This feature looks at the introduction of the first phase of Bus Connects on the 27th June 2021. The Howth Road network becomes the H-Spine, though the H does not necessarily stand for Howth. Each route is outlined below. Importantly, the H-routes, H1, H2 and H3, have an interlaced timetable, offering buses every 7-8mins along the corridor, which is an incredible frequency for a road that has a major urban rail system paralleling it for most its length. The introduction of the H-Spine seemed to go off without a hitch, with all buses operating on the first day being in the new TFI livery and keeping their time. For this, Dublin Bus should be commended.
The H1 route replaces the 29A. In this case the routing, including both termini, has not changed, so its just a simple renumbering. Buses run every 15mins all-day, an upgrade on the 29A which was principally every 20mins daytime. Notably, like all the H-Spine services, buses start operation earlier than before, and the last buses are later than before, the last H1 from the city being at midnight. The H1 was to head down Red Arches Road and terminate at Clongriffin Station but the road is not complete. The existing Red Arches Road is also not very well designed, which is terrible given it is a modern estate, and with so much on street parking, it will always be difficult to route a bus through the estate. So one wonders if this change will happen at all in the future.
The H2 replaces Route 32, retaining the Malahide Village terminus at St. James Terrace. It is a significant upgrade on the 32, with frequencies in general doubled from every 60mins to every 30mins. Like all the H-spine changes, the city terminus has been moved to Lower Abbey Street from Talbot Street. The bigger change for the H2 from the 32 is the diversion of the route via Carrickhill Road and Wendell Avenue. This change has caused the 102 to be removed from this loop around the Portmarnock estates, it now follows the old 32 routing directly via Strand Road from Portmarnock Beach to Portmarnock Village. As does the 32X which had previously served Carrickhill Road but now no longer does. The 32X is now operated by Harristown since the H-Spine changes.
The H3 is one of two routes that have changed only their city termini and the route number. The city terminus changed from Talbot Street to Lower Abbey Street, but otherwise the H3 is a direct replacement of the 31. The H3 is interlaced with the other services to provide a consistent service along the Howth Road, being every 30mins, but on Saturdays and Sundays it has one extra departure per hour which is extra to the quoted frequency of the core spine.
The loss of the number 31 is significant though. The 31 number was used on the tram service to Howth, route numbers being applied in 1918. There was a hiatus when the tram ceased in 1941, with Howth served by the GNR service, which was unnumbered. However CIE wasted no time in reutilising the 31 number for its bus service to Howth having acquired it from the GNR in 1958. Network Direct removed a number of these former tram routes and numbers, and Bus Connects will finally remove all references to them. In many ways that is the point of Bus Connects, bringing a modern optimal design, thereby removing the basis of a network that has existed since the 19th Century, but as an enthusiast it is a sad day to see another tram route number fade into history.
The Howth Road is unusual in that the spine doesn't begin at Raheny Village. Instead it begins only when the H1 rejoins the Howth Road after All Saints Estate. So, a previously unimportant stop 604, has become a terminus and an important timing point on the core spine. The "9" services add extra capacity to the corridor, operating on the core section. It is envisaged that most core spines will have a "9" service to boost peak capacity. There are three departures daily, 0728 (Clontarf operated), 0743 (Broadstone operated) and 0751 (Broadstone operated). I think a trick has been missed at not starting these services a few stops back at Raheny, and also making them slightly later. They all get into the city very early, even in a post-Covid world.
Some operational issues meant that the Broadstone departures operated slightly late. In fact SG273 didn't make it to the city in service. However, none of this caused any trouble to the H-spine this morning, with buses on other services providing an incredible frequency along the corridor. It appeared to be all hands on deck to make sure the service went off without a hitch. It was great seeing Broadstone buses back on the Howth Road, with regular Broadstone operation not been a feature since the 42A extras to Beaumont Hospital 20 years ago.
Clontarf's SG312 is seen operating the first Route 6 departure from Howth Station on the 27th June 2021. The bus is seen exiting Thormanby Road onto Carrickbrack Road, a routing that was part of the former Route 31A/B services but is not officially part of Route 6 (click on photo for larger version).
