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‘The envy of Europe’?: Step inside Irish Rail’s new battery-electric Dart trains

The Journal visited the site of the Polish factory where the new Dart trains are being produced – take a look.

NEW ACCESSIBLE RAMPS, battery-powered, and charging outlets for passengers – can the baker’s dozen new battery-electric Dart trains bound for Dublin “revolutionise” rail travel in the capital?

It’s only a matter of months before the first trains leave the factory in Poland, where they’re being produced by a train manufacturing company called Alstom, and are shipped to Ireland.

There’s plenty of anticipation for the trains among those who have been working behind the scenes on them – it represents a modernisation of the decades-old Dart fleet, a further shift away from diesel as more of the line is electrified, and a badly needed improvement of the service’s accessibility – though it won’t be until late 2025 or early 2026 that testing on Irish tracks is completed and they become available to passengers to judge it for themselves.

In the meantime, The Journal visited the Alstom factory in Katowice, Poland today to see inside the first almost-finished carriage and speak to the teams in Ireland and Poland behind their development.

One member of Alstom staff claimed the Irish trains will be the “envy of Europe”.

The technology in use on the vehicles is already in use in some places, like Germany and Italy, but the scale at which they are coming to Ireland is notable, the staff member said, adding that they expect the UK in particular will be watching what Ireland can achieve.

IMG_4339 Lauren Boland / The Journal Lauren Boland / The Journal / The Journal

On track

Before the trains open their sliding doors to passengers, they will have to go through several rounds of final testing. Ordinarily, more of that could happen in Poland where the Alstom factory is based, but Irish tracks have a wider gauge than the tracks in Poland, which means they need to be transported back first before they can undergo the final tests.

“We can only do that testing when the train is in Ireland and we can only do it at night, so the time we have for doing that testing at night is somewhat limited. That’s why it takes a number of months to get the train to service,” said Piers Wood, Alstom’s Country Managing Director for Ireland, speaking to The Journal.

“But when the train does come to service – and I’m a regular user of the Dart at the moment – it will revolutionise the way that people travel.”

The first order for the new fleet was signed in 2021 and includes six five-car electric trains and 13 five-car battery-electric trains, the latter of which will operate from the city centre northwards.

The existing electrified Dart line runs between Howth and Greystones. Under the Dart+ programme, there’ll be three extensions to that: out to Maynooth and the M3 Parkway, to Hazelhatch, and to Drogheda.

It’ll be Drogheda where the new battery trains get charged, which is estimated to take less than an hour.

IMG_4107 Lauren Boland / The Journal Lauren Boland / The Journal / The Journal

“What’s different about these to any other trains that we’ve had is that they are both electric and battery,” Irish Rail Deputy Director of Communications Jane Cregan outlined.

“They will operate as a Dart electric train as far as Malahide, and from Malahide to Drogheda they will operate under batteries, and then when they get to Drogheda there’ll be a quick charge, a turnaround and then they will operate on battery as far as Malahide and back onto the wires again,” she said.

“It’s revolutionary for us because it gives us great opportunities to run more and more frequent services. It’s also more sustainable than diesel transport.”

  • Interested in learning more about the trains? Lauren will be looking at the climate side of the new Darts in this month’s edition of our Temperature Check newsletter, which will be sent to inboxes tomorrow. Sign up in the box below to receive it.

Peek inside

Inside, a key change from the current Dart stock is how space is allocated.

There’s a new seating configuration, which includes multiple folding-up seats, and dedicated spaces for wheelchairs, bicycles, and children’s buggies.

And unlike the decades-old Dart trains currently on the tracks, these ones will have charging ports.

“It’s a much more airy, spacious train,” said Piers Wood.

“You can walk the length of the train. It’s got USB sockets, wider gangways, and wider seats.” 

IMG_4092 Lauren Boland / The Journal Lauren Boland / The Journal / The Journal

IMG_4099 Lauren Boland / The Journal Lauren Boland / The Journal / The Journal

IMG_4194 Lauren Boland / The Journal Lauren Boland / The Journal / The Journal

Accessibility

When the trains finally pull up to the platforms, they’ll be coming with new automatic ramps that extend out from the doors to the platforms and are able to adapt to the distance between the train and the platform at the given station.

It’s not envisioned though that there would be a mechanism at this stage to inform passengers whether the train running a particular service would be one of the newer models with the improved accessibility, or one of the older, existing stock.

Changes were made to the design along the development process in response to feedback during public consultations. One of three folding seats in the wheelchair area was removed, for instance, to provide more room for wheelchairs and to extend the length of a grab rail.

IMG_4359 Lauren Boland / The Journal Lauren Boland / The Journal / The Journal

Irish Rail Chief Mechanical Engineer Peter Smyth said there have been “significant” improvements to accessibility on the new trains.

“Every single vehicle has a low floor area matching the platform height and every doorway has an extending, gap-filling ramp that opens at every door, at every station, to provide easy access for boarding for people of reduced mobility people with buggies, people in wheelchairs, etc,” he said to The Journal at the site.

“On board, you’ve got very good LED lighting, very good brightness inside, and you can see throughout the whole train – you can see all the way down, there’s no barrier between the carriages anymore.”

‘A very modern train’

Irish Rail has signed a ten-year agreement framework with Alstom, under which they can order up to 750 vehicles. There’s also a 15-year maintenance agreement that means Alstom will be providing maintenance in Dublin.

This fleet will be used on the Dart+ programme in Dublin, but there is “potential” for them to be expanded to other parts of the country in the future, such as Cork, one official said. 

Ireland has the option of ordering five-car or ten-car trains from the factory; so far, it’s just the five-car versions on the horizon.

These have 204 seats, capacity for 551 people, 20 priority seats, two wheelchair spaces, two bicycle areas, and two family areas.

Working on site on is Matthew Murnane, a graduate engineer who studied at University College Cork and joined the validation team three weeks ago. “I’m working with different disciplines on the train and just making sure everything goes swimmingly,” he explained.

Freshly over from Ireland, Matthew gave us his take on the new trains. “I think they’re fantastic – very, very modern. The battery technology is obviously one of the big changes. They’ve quite a different look as well. And then a lot of engineering to really give us a very modern train on the Dart.”

IMG_4230 Lauren Boland / The Journal Lauren Boland / The Journal / The Journal

Sign up for Temperature Check, The Journal’s monthly climate newsletter, in the box below for more on the new Dart trains tomorrow.

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