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A virtual tour of Dublin's seven railway termini (or is it eight?)

Updated: Apr 9

Despite being one of the smaller European capitals, Dublin has managed to host no less seven mainline railway terminus stations throughout its history (some would argue eight, we’ll explain why later). Some are better known than others, in fact, you may well be walking by some of them every day without even realising it. In this article, we’ll take a virtual tour of Dublin’s mainline railway termini, past and present, and the role they’ve played in the city’s (and, indeed, Ireland’s) communication network.

Pearse Station (formerly Westland Row)

A DART at Dublin's Pearse Station

An original DART set at Dublin's Pearse Station. The overall roof has recently undergone extensive refurbishment.

Where better to start than at the beginning? Westland Row station opened in December 1834 on Ireland’s first railway, the Dublin & Kingstown. It was a first on several scores; not only was it Dublin’s (and Ireland’s) first city terminal, but it was also the world’s first commuter terminus station. Initially, all platforms were terminated at buffers facing towards the south. However, in 1891 the station was rebuilt to allow the operation of trains through to the City of Dublin Junction Railway through Tara Street and around to Amiens Street, with two of the terminal platforms becoming through ones. By this stage, the Dublin & Kingstown Railway was part of the Dublin, Wicklow & Wexford Railway, which, as its name suggests, would lead to Westland Row becoming a terminus for trains far beyond Dublin’s suburbs. As we shall see later in this article, Westland Row was one of two terminus stations the DW&WR operated in Dublin. The DW&WR in turn became the Dublin South Eastern Railway in 1906. Westland Row also served as the company’s headquarters. The early 20th century would see the station receive mention in the works of James Joyce, such as Dubliners and Ulysses.

While there was no locomotive depot at the station, engines did not have far to travel as the works and locomotive depot were located at Grand Canal Street, less than a mile down the line.

In 1925, the DSER would become part of the Great Southern Railways. This would lead to further redevelopments in Westland Row station. In 1937 the closure of Broadstone station would see West of Ireland services to destinations such as Galway, Mayo and Sligo diverted to Westland Row. This arrangement would continue well into the CIE diesel era. Also in the 1930s, the GSR invested in colour light electric signalling for the Pearse area. 1966 would see the station be renamed Pearse as part of the 50th anniversary commemorations for the Easter 1916 Rising. Incidentally, it is the only station named after two individuals rather than one, this is most evident in its Irish name, Stáisiún na bPiarsach, which takes the plural form not obvious in English. The individuals in question are of course the Pearse brothers. It is worth pointing out at this stage that the station name is simply ‘Pearse’ and not ‘Pearse Street’, though an entrance to that street was added in the 2010s.

The 1970s and 80s would Pearse’s importance as a mainline terminus dwindle, with Sligo and Rosslare trains using Connolly and Galway and Mayo trains being transferred to Heuston. However, it remained a very important commuter station, with commuter services to Maynooth and Drogheda/Dundalk starting and finishing their journeys at the station to this very day. 1984 also saw the commencement of the electrified DART services through the station.

Pearse station has also been used as a location for several films, including Educating Rita starring Michael Caine, and Michael Collins, starring Liam Neeson.

Connolly Station (formerly Amiens Street)

Our first railtour from Tralee at Dublin Connolly Station.

Our first ever railtour, the "Premier Rose", is seen back at Connolly station after our trip to Tralee, 20th August 2022. This was the first time mkIV carriages had used the station with passengers on board. Read about that tour here. Photo: Wesley Molloy

The second terminus station to open in Dublin would be a decade after the first. This was the Dublin & Drogheda Railway’s terminus at Amiens St, which opened in 1844. Interestingly, one of the original plans would have involved a terminus at what was then known as Sackville St (known today as O’Connell St) which no doubt would have seen Dublin city centre develop quite differently. The opening of the Boyne Viaduct in Drogheda in 1855 saw Amiens Street become the terminal station four services to and from Belfast, a role it has retained to this day. The creation of the Great Northern Railway of Ireland in 1876 (through the merger of various smaller companies) saw Amiens Street become its headquarters. As built, the station consisted of terminal platforms facing Belfast, with a locomotive depot to the left as you leave that station and a goods terminal alongside the station on Sheriff St.

The opening of the City of Dublin Junction Railway in 1891 saw the addition of through platforms to the right of the terminal ones, allowing trains to run from the Dublin, Wicklow & Wexford Railway’s line to Bray and beyond. The latter company also had a water tower and small turntable alongside its platforms, making it the only Dublin station to have not one but two turntables. An entrance to the suburban platforms from the street was provided, and this remained in use until the early 2000s.

