Luas (from the Irish for 'speed') — also promoted in the development stage as the Dublin Light Rail System — currently encompasses two unconnected on-street light rail transit systems in Dublin, Ireland. Originally under the organisation of Córas Iompair Éireann, the project was moved to the Railway Procurement Agency upon that body's inception, whilst it is operated by Connex. The Luas is a major part of the Dublin Transportation Office's  'DTO strategy (2000-2016)'.
Services commenced on the Green Line on Wednesday 30 June 2004, with free fares to all for the first five days of operation. The Red Line opened on 28 September 2004, almost a month or so behind schedule. It remains to be seen whether the Luas will prove effective in combating Dublin's traffic congestion problems.
The Red and Green Lines are separate tram lines, with separate depots and facilities, and fixed allocations of trams; there is no simple method to transfer trams between the two lines.
The system runs off a 750 volt DC overhead power supply, and one two-carriage tram can carry 235 people. The standard European rail gauge of 1435 mm (4 ft 8½ ins) is being used rather than the Irish gauge of 1,600 mm (5 ft 3 ins). There is no truth in the commonly-held notion that the Green Line and the Red Line run on different gauges, this would appear to stem from some other differences in the two lines.
The system was built comprising two lines:
- Red Line: Tallaght to Connolly
- Green Line: St. Stephen's Green to Sandyford
In the original plans, the Red Line was subdivided into "Line A" from Tallaght to Abbey Street and "Line C" from Abbey Street to Connolly Station, whilst "Line B" was the alternative name for the Green Line. This terminology, which splits the network into three lines, is not currently used. Early reports also discussed a "Line D" from Broadstone to Ballymun and Dublin Airport and an underground "Line E" from St Stephen's Green to Broadstone - this would have formed a third line from St Stephen's Green to Dublin Airport. However no firm details were set, though several proposed routes were investigated with a completion date of 2005 envisioned at the time.
The Red Line runs in an east-west direction through Dublin's Northside, then crosses the Liffey and travels south-west to the suburb of Tallaght. The Green Line is entirely in Dublin's Southside. Apart from the city centre section where it runs down Harcourt Street to St. Stephen's Green, it follows the route of the old Harcourt Street Railway line which was reserved for possible re-use when it closed in 1958. The Red Line and Green Line are not connected to each other, with a 15-minute walk between the two closest points. The tram services run on a regular frequency, from every five minutes during peak times to every 15 minutes late at night. The last tram leaves the terminus at 00:30, except on Sundays and public holidays when the last tram is at 23:30.
The sleek silver Alstom Citadis trams reach a top speed of 70 km/h when on off-road sections, but travel at a slower speed where conflicts with other vehicles or pedestrians can occur. Red Line trams, at 30 m with a capacity of 235, are shorter than the 40 m Green Line trams, which have a capacity 358 including for two wheelchairs, although all platforms have been constructed to 50 m length allowing possible future increases in capacity.
In other aspects, the two lines are identical except that the clearance between the inbound and outbound lines on the Green Line is slightly wider than on the Red Line. This will allow wider metro trains be run on the same tracks if a proposed upgrade to full metro service is implemented. This is possible because the route uses an old railway line and as such has few interactions with vehicular or pedestrian traffic. The route of the Red Line was constructed largely on or beside public roads and would not be suited to wider and faster metro trains.
The main engineering structures on the Green Line at present are Milltown Viaduct, also known as "The Nine Arches", a large stone viaduct dating from 1854, and the "William Dargan Bridge", a newly-built large cable-stayed suspension bridge at Taney Cross, near Dundrum (Dublin) town centre. The crossing of the Red Line over the M50 motorway at the Red Cow Roundabout also has its own bridge, but this is unremarkable.
It has been reported (Sunday Times, 31 October 2004) that a € 70 million plan to link the two lines will be presented to the Irish Government by the Minister for Transport before the end of 2004. The link would be about 1 km long, and would extend the Green Line from St Stephen's Green, down Dawson Street, around College Green and over O'Connell Bridge via Westmoreland Street to join the Red Line in Abbey Street - as of 2005 a final decision has not been announced.
