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Double Take: The oddly-named Dalkey road that was once a very unusual railway

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282610678_9ba53a6cd0_o Source: fhwrdh/Flickr

IN THE SPOT where Barnhill Road meets The Metals in Dalkey, Co Dublin is a sign marking Atmospheric Road. 

While one might think that the name was randomly allocated or perhaps alluded to the mood of the area, Atmospheric Road was in fact given its moniker as an Atmospheric Railway once ran alongside it.

The Atmospheric system operated whereby the engine supplying the power was stationary, and the train was pulled along by the suction of a plug through a tube.

“A pipe, 15 inches in diameter, was laid between and on a level with the rails, and the air in this was exhausted from one end by a powerful steam-driven air pump, forcing a travelling piston along the tube by the pressure of the atmosphere,” reads an account of the system published by Dalkey Heritage Centre.  

Historian-in-Residence for Dublin City Council, Maeve Casserly told TheJournal.ie: “The Atmospheric Railway was the work of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who is famous for experimental rail in both Britain and Ireland.” 

atmosphericrailway Source: Illustrated London News

Known as the Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire) and Dalkey Atmospheric Railway, the line operated between 1844 and 1854 and covered less than two miles.

“It was part of the extension of the rail from Dun Laoghaire towards Bray, although its development only ever made it as far as Dalkey”, says Maeve. 

The line had a 4ft 8½in gauge track and “lay about nine feet below ground level in a narrow cutting following the alignment of the old tram-road, known locally as the Metals,” according to a newsletter published in November 1974.

There were ten bridges and a tunnel giving three inches clearance above the train, making it very dangerous for passengers to stick their heads out. 

barnhill Source: Google Maps

Atmospheric traction was used on the upward journey to Barnhill, while the trains returned to Dun Laoghaire “by gravity,” according to the newsletter.

However, the last third of a mile posed a different story and was covered by the trains using their own momentum. “If a train stopped short of the station, the third-class passengers were requested to help push the train, while the others walked,” reads the newsletter.

When the line first opened in 1844, trains left Dun Laoghaire every half-hour between 8am and 6pm, with services increasing to between 6am and 11:30pm in 1845.

themetals Source: Google Maps

After running for 10 years, the use of the Atmospheric Railway came to an end in 1854. A newspaper from 1975 states that its ending “came as part of a process of gauge conversion and rebuilding, and not of any failure of the system.”

It continued: “Engineers had come from far and wide to see it, admire it, experiment with it, and for a time the name Dalkey had attained a European fame on the strength of a pump, a tube and a piston.”

Some 165 years later, the locally named road perpetuates its memory, although not much else.

More Double Take: The Dublin allotment that was once the Guinness family’s vegetable garden

More Double Take: The one-of-a-kind signpost on a tiny Cork island

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