The closure of Broadstone in 1937 saw West of Ireland trains pass through Amiens St. to use their new terminus of Westland Row. The 1930s also saw the Great Southern Railways install colour light signalling in the area. 1947 saw the GNR begin its famous “Enterprise” express service from Belfast to Dublin with a return that evening. A Dublin-based “Enterprise” would follow in 1948, although it was originally proposed to name it “Endeavour”. The brand name has lasted over 76 years, still being used today. 1951-1953 saw the through-running of a Cork-Dublin-Belfast Enterprise service, which was worked by CIE locomotives between Cork and Amiens Street, and GNR locomotives between there and Belfast. This would have brought large GSR-built B1a class 4-6-0s, such as our namesake, Táilte, to the station, though they also visited on specials for sporting events. What a sight they must have made against the smaller GNR 4-4-0 locomotives that hauled the train on towards Belfast. The dissolution of the Great Northern Railway Board in 1958 would lead to all of Amiens Street becoming part of the CIE network. In 1966 the station was officially named Connolly Station after James Connolly, as part of the 1916 Rising 50th anniversary celebrations. The 1970s would see a carriage Valeting Plant established in the yard, while the early 1980s would see extensive remodelling of the station layout and the addition of overhead wires to four platforms as part of the DART project. By this stage, Sligo and Rosslare Intercity services were now using Connolly as their terminus instead of Pearse. Some Galway trains also used Connolly as a terminus though this would end in favour of Heuston. The early 90s saw the establishment of a new commuter service to Maynooth. In addition, Connolly served as the Dublin terminus for mail trains on the island until they ended in 1995. The 21st century would see Connolly station become busier than ever, with the construction of a new terminus at Docklands being needed to relieve pressure as services were expanded. Newbridge and the former GSWR line were added to the range of destinations served by Connolly in 2016, with the establishment of a new service from Grand Canal Dock through the station and onto the Kildare line via the Phoneix Park Tunnel. Its convenient location (in terms of both city centre access and route choices) has meant Connolly has been a popular starting point for Irish railtours, along with special trains for GAA matches and other events.

Heuston Station (formerly Kingsbridge)

Dublin Heuston Station

Opened in 1846 as the Dublin terminus of the Great Southern & Western Railway’s line to Carlow, within three years it would be the gateway to that company’s line to Cork, known as the “Premier Line”. It was named for the nearby King’s Bridge. The Great Southern & Western Railway was the largest of Ireland’s pre-amalgamation railway companies, and the terminus at Kingsbridge reflected its importance as its headquarters, with an impressive terminal building designed by Sancton Wood. The train shed (i.e. roof over the platforms) was designed by John MacNeill. As the GSWR expanded, Kingsbridge would end up serving trains spread out as far as Athlone, Limerick, Cork, Waterford, Kilkenny, Kerry and many places in between. Despite its importance, however, it originally only had two platforms, one for arrivals and one for departures, with the area in between filled in by carriage sidings. An additional bay platform, known as the ‘Military platform’, was opened in 1872. As we shall see, this situation would continue well into the 20th century. Unlike most of the other Dublin termini, Kingsbridge did not have a locomotive depot onsite, with locomotives travelling to and from Inchicore, located a mile up the line. In addition to the GSWR’s mainline railway links, for a time, Kingsbridge was also served by a tramline which ran into the Liffey side of the station. However, a goods terminal was located here, the offices of which are now the headquarters of the Irish Railway Record Society. On the St.John’s Road side of the station, a connection was made with a tramway linking the yards with the nearby Guinness brewery at St. James’ Gate. Guinness’ own locomotives would bring wagons to and from Kingsbridge, for onward distribution on the mainline network. Like some of the other stations mentioned in this article, Kingsbridge is referenced in the works of James Joyce, such as Dubliners.

