“This Land Development Agency seems to have lost the run of itself,” the chief mechanical engineer at Irish Rail wrote in an email to colleagues early last month.
Media reports had quoted the head of the LDA on its vision for lands at the Inchicore Railway Works, and it sounded as if the land was barely used and had all already been handed over to the state agency for housing.
Internal emails suggest that Irish Rail, which uses the land owned by Córas Iompair Éireann (CIÉ), sees the situation a bit differently. The emails were released to Feljin Jose, spokesperson for Dublin Commuter Coalition, on foot of a request under the Freedom of Information Act.
“References to Inchicore maintenance facility as ‘not used much’ is inaccurate and unhelpful and undermines our workforce who are oblivious to the goings on,” wrote a chief mechanical engineer.
His colleague, whose name is also redacted but labelled as “CEO Inchicore” wrote back that all parties accept that the requirements of the operating companies take precedence.
After that, the idea is if by reorganising, the transport operators can reduce their footprint and have a land surplus, “we will make such land available to the LDA at market prices”, he wrote.
The timeline for freeing up parts of the site would be 7 to 10 years, he said. “Definitely not shorter than that.”
The government’s Housing for All plan, launched in early September, lists several big patches of state land that are earmarked for transfer to the Land Development Agency, which was set up to develop housing on state lands.
Among the sites are some owned by the transport agency CIÉ including, within Dublin, the Broadstone and Conyngham Road garages, and the Inchicore Railway Works.
It’s still early days on plans for the Inchicore Railway Works, suggest the internal emails.
“This is most definitely a project that will take time to clearly map and we are clear none of our property will transfer to the LDA until we are happy to do so,” wrote the “CEO Inchicore” in response to the chief mechanical engineer.
The next steps were to put together a small team within Irish Rail to map out phases and timelines for freeing up part of the site and identifying “what remains for operation purposes long term”, the email says.
If staff on site are uneasy, the key message was that nothing would happen without Irish Rail agreeing, says the email.
And that “there will always be a CME / IM presence in Inchicore, any process will take up to a decade, there is always opportunity to make our operation more efficient and part of that efficiency should be reducing our footprint on the site”, it says.
Inchicore Railway Works was built in 1846 as the home of major train engineering works in Ireland. It once employed more than 1,000 people.
“It was so big back in the day, they could build an entire train from scratch in Inchicore,” says Mark Gleeson, a spokesperson for Rail Users Ireland, who has been on the site.
“That’s build, design, construct, a 120 tonne steel locomotive,” he says.
Currently, almost 700 people work at the Inchicore works, said Barry Kenny, a spokesperson for Irish Rail.
Their jobs include fleet maintenance in workshops, capital investments, signalling electrical and telecommunications, civil engineering, and training, he said.
Gleeson, who did a walkaround there a few years ago, says that employees called the big site the “Gare du Nord”.
He pulls up a satellite map to jog his memory about the buildings.
Grey ornate buildings close to the main entrance on Inchicore Parade are protected structures – so can’t be knocked down – and used to be train sheds, says Gleeson.
“It’s where the locomotives used to go for a sleep at the end of the day,” he says. Now, they’re offices for Irish Rail’s civil engineering and projects division, he says.
Further south on the site are two cavernous carriage shed buildings used for locomotive repair, overhaul and maintenance. “It’s like a giant car garage basically,” he says.
But locomotives are on the way out, says Gleeson. “Onces the fleets are defunct and locomotives go away, and they will go away, there wouldn’t be any need for the locomotive services on the Inchicore site anymore.” It’s likely replacements will be electric, he says.
On the Inchicore site, next to the locomotive repair sheds lies a litter of carriages with turquoise roofs on one end, and further south, more white, orange and green roofs. They’re out-of-service, broken down.
Many were taken out of service during the recession, says Gleeson. “They haven’t been put back into service and it’s claimed that it would cost a fortune.”
They’re parked in a secure site, away from prying eyes, he says. “Keep them safe in case they want to be used again but highly unlikely they’ll be used again.”
