissible to set up a separate section of the club’s web site where such services could be offered. Members would have to deliberately go to the relevant section of the website to find such information. As members have to seek out this information, Council does not consider it direct marketing to members.
• On items relating to International, in the absence of Brian O’Boyce (for obvious reasons), president Alan was standing in. He and Gerry McLarnon agreed to meet after the meeting to discuss a number of matters.
• Mary O told us that she had attend the Mijas Pueblo club on-line the previous week. They are now allowed to meet face to face again. There is a nice ritual that they have at their weekly meeting that we might consider. Each week a bottle of wine is raffled. Everybody buys a ticket. The winner provides the bottle for the following week’s auction. PP Paul Martin recollected that when he was president he had introduced a similar wine raffle and that PP Derek had won it twice. Other members told us about equivalent schemes in other clubs, including one in Kenya, including the idea of a happy dollar or a sad dollar that entitled a member to tell a happy story or a sad story. Frank Bannister said that in the New York club, the term used was a Hamilton reflecting the fact that Alexander Hamilton is on the $10 bill. Still down memory lane, PP Tony Keegan said that the first time he attended a meeting of the club, as a guest of Mark Doyle, in 1989, there had been an auction for a case of wine and that he had won it. This had not gone down too well in some quarters at the time.
Jack and Jill
Alan Harrison mentioned in our Editors’ meeting last Friday that there is an upcoming sale of art, including some by his daughter, to raise money for the Jack and Jill Foundation. Some members may remember that their CEO spoke to our club a few years ago. The Foundation provides support for parents and families of children with terminal illnesses. The auction is on-line on the 22nd of April at:
Incognito | A Public Art Initiative in Aid of The Jack & Jill Foundation
There will be 1,200 exhibitors, each with three pieces for sale. All are €60. Some of the artists are more famous than others, but the price is equal for all. First come first served. All money raised goes to the Foundation.
Last Week’s Speaker
Our guest speaker last week, Donal Mangan, was introduced by past president Tom. Tom told us that Donal is a Corkman and an engineering graduate of UCC. He has spent his life working in public transportation and, at different times, has been manager of both Dublin Bus and of Bus Eireann as well as being deeply involved in the Luas project. Tom added that Donal is a former Rotarian and was founder member of the Limerick Thomond club. He is also a former member of the Dublin club. Donal can remember the days when we met in Jury’s hotel and ate food that was left over from the preceding evening's dinner. His wife is an active member of Inner Wheel and a talented singer. Alas Dublin never took advantage of the latter, but Limerick Thomond certainly did.
Donal started by saying hello to Fergus Quinlivan who he had not seen in many years. He wanted to talk to us today about building the Luas light rail system in Dublin. Building a light rail system in a packed city is an insane thing to do. Most builders, when they're putting up houses or factories or whatever, are building on greenfield sites. Putting a railway into a dense urban area where the land it passes over belongs to dozens of different people is extremely difficult. Nonetheless, when it was built, Luas was a necessary response to the rapid growth in the population of Dublin and the emergence of new towns on the periphery of the city.
Donal joined CIE in the late 1960s. At that time there was a plan to reorganize the bus system in Dublin. Buses were depreciated over a period of 16 years which meant that, towards the end of their working lives, virtually the only part of the original bus left was the number plate. There was need for something new and, with some help from UN funding, a strategy study was undertaken to look at transportation for the city. This took into account the growth in the city and considered both the road system and a potential underground rail system. One problem with the railways already in Dublin is that all of the main railway lines come into city up to the point where the going gets difficult. So most of them they are not joined up. The exception is the linking between the Belfast and Wexford lines and even that gets very crowded at certain times.
The study came to the conclusion that there should be better urban rail system in Dublin and recommended a more detailed study of an underground option. Such a system could be used to link the mainline stations in Dublin. A detailed evaluation of this was undertaken by CIE. There was at the time an existing suburban line which ran from Howth to Bray. It was in dreadful condition. This was due to a lack of funding over many years and the fact that CIE’s Inchicore plant had such skilled technicians and mechanics that they could repair anything. So it was always possible to keep the line going with spares and cannibalized parts cobbled together. The old Harcourt and Bray suburban lines only ran at peak times. Donal remembered on one occasion riding in a carriage where he was sitting opposite a wall of the train where, following some repair work, bare asbestos was exposed.
