Wednesday, 2 September 2015

The Phoenix Park Tunnel

The Phoenix Park Tunnel is probably a complete mystery to most Dubliners, though that may change soon.

It's part of a rail link between Heuston and Connolly Stations, a link that just happens to be "under" or "beside" several key places in the Moss Reid series, and for a time I was mulling over having the link itself as a location.

The rail link was built in 1877 and is still in good order. Apparently it's only a ten-minute train journey between the two stations, though up to now the route has mainly been used for freight and rolling stock rather than passenger services. It has sometimes been called into action for special trains from Cork to Connolly for GAA matches in Croke Park, though less so in recent years.

From Heuston the pair of tracks cross over the River Liffey...

Above and below: the bridge over the Liffey, viewed from Conyngham Road, with Heuston Station in the distance

Then it weaves under Conyngham Road and the perimeter wall of the Phoenix Park. From the road it's easy to make out the top of the tunnel as it meets the park wall - once you know what you're looking for.

Still underground, the line heads due north under the parkland, about fifty metres west of the Wellington Monument. (Chapter 29 of Ghost Flight). Then it swings north-east, almost as far as the park gates at the top of Infirmary Road (Chapter 30).

The line emerges into open air by an apartment complex just behind Sydney Nagle's vets surgery at the start of the North Circular.

The track continues beside McKee Barracks and down the back of Ellesmere Avenue before going under the Old Cabra Road then Cabra Road. It swings eastwards and goes under the Royal Canal, joining the Sligo line near Glasnevin.

From there on it all gets a bit vague for me. I think it runs parallel to the canal and Whitworth Road, before continuing eastwards to Connolly Station or towards North Wall via North Strand junction. Bear in mind that I'm a writer, not a trainspotter.

What I love about all this is that the tunnel has a whiff of mystery about it. Secret goings on, trains disappearing into nowhere, all very Famous Five...

Plans for new service

So up to now I thought this little-used, little-known railway line would make an excellent location for a bit of fiction. A good getaway route perhaps, or a hideout or meeting place. Or the site of a massive underground explosion. I'll leave it up to your imagination.

But last month the Minister for Transport announced plans for a new passenger service on this very same line, linking the southwest commuter belt to the docklands and the east coast.

From autumn next year, commuter trains from Kildare, Sallins, Hazelhatch and Cherry Orchard will travel through the Phoenix Park Tunnel across the northside to Connolly, before continuing on to the Pearse Street and Grand Canal stations.

It could carry up to four trains an hour, though these are unlikely to stop at Heuston itself, because it would have to be at Platform 10. And if you think Platform 8 (often used for the Cork and Kerry trains to Dublin) is a seriously long walk from the main station concourse, just try the long march to Platform 10.