Other carriages are owned by the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland and kept for their historical significance, says Gleeson. “It’s what they call their heritage stock trains. It’s not allowed to carry passengers, it used to.”
Gleeson estimates around 45 carriages at Inchicore have no use, and are ready for the scrap heap or able for storage elsewhere. “So there’s a fair amount of space there,” he says.
As for other space on the site, “there’s a lot of car parking, but there’s also a fair amount of what I’d call poor-quality industrial development as well, warehouses and stuff like that”, he says.
Jose, of Dublin Commuter Coalition, says that storage of old trains probably isn’t the best use of the land. “There will be land there that’s not being utilised to the fullest of its potential,” he says.
Kenny, Irish Rail spokesperson, said Irish Rail are working with CIÉ and LDA on the sites identified in the Housing for All strategy.
At Inchicore, they’re looking at what depots they need for rail fleet maintenance, he said, “to facilitate master planning for development opportunities at Inchicore”.
“This will determine details of future rail fleet maintenance requirements,” said Kenny.
The Irish Rail spokesperson said, in engaging with the Department of Transport and the LDA on the Housing for All plan, they welcome the support shown to making sure they can deliver public transport requirements, and how that is fully recognised in the strategy.
Jose, of Dublin Commuters Coalition, says that disruption to rail services should be avoided. “The efficient operation of the Irish Rail network should be paramount and shouldn’t be affected drastically, even if they had to move to a new depot.”
Here or Where?
“There’s no real strategic issue with selling off a good portion of the site,” says Gleeson, of Rail Users Ireland.
This has been suggested already, he says, to build a four-platform station for the DART Underground, a rail line first proposed in 1974 to go underground from Heuston Station to the Docklands.
Irish Rail would have had to cut back its presence in Inchicore significantly if that suggestion had gone ahead, he says.
“The land south of the station was to be redeveloped as a mixed-use, residential community,” he says, with medium-rise buildings and shops and cafes on the ground floor.
Something similar to what could be the plan for Housing for All, he says.
Jose says the current works at Inchicore could maybe be moved to other depots around the country. “But this is gonna take years, close to ten years.”
Gleeson says there are services in Inchicore that aren’t elsewhere in the country. “The laboratories are there, the chemists are there, the tech facilities are there.”
Then there are the employees who fix the locomotives. If Inchicore Works closes, they will likely be reallocated, he says. “Offered the choice to move to the new depot in Maynooth, or Portlaoise, Drogheda, Fairview.”
The Intercity trains from Dublin to Westport and Galway live in a depot in Portlaoise, Co. Offaly, and the commuter rail fleet going out to Maynooth, Drogheda, Dundalk and Rosslare, is maintained in Drogheda.
As for the DART, it’s maintained in the depot just off Fairview Park in Clontarf, he says. They never go to Inchicore, says Gleeson.
A new depot in Maynooth will likely take over for Fairview in a couple of years, he says.
“It’s probably gonna be about the size of the Inchicore site when it’s finished, that’s how big it’s going to be,” he says. “It’s going to be the biggest in the country by a long shot.”
Gleeson thinks this new depot could be a possible option to take over a lot of what’s done in Inchicore, like painting and operational services, once the locomotives are phased out.
No planning permission application for the Maynooth depot has been made to An Board Pleanála yet.
Legacy of Inchicore
If there is change down the line at the Inchicore Railway Works, Gleeson has an idea for what the old sheds, and current offices, could be turned into.
A transport museum would be nice, says Gleeson. “That’ll be the final conclusion to Inchicore, because that’s probably the only use you could have for the buildings there that would be compatible with the protected structure.”
There’s a lot of history to tell on that site, he says. “If you walk around Inchicore, it probably hasn’t changed for 15 years inside.”
Sometimes, they’ll get trains to fix from further afield. “The guys in Dublin are very good at this, so they occasionally get work from Belfast,” he says.
Multiple generations have worked at the Inchicore Railway Works, says Gleeson. “It’s not uncommon.”
“There are probably grandfather, father, child experiences there, as people have been working on the railway, they can trace the lineage back to the 1800s,” he says.