The Bray line needed to be replaced. This was a period when climate change was starting to creep onto the agenda so a proposal was made to electrify it. The question was how. One solution was to do it as kind of “fix as you go” and to move the line from a part to a full day service. One economist, whose name was not disclosed, argued vehemently against electrification saying that CIE should retain and upgrade their existing diesel engines. Donal said that he had met this same economist a few years ago and he still argued that replacing the diesels would have been the right thing to do.
The development of what became the DART meant that there was now a decent suburban service running along the coastline of Dublin, but in the city centre the problems had not gone away. By this time, in the late 1980s, there was no money available for further major projects. CIE had to compete for funds with everybody else in the queue at the door of the Department of Finance and many in that queue had better cases to make. During this period, Donal was moved to Limerick as Area Manager. It was while in Limerick that he joined Rotary. Donal recalled this period as four happy years. Limerick at the time was a great place to live and his family was young.
Meanwhile CIE urgently needed new equipment including new engines and carriages. A plan was put together to replace all of the Intercity trains with modern equipment. Apart from the engine, a single Intercity train needs eight carriages, a dining car, a luggage car and the system, as a whole, needs several spare carriages. Eight sets were needed which came (with the spares) to a total of 100 carriages. CIE applied for funding for this, but could not get an answer from the Department. Then at one meeting Donal asked why there was such a poor reception to the proposal given that this equipment was necessary. He was told that the problem was the 100 carriages. The number was so neat that it looked as if it had been pulled out of the air. If they had asked for 98 or 103 carriages it would have been simpler. So Donal went back to the drawing board and CIE came back with a revised proposal that only needed 98 carriages. Money for this was provided quickly.
Nonetheless, the episode was symptomatic of the lack of finance and absence of long-term planning that also was crippling public transport in Dublin at the time. However, this was an era when, in Europe, investment in trams was proceeding on a large scale. As a result, the idea of putting trams on the city streets, rather than underground, started to gain traction. The problem with an underground is that, once you start it, you have to keep shelling out the cash until it's finished. You have to get it right first time. It's a bit like the Children's Hospital where there are already talks of major overruns and court cases. For this, and other reasons, at the start of the 1990s the tide started to turn as government began to have concerns about the potential costs and risks of an underground system compared to putting a light rail system on the surface (Donal was still chief executive of Dublin Bus at this time). Once the decision had been taken to abandon the underground option in favour of an overground light rail system, it seemed logical to start with the old (then closed) Harcourt St line to bring this through the city and out to the north side. This could be done by going down Dawson street and over O’Connell street bridge. In the centre it could connect to the proposed line to the west and to Tallaght.
This proposal raised a whole raft of potential headaches starting with the law. Remarkably, there was existing legislation from way back that covered tram building in Dublin. There was a discussion as to whether they should rely on this, but it was felt that if there were a challenge to it in the courts, such a challenge could hold things up for a long time. So new legislation was needed which would deal with issues like property rights. The problem of property rights related the fact that on the old railway lines, such as the Harcourt line, rights of way already existed. Once you got onto the city streets it got very complicated very quickly. The problems were compounded by the fact that under those streets there are all sorts of networks and it was not always clear what was down there and where. For example, Dublin gas supposedly had detailed maps of its gas network, but in practice these maps were woefully out of date as they had not been properly maintained. The same was true of water and other sub-terranean services. If you do not know what lies beneath, how do you sign a fixed price contract with a supplier? One solution put forward was one much used in continental cities, namely that you built until you run into a problem then you use busses to bridge the gaps in the interim until the problem is solved and you can continue to build. It was decided, however, that politically this was not a runner.
Despite a huge investment in planning there were all sorts of other problems. Utilities, for example, saw the Luas project as an opportunity to put in new infrastructure and this only complicated things for CIE (or the body in charge, the Railway Procurement Agency (RPA)). However the biggest problems arose from the public consultation where most of the opposition came from, of all places, the Chamber of Commerce. There were also individuals who caused difficulties like a gentleman in the Stillorgan area who raised an objection on the grounds that he would lose his right to darkness because of the brightness of the trains going past. In another case it was necessary to go through parts of some private gardens including one where a lady had recently scattered the ashes of her dead husband.
Then there were implementation problems. Sometimes these had their funny side. An example was Harcourt Street. This is a busy street and the Luas project was therefore proud of the fact that they had managed to schedule all the work on the project to be done at night so as to cause the minimum disruption. But, when Donal went to a meeting with local interests to describe this plan, he was met with an icy silence. During a break he asked the Chairman what the problem was and the Chairman told him that Harcourt street is a street that lives at night. Everybody wanted the work on the system to be done during the daytime. And so the schedule was restructured so that work only happened during the daytime and everybody was happy. After that, the work progressed easily.
