Routes 17A, N4 and N6:
On the 29th May 2022, the 17A (Blanchardstown Shopping Centre - Kilbarrack) was replaced by two new high-frequency orbital services, the N4 (Point Village - Blanchardstown Shopping Centre), operated by Dublin Bus, and the N6 (Kilbarrack - Finglas Village), operated by Go-Ahead, as part of the 3rd phase of the "Bus-Connects" Network reorganisation. This article looks at the history of route 17A from its introduction in 1975 up to its withdrawal in 2022, as well as the change-over to the N4 and N6.
Former Harristown based RV628 is seen operating Route 17A at Blanchardstown Shopping Centre on the 6th October 2012, the RVs being a rare breed with only a few in service at that time (click on photo for larger version).
1969 - 1975 - The introduction debacle:
The 17A was an interesting bus service, especially in the context of Bus Connects, being a “relatively” old orbital service. Dublin has always been a city with limited orbital transport options. Route 18, known as the cross-tram in tramway days, was the one exception having been introduced back in 1898 (in fact there were horse-omnibus services along this route before this). But it was one of the lesser used tramway services, and was even withdrawn due to coal shortages during World War I. And thus Dublin’s Bus services developed to be solely radial, and a bus journey from say Finglas to Coolock would have necessitated taking two buses, with a change in the city centre up to the mid-70s.
The first incarnation of Route 17A came in 1969, albeit in the form of an un-numbered “Summer Seaside Sunday Bus Service”, obviously during CIE’s marketing department’s experiments with tongue-twisters, noting that it “brings you to all the fun of the beach”. It operated from the then 27A terminus in Kilmore (Kilbarron Road), via Bunratty Road, Oscar Traynor Road, Springdale Road (then known as the Edenmore Road), Raheny Village, Watermill Road to the Causeway roundabout at Bull Island. It operated on Sundays only from the 6th July 1969 to the 23rd August 1969, though it did operate on the August Bank Holiday Monday. Buses ran every 40mins from midday, well you had to go to mass first!
It was one of three such services that operated during this period, the 18 being extended to Ballyfermot Hospital on these Sundays (at this point it terminated at Larkfield Gardens), and a new service operated from Terenure to Seapoint via Rathfarnham, Dundrum, Clonskeagh and Mount Merrion (the precursor to the modern Route 17). CIE noted that “the seaside routes are experimental and if they gain public support they will be developed further in future years”. And gain support they did, the 18 was extended to Ballyfermot full-time when the trial period of this service came to an end in 1969 and the 17 would be introduced in 1970.
The context of the introduction of these services was worsening traffic and therefore journey times within the city centre especially. So the need to change in the city was even worse than before. This heightened the need to CIE for orbital services. But whereas users of Routes 17 and 18 were soon to gain the benefit of expanding orbital services, passengers in Finglas, Ballymun, Coolock and Edenmore would have to wait quite a while longer.
The summer Sunday service from Kilmore to Dollymount would return for the 1970 season, this time joined by a new service from Finglas East to Dollymount. Little is known at this stage about this service, but it is presumed that it did not operate via Coolock (hence the need for two services). Coolock Lane, more on this later, would surely have precluded this.
In November 1970, CIE announced to the press its intention of running a service from Raheny Village to Finglas via Edenmore Road (now Springdale Road), Oscar Traynor Road, Coolock Lane, Santry Avenue, Ballymun Road, Ballymun Avenue (now Glasnevin Avenue), Grove Road, Jamestown Road, Finglas and Kildonan Road. Importantly it was noted that the service would be denoted Route 17A. The diversion via Grove Road and Jamestown Road is interesting as it was never part of the original introduced 17A, though a special morning service via Jamestown Road is part of this route’s history. In the announcement it was noted that “it will not be possible to inaugurate the service until roadworks along a section of Coolock Lane are completed”.
