While subsidised private and public interests are pressing the people of Dublin to back the proposed underground metro linking the airport to a new central city terminus underneath St Stephen’s Green, no sod has as yet been turned. When one is, apart altogether from the cost, it will turn the city centre into one vast pre-historic building site that ignores the options created by contemporary and future technology. Above all, it ignores the warning of geologists that the river valley, once a bottomless canyon between the rock-based Parnell Square and Stephen’s Green will suffer seismic shifts that not even sinking the system eighty feet below the surface (double the distance from the street to the top floors of Georgian Dublin) will ensure protects its architecture and its inhabitants, or its users.
No one today can argue against an efficient system of urban transport, but there are three options to consider – on-the-ground, under-the-ground, and over-the-ground. Until the advent of the private motor car, the first option was acceptable. However, since the system proposed is so fast that it will provide a ten -minute journey between the airport and the city centre, it would pose a danger to other vehicles, and to the pedestrian who can only make a journey in reasonable time by slipping between stationary traffic jams unable to wait for the lights to change in their favour. That is why for some cities an underground is still a viable option, but only if it can be slotted in just below the surface. The pioneering line inserted ten feet below the Andrassy Ut in Budapest in the late nineteenth-century has never been surpassed for sheer convenience. Another such line links the upper and lower cities of Lausanne. Its approach through tiny shops that open on to steeply raking platforms may be disconcerting but is ingenious. The proposed Dublin underground Metro with its caverns lined with shopping centres that suck all life from the streets above, would be very different – unable to rise from its souterrain depths for a breath of fresh air as in the stifling metros of Paris and Berlin.
This brings us to consider the overground option, and in Dublin to reassess the revolutionary aspects of our own undervalued Dart, built to float across the city by the most gifted entrepreneurs of their generation, when Dublin was in the avant-garde. The early railway engineer, Charles Vignoles, would have got his raised railway from Pearse to Heuston accepted by public opinion when he proposed it in 1850 if only he had disguised his bridge across Westmoreland St as a triumphal arch to O’Connell. Would his contemporaries accept the current proposals to dismantle the O’Connell monument on its eponymous street along with a host of lesser statues during proposed construction? This brings us to the most antediluvian component of the current proposals, a terminus beneath St Stephen’s Green. It would not only threaten irreparable damage to Dublin’s most cherished park, but also plonking termini into a city where all stations should be open. No transport system should terminate underground if full benefit is to be obtained for the investment along the length of the line.
The problem today is to link our disconnected systems and come up with a solution tailor-made for our city, and without a central terminus, least of all that planned beneath Stephen’s Green.
All the stations on the Dart are still thriving, suggesting that extending the Dart is the way forward for the commuter of the future at a quarter of the price of the currently-proposed underground Metro. The recession should give us time to think again. Leave the ducks undisturbed.
Jeremy Williams is author of “A companion guide to architecture in Ireland, 1837-1921” (Irish Academic Press, 1994).