Taken as a whole, the Luas project had gone extremely well. Of course there are people that are never satisfied; even today the underground lobby is still grumbling. The problem with the underground option has always been that there are so many technical problems. As an example, Donal described a conversation that he had with an international tunneling expert about the problems of going underneath the city center without damaging buildings like the GPO. The expert said that this could be solved. The GPO, it turned out, is built on wooden piles and the area underneath is very damp. However the engineers could drain the area and freeze the piles and then work on the tunnel! One political party in particular had nailed its colours to the underground mast as it were and came up with the idea that the underground be brought as far as the Ranelagh/the Grand Canal and then there could be shuttle buses to the North side. A slight problem with this was that in order to do this you would need to build under the Grand Canal beneath which there runs a large sewage pipe that would have to be moved.
Donal said that he thought that the Luas system now worked extremely well. In conclusion, he noted that the Luas trams are built in La Rochelle whose rugby team will be playing Leinster in the semi-finals of the European Rugby cup.
In questions president Alan asked about the idea of a tunnel to the airport from downtown Dublin. Donal said that this would be a very big project indeed and that it would be hard to get the costing right. It would involve huge sums of money. And as long as the attitude is that if a government project goes €1.00 over the budget, then we have to have an election, it's not going to happen. He added that most of the traffic to the airport is at night because the airport is at its busiest at that time. Alan asked about an extension of the DART from Howth. Donal said this was feasible, but there was a lot of land to be crossed and it too would be expensive. Other cities have lines to the airport but these are sometimes costly show pieces rather than sound economic propositions.
Past president Derek told a story of his time working as an architect for St. Anne’s church in Dawson street during the Luas building project. They were asked to check if there were any tunnels from the church under the street to the other side. This involved breaking open a bricked-up entrance and going into the low tunnel behind, something that involved crawling over a lot of plastic bags. About three meters in, one of these bags burst and they discovered it was filled with human bones. At this point they got out pretty quickly. It transpired that these were remains from a former graveyard underneath the building next door, a graveyard that had been dug up when the European Union’s new office building was being constructed. The bones had been conveniently put into plastic bags and stuffed into the tunnel. This prompted Donal to tell a story of another panic when bones and body parts seem to have been found at the Red Cow roundabout. The Gardai rushed out there only to find that they were the remains of a dog that some person had buried in one of the fields that the Luas was to go through.
Donal added that the original plan to go down Dawson street had been scuppered when Garrett Fitzgerald had gone down to Dawson street with a tape measure and announced that it would be physically impossible for the trains to turn from Nassau street into Dawson street. This is why the initial Luas system ended up having two lines - one line from Tallaght to Connolly station and one from St Stephen’s green to Bray. The Luas team decided to run with this rather than wait for the perfect solution of a joined-up system - a decision which was supported by the relevant government minister at the time. Subsequently, of course, the lines were connected and today, they somehow manage to navigate the turn at the bottom of Dawson street despite Garret’s calculations.
PP Paul Martin wondered why Dublin had no transport police as other cities have. Donal felt that the Gardai did an excellent job and his experience of transport police in other cities was not great.
Frank Bannister asked about the ghost stations on the Bride’s Glen line. Donal said that these were built in anticipation of future housing being built out there. He also said there was a kink in the Kylemore road part of the Green line. This had been observed by the experts from Brussels who were funding project at the project. They had wondered what this kink was doing there. It was explained to them that this kink was there as a provision for a possible future station.
PP Ted proposed the vote of thanks. He said that he had known Donal a long time and the Luas project had been a fascinating development. A lack of money, a lack the planning and the inability of successive governments to make decisions had hampered public transport in Ireland for a long time. This failure had cost lives. Nineteen people died at Buttevant largely because the carriages in which they were traveling were built on wooden frames. Had they been modern steel carriages there might still have been casualties but they would have been far fewer.
He could feel the pain of trying to get money for new carriages which he recalled cost between €1.5 and €2 million apiece. Modern carriages on the other hand are much safer and there has been no major accident since the upgrading of the Intercity trains. Finally, as a prejudiced Northsider, he could not help but notice that all of the problems and complaints and difficulties that the Luas project had encountered had been the work of Southsiders - in particular the gentleman in Stillorgan worried about his right to darkness. Nobody was unkind enough to point out to Ted that Killarney is also south of the Liffey. President Alan thanked Donal for an excellent presentation.