There are also more tentative plans to extend the Red Line eastwards past Connolly Station, through the International Financial Services Centre to terminate at the Point Depot.
There are realistic plans to extend the existing Green Line from its Sandyford Terminus to Cherry Wood in the South East of the City.
In the very distant future there have been proposals to link the Red and Green lines together via the Southern suburbs of Dublin. This idea involves routing the Luas from Tallaght through Firhouse & Knocklyon, Balinteer and then to Dundrum or perhaps Sandyford. There is sufficient space for such a tram line alongside the M50 motorway which runs more or less along this route.
The Luas system is very popular with commuters, being seen as clean, dependable and reasonably good value. Nevertheless, there has been some criticism of the system and its pre-operational organisation.
The project exceeded its budget by a sizeable amount, costing over €700 million, and there were many delays throughout its construction. There were significant costs associated with building two entirely separate tram systems at the same time. For instance, whereas one depot would ordinarily be used, two were constructed. The system may not be compatible with the proposed metro system for Dublin. The Green Line will, in any case, have to be upgraded to connect it to the Red Line. At present it is possible to buy a ticket from a point on the Green Line to a point on the Red Line, but it is not possible to make such a journey because the two lines are not connected.
There was considerable disruption to traffic during construction work. Businesses also suffered immensely because of the disruption, and visitors to the city have been inconvenienced. However, the Green Line (Sandyford to St. Stephen's Green) has already proven extremely popular, bringing many more visitors into the city centre, and carrying a reported 700,000 passengers in its first month of operation. The Red Line is subject to similar heavy usage, exacerbated by the shorter (30 m) trams used.
Within hours of starting service, a Luas tram had collided with a car on Harcourt Street, while near-collisions were an occasional problem as of August 2004. A second collision with a car was reported on the Red Line at the end of August 2004, which at the time was undergoing final testing prior to the public launch due at the end of September 2004. September 2004 also witnessed the first collision between two Luas trams, at the crossover at the St. Stephens Green terminus. Derailments are not uncommon - two having been reported on the Green Line in the two months after opening.
The price of tickets has also been criticised, with a minimum fare of €1.30 being charged for an adult single journey at off-peak times within a single zone, rising during peak hours. Unlike other public transport in Dublin, where tickets must be shown every time you use the service, the Luas relies on frequent ticket checking by inspectors on the trams - you can expect to show your ticket on roughly one third of the journeys.
As with all Dublin fittings and fixtures (see Irish statues and their nicknames), attempts have been made to give the Luas an alternative name: the Jerry Lee, the Daniel Day, and, for the more literate folk, the CS (because of the similarity in pronunciation of 'luas' to 'Lewis'), the Jacks on the Tracks, the Train in The Lane, and the Snail on the Rail have been suggested, but such names are not (as of early 2005) popular and would not be immediately recognised by Dubliners. None of these have caught the imagination, and most Dubliners tend to refer to the Luas as trains, rather than trams.
In March 2005, the Luas smartcard was launched. This allows travellers to pay for travel on the Luas network without having to carry cash. Credit is pre-loaded onto the smartcard and the card is validated on the platform before boarding the tram and then again upon exiting the tram. This is referred to as 'tag-on' and 'tag-off'
A smartcard can be purchased at a Luas ticket agent or online . The card costs €10, which includes a €3 non-refundable charge for the card, €3 of credit and €4 for a fully refundable 'reserve fund' which allows you to travel even if there is insufficient credit on the card for the journey. However, the card must then be topped up before another journey can be taken.
Fares when using the smartcard for a single (one-way) journey are set to half the cost of a standard return fare. On the Green Line, the standard return fare through three zones is €3.80, so a single journey using the smartcard will be €1.90. Since a standard single fare is €2, the smartcard allows the user slightly cheaper fares for single journeys.
The Smartcard project is part of the Railway Procurement Agency's integrated ticketing system, which, when completed, should allow travellers to use the one card to pay for travel on all public transport in Ireland.
- Luas Smartcard site