Other alternate, or alternative, termini were also muted at the time, with Michael Corcoran referring to the route in Buses Magazine as “Kilbarrack or Raheny to Finglas or Blanchardstown”. In the end, Raheny would only be served by the summer Sunday specials, while it was 35 years after introduction that the 17A finally reached Blanchardstown.
The choice of the number 17A is interesting in that the southside 17 had started in 1970. The reason for the similar numbers was that CIE planned on joining the routes together to run as one long circular service. In DUTC times, it has often the case that the same route number would be used for both a northside and southside service, with the northside service being the distinguished with an “A” suffix. Examples include:
So it was interesting that more than 30 years on from the northside route getting an “A”, the practice was repeated, though maybe not knowingly.
It is important to note that much of Coolock was only being developed at this time. The modern Oscar Traynor Road was relatively new, the development at Castletimon was brand new, with the 27B not yet introduced. So Coolock Lane was pretty much as described, a lane, and not suited to bus operation, especially given that the recent influx of residents to the area had significantly increased traffic along it. The timing of CIE’s announcement was no doubt to get Coolock Lane on the minds of north Dublin residents to put pressure on Dublin Corporation to upgrade Coolock Lane quickly. If that was the plan, it either had no effect, or maybe had the exact opposite effect given how long the Coolock Lane upgrade works would take to happen.
And so, the early 70s would pass by with little or no progress on Route 17A due to a small, ¾ mile, stretch of road that was precluding the linking of the new rapidly expanding suburbs of Kilbarrack, Coolock and Ballymun. In many ways the lack of foresight in providing such simple upgrade works to link these new sprawling suburbs is a testament to the poor planning of Dublin Corporation that went with moving people out of the city and into the suburbs. Instead, two pillars of the same state engaged in a tortoise race of bureaucracy, with the corporation even upgrading the road at one point without removing the hazardous bends that precluded the introduction of the service, a waste of limited resources given the road was eventually straightened. There was interspersed comment in the Dublin newspapers noting the deplorable situation and all the while much potential custom for Route 17A was no doubt being lost permanently.
Residents and tenants associations in the affected areas did mobilise and eventually the pressure told. The 17A would finally be introduced on the 20th October 1975, almost exactly 5 years since CIE had first announced their intention to run the service. It operated from Kilbarrack (Howth Junction) to Finglas (Mellowes Road) via Kilbarrack Road, Tonlegee Road, Oscar Traynor Road, Coolock Lane, Santry Avenue, Ballymun Road, Ballymun Avenue, Ballygall Road West and Mellows Road.
The Kilbarrack terminus was referred to as Kilbarrack (Howth Junction) but the terminus has always been a distance away from Howth Junction at Naomh Barróg GAA Club, even though in modern times the buses actually looped at the station entrance to turn about (a practice that continues with the N6). The Finglas terminus was at the end of the Mellowes Road at the triangle formed at the junction of Cardiffsbridge Road and Mellowes Road, buses looping in a clockwise direction (though in earlier times with the shorter C-class it may have been possible to just perform a u-turn).
The original timetable provided buses on Mondays-Saturdays only, and the service provided was approx. every 40mins, though gaps of up to 70mins were also common. It was operated from Summerhill Depot using one-man operated, C-class, buses.
1976-2009 - Kilbarrack to Finglas:
The service was instantly successful, and a Sunday service was introduced on the 29th February 1976, along with an much improved timetable (almost doubling departures) with frequencies typically every 20-30mins Monday-Sunday.
The summer following the 17A introduction saw the summer Sundays only Dollymount service return and extended to Finglas as Route 17B. Route 17B began on Sunday the 13th June 1976, operating from Finglas via Route 17A to Floods Corner (corner of Tonlagee and Raheny Roads), then via Raheny Road, Raheny Village and Watermill Road to the Causeway, Dollymount Strand. Unlike the timetable of the originally introduced summer Sunday specials in 1969, you could now depart early, with the first bus from Finglas at 1030am. 50mins journey time was given between Finglas and Dollymount, with generally one bus on route providing a 100mins frequency, with two buses occasionally on route simultaneously upping the frequency. Last bus from Dollymount was 2030.