Not all the services introduced are part of the H-Spine. Frequent, core, direct services form the main core spines but they are also supplimented by less direct, less frequent services. Route 6 replaces Routes 31A and 31B and offers an hourly service from Abbey Street to Howth Station via Shielmartin Road. The routing is from Abbey Street as per the H-Spine to just before the SuperValu in Raheny, the bus turning right onto Watermill Road heading down towards the sea front. It is the first non-Nitelink route to serve this road since the very first (unnumbered) 17B services from Kilmore to Bull Island.
It turns left off Watermill Road onto James Larkin Road, rejoining the H2 and H3 at Blackbanks, operating as per the H3 to Sutton Cross. Turning right at Sutton Cross it operates mainly as per the former 31B service via Shielmartin Road to Howth Summit, avoiding a narrow section of Thormanby Road (more on this later). From Howth Summit it follows the H3 down to Howth Harbour, terminating just up from Howth Station, using the Station car-park to make the turn about (as per the original 31B). An hourly service is provided 7 days a week, which is a significant upgrade for residents on the west side of Howth Head. It also heads directly to the western side of Howth Head, rather than the 31A which served Howth Village first before continuing around the hill back upon itself to Shielmartin Road.
Clontarf's SG345, just transferred in time for the H-Spine start, is seen at the Howth Station terminus of Route 6 on the 27th June 2021 having completed the first outbound departure. The Howth Road display adorned these services for the first few days, but has since been updated to Howth Station via Shielmartin Road. (click on photo for larger version).
As noted previously, Route 6 replaces Routes 31A and 31B. These were one of the odd arrangements that lived on past Network Direct, which had tried to simplify the network in the early 2010s. The western side of Howth Head was served principally by the 31A. This terminated at Shielmartin Road, serving Strand Road. But instead of the original 31A route pre mid-2000s, it headed right back up the western side of the hill to Howth Summit and then on to Howth Vilage and Harbour and then into the city. It was a long-winding route for those living on Strand Road but heading to the city. However in the peak periods Monday-Friday, the 31B which itself had been all but replaced by the long-winding 31A as part of Network Direct still operated, in the morning from Howth Station, all around the hill via Shielmartin Road to the city. In the evening peak the opposite was done but buses terminated at Howth Summit instead of heading into Howth Village. So quite complicated.
The 6 is the best of both worlds for those on the western side of the hill. It operates directly to them rather then heading all around the hill first, yet the connection is still maintained to Howth Village and Station. It is notable in having a 0010 departure. I feel however, that though its great that Watermill Road now has a service, an opportunity was lost to have this route operate via Clontarf and Dollymount to Raheny. So the bus would still have served Watermill Road but in the opposite direction. Clontarf and Raheny have no direct link in terms of bus service, so it would have been a nice addition, with Route 6 not scheduled as part of the core-spine frequency on the Howth Road.
Clontarf's EV37 is seen operating the very last Route 31B departure, the 1920 ex Howth Summit on Friday the 25th June 2021. The eagle-eyed observer will observe that the bus is actually operating around the Howth Summit loop in the wrong direction for Route 31B (click on photo for larger version).
One final note is required on Route 6. Thormanby Road between Howth Summit and Stella Maris Convent previously served by Routes 31A and 31B is now unserved. Route 6 is officially via the main Carrickbrack Road, which is much wider but is otherwise of little interest. All housing comes out onto Thormanby Road, it being the original road in the area. So Route 6 actually doesn't stop on this new section, with no new stops added. Stop discontinuation notices were posted to the stops on Thormanby Road to indicate the stops were out of use. But the interesting thing is that given no new stops have been added on Carrickbrack Road, Route 6 doesn't miss any stops if it serves the old section of Thormanby Road, and the roads run parallel enough that it probably doesn't lose route position on the GPS. Hence, the first departure of Route 6 actually served this section of Thormanby Road. Given these routes are intended to be meandering and serving the community, it is odd that this section is now officially unserved.