In 1924 the GSWR became part of the Great Southern Railway (Great Southern Railways, plural, from 1925), and Kingsbridge assumed the role of the GSR headquarters. As with Westland Row, the GSR would modernise the station with colour light signalling in the 1930s, with the installation of a power signal cabin. In 1945, the combining of the GSR and Dublin United Tramways Company to form Coras Iompair Éireann (CIÉ) led to Kingsbridge becoming CIÉ’s headquarters, a role which it retains to this day. 1966, Kingsbridge was officially renamed ‘Heuston Station’ after 1916 Rising leader, Seán Heuston. As mentioned earlier, Kingsbridge consisted of only three platforms well into the 20th century. However, with the expansion of services (including many of the former Midland Great Western Railway line services from Galway and Mayo being diverted there), an additional two platforms were created in the early 1970s, on the site of the carriage sidings. 1978 saw Kingsbride masquerade as a London terminus for filming The First Great Train Robbery, starring Sean Connery. The 1970s would also see a carriage Valeting Plant open. However, even these proved to be insufficient, and in the early 2000s, a further expansion project took place, with a further 3 platforms, numbers 6-8, being constructed. A temporary ‘platform 10’ also opened while construction work was going on, but this was actually located away from the main station on the ‘Liffey branch’ to Drumcondra and North Wall, near Islandbridge. This necessitated a feeder bus linking the platform with the terminal building while construction took place. While still in situ, this platform has been out of use since the mid-2000s. And no, there never has been a platform 9… Although the link to Guinness Brewery was removed back in the 1960s, Ireland’s most famous product would continue to use Heuston until the mid-2000s, when the carriage of Guinness by rail ended.

Broadstone Station

Broadstone Station, Dublin

Today, the former Broadstone Station serves as the headquarters of Bus Éireann.

The next of Dublin’s terminal stations to open was Broadstone, in 1847. This was the headquarters of the Midland Great Western Railway and was designed by John Skipton Mulvany. The MGWR opened a line between Broadstone and Enfield in May of that year, reaching Mullingar in 1848 and after a race to Shannon with the rival GSWR, reached Galway in 1851. The following years would see its network expand to include secondary mainlines to Westport and Sligo, along with several branchlines connecting to its places as far apart as Cavan, Loughrea, Kingscourt, Clifden and even Achill Island. Much like we at Táilte Tours try to promote rail tours and rail travel for leisure today, the MGWR were a pioneer in rail tourism, offering special excursions from Broadstone to Connemara, with a special rake of carriages carrying a ‘tourist train’ livery of blue lined in straw yellow. Broadstone was also home to the MGWR’s workshops, along with a locomotive depot which consisted of an impressive roundhouse with turntable, a relatively uncommon feature in Ireland. In 1856 Broadstone was the scene of a murder when a cashier was found dead, leading to a complex investigation which more recently has been the subject of a book, The Dublin Railway Murder, by Thomas Morris.

With the merging of the MGWR into the GSR in 1924, (along with its old rival, the GSWR), the former company’s network would see some rationalisation as part of cost-saving measures in the decades that followed, with the line beyond Clonsilla reduced to single track, and several branch lines closed. Broadstone was a relatively early casualty, at least as far as passenger services were concerned, with the station itself closing in 1937. West of Ireland passenger services were then rerouted to the former DSER terminus at Westland Row, a practice which would continue until the 1970s when they were transferred to Connolly and Heuston. However, the locomotive depot would remain open until 1961 Indeed, the 1950s would see steam locomotives from Grand Canal Street transferred to Broadstone and with the dieselisation of that depot and Inchicore it would become the main CIE steam depot for the Dublin area. However, Broadstone would continue to see use as a bus depot and is now the headquarters and Dublin depot of Bus Éireann, with Dublin Bus also having their Phibsborough depot on-site. The track itself between Broadstone and Liffey Junction (where the former MGWR line meets the connecting line to Glasnevin Junction and Amiens Street/Connolly) would see use until later in the 1960s as a way to transfer fuel oil to the bus depot.

In the 2000s, consideration was given to reopening Broadstone for mainline commuter rail services. However, ultimately the decision was taken to reopen the line from there to the former Liffey Junction station as part of the Luas tram network. This finally came to pass in December 2017, with a Luas stop outside the old terminal. Thus, despite not having seen a passenger train since 1937, Broadstone nonetheless continues to play a vital if unsung role in Dublin’s transport network.

Harcourt Street Station

Dublin's Harcourt Street station

Harcourt Street Station in 1910. This building is now the Odeon Bar.

Strictly speaking, there have been two mainline stations in this vicinity. Harcourt Road opened in 1854, as the Dublin terminus of the Dublin & Wicklow Railway’s line to Bray. This was replaced by a new station at Harcourt Street in 1859, the facade being designed by George Wilkinson. (So, one could argue that Dublin has had eight terminus stations rather than seven). There was a proposal for a terminus further in at St. Stephen’s Green but didn’t come to pass. The D&WR would soon become the Dublin, Wicklow & Wexford Railway, reaching Enniscorthy in 1863, Wexford in 1872 and Waterford in 1904. Despite its role as the DWWR (later the DSER) headquarters and terminus of its mainline, the station had only one platform (though the line between there and Bray was double track). A locomotive depot and goods facility was also located here. A turntable was situated at the end of the platform, while at the southern end, the line crossed over Adelaide Road via a girder bridge. Apart from long-distance trains to Wexford, the terminus was also used by suburban trains to and from Bray and Foxrock. Along with the aforementioned Westland Row, it became one of two terminal stations operated by the DSER in Dublin. On Valentine's Day 1900, Harcourt Street station would be the scene of one of Dublin’s most infamous photographs, when a runaway cattle train from Enniscorthy ran through the buffers and knocked down a retaining wall, resulting in the locomotive jutting out over Hatch Street and the unfortunate driver losing an arm. You can still see the rebuilt brickwork today.

As with the other surviving Dublin termini, Harcourt Street was upgraded to colour light signalling by the GSR in the 1930s. Aside from the hustle and bustle of commuter traffic, Harcourt Street was also the starting point of leisure trains, such as the famous “Sea Breeze” trains from Dublin to Arklow, which sometimes required two locomotives, such was their heavy loadings.

However, such loadings would prove not enough to ensure Harcourt Street’s station survival beyond the 1950s. Faced with heavy financial losses, CIE made the difficult decision to close the line to Harcourt Street in 1958, with New Year’s Eve of that year seeing the last train leaving the station to much fanfare. Although the line itself was dismantled, the station building would be sold on and still exists today, currently known as the Odeon Bar and has served as various nightclubs over the past few decades.

In 2004, the former Harcourt Street line was reopened as the Luas tramway from Stillorgan (Sandyford), leaving the old alignment just before Adelaide Road where it descends to street level on its way to St. Stephen’s Green, with a stop beside the old station, simply known as ‘Harcourt’. In 2017 this extended through to Broadstone and Broombridge, creating a link between the former DSER and MGWR lines that never existed historically. While some lament the loss of a heavy rail connection, it has to be said that the current tram line allows south Dublin commuters better access to the city centre than was the case with the original line.

North Wall Station

North Wall Station, Dublin

Dublin's former North Wall Station, photographed in September 2023.

North Wall Station is probably the least well-known of Dublin’s terminus stations. It was actually owned by the London & North Western Railway company, though it was used by GSWR trains. The building opened as the LNWR’s Dublin ferry terminal in 1861, with the rail connection itself being added in 1877, with GSWR’s “North Wall Extension” being opened to link it with the GSWR’s mainline at Islandbridge, initially via the MGWR’s line via Newcomen but later via the GSWR’s own ‘link line’ through Drumcondra. This allowed through services to operate to and from the boats. One of the principal workings was the “American Mail” train from North Wall to Queenstown (now Cobh) where it met transatlantic liners and important link in carrying post between Britain and America. The LNWR opened a hotel alongside the station in 1880. There were also extensive freight yards opened nearby, including the GSWR’s goods depot at the Point, which was later sold on to become the eponymous theatre venue, nowadays branded as the Three Arena. The passenger station would prove to be short-lived however, closing in the 1920s, though the freight yards remain open to this day albeit heavily rationalised, with freight trains now being loaded on the nearby Alexandra Road tramway. However, the impressive brick station building remains a prominent fixture of Dublin’s quays, along with the adjacent LNWR hotel building.

Docklands Station

A railtour at Docklands Station, Dublin

Docklands in its first few weeks of operation, with a mk3 pushpull set visiting as part of the Irish Traction Group's appropriately named "Docklands Pioneer" railtour in March 2007.

Over a century passed without another terminal station being added to Dublin, and as can be seen, several stations were closed. However, 2007 saw the opening of a brand new station on the site of the former MGWR goods yards, known as Docklands. It was initially planned as a temporary station to ease pressure on Connolly, pending the construction of a more elaborate station as part of the DART Underground plan, though it has since been made permanent, with the underground scheme being on hold. A relatively simple station, it consists of two platforms. It was initially used by a commuter service to and from Clonsilla, but the reopening of the former MGWR Navan line as far as M3 Parkway in 2010 saw these services extended to the latter location. Unlike the other Dublin stations, it is only open Monday-Friday, though a handful of railtours have visited on weekends. The surrounding area is now part of Dublin’s main financial services district, a far cry from the freight yards of old. With plans for reopening the MGWR line through to Navan once again on the horizon, Docklands may have an expanded role in the future, it’s certainly one to watch.

As you can see, Dublin has had a complicated and diverse railway history, with all of its terminal stations making their mark on the city's landscape, folklore and culture. Remarkably, the stations all survive to some extent today, even the ones no longer in rail use, so do keep an eye out for them the next time you tour Dublin.

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