The 17B would operate each Sunday until the end of August, returning each summer for the months of June, July and August. In 1982, the 17B was rerouted to follow the 17A all the way from Finglas to the Kilbarrack Road, then continuing along Kilbarrack Road, turning right onto the sea front and following James Larkin Road to the Causeway, Dollymount Strand. This new routing begain with the introduction of the service for the 1982 season on the 6th June 1982.
The 17A served or got close to a number of industrial areas as well as suburban housing. Clonshaugh Industrial Estate was a relatively modern industrial estate when on the 13th September 1982, one morning service each way (the 0800 from Kilbarrack and the 0805 from Finglas) were rerouted to operate through Clonshaugh Industrial Estate, serving the loop of the estate in a clockwise direction as per the current 27B departures via Clonshaugh.
Interestingly these services were not denoted via Clonshaugh in the 1983 timetable, but did appear in 1984, joined by new extra morning services in each direction via Airways Industrial Estate, off the Swords Road, with two evening services starting from Airways Industrial Estate in the evening and heading in each direction (to Kilbarrack or Finglas).
As noted, the 17A was introduced using one-person operated (OPO) C-class buses. These had been built in 1965 and were getting on in years by the early 80s, and by 1983 the OPO nature of the route was somewhat subject. With only 4 C-class buses available towards the end of 1983, crew-operated double-deckers had to be drafted in to fill the timetable, and with no agreement on OPO double-deckers in the early 80s, these had to be crew operated. It was thus an operational relief when in November/December 1983 the first KC buses arrived in Summerhill for Route 17A, starting with KC4, which was originally been sent to Limerick but was not utilised due to trade union difficulties.
The KC-buses were principally intended for DART feeder type routes and were much bigger than the C-class buses they replaced. They however seated much the same number, 35, but the intention was a European style capacity where a significant number would stand, 44 (though having travelled on KC buses, one questions how 44 could ever have stood on them). Either way buses were operated without standing from introduction to service.
On the 8th December 1985, Route 17A was classified by CIE as a “large capacity” OPO service, which would allow for the KCs to operate to their full capacity and the route would obtain a new timetable. This date was significant as all KC operated OPO routes would go high capacity, such as the 36/A and the 76, as well as new DART Feeder services which were to be introduced. But as drivers showed up for service on the first morning they refused to operate the KC buses, resulting in their suspension. This left the 17A, and other KC-operated services without any service, while other routes continued, albeit sufficient drivers and conductors had been suspended to result in a 50% reduction in service level across the city in the month of December.
It may seem odd that buses had been operating a service on one day would cause a strike the next day, but in reality this single-decker capacity question was entwined with the much more prevalent issue of OPO double-deck operation. CIE had been embroiled with the unions on this topic for 18 years at this point and were set on introducing OPO double-deckers. The DART Feeder services were also contentious as they would sound the death knell of existing radial, TPO double-deck operated services.
The cessation of Route 17A continued for a full month until an agreement was reached between CIE and the Unions on the 9th January 1986 which would allow for KCs to be operated at full capacity and the phased introduction of OPO double-deck services. KC-buses and their drivers returned but still operating the KCs at reduced capacity with no standing passengers.It wasn’t until the 9th February 1986 that the 17A got classified as a large capacity OPO service, with the KCs allowed to operate with their capacity of 79 (35 seated, 44 standing). This was also the date the DART feeders would be introduced while the first OPO double decker route (38A/C) would follow the following month.
The Summer Sunday Route 17B continued up till the summer of 1987. It, like much of the summer extra universals, was affected by the increase in car numbers by the mid-80s and the reducing reliance on public transport to get to the beach.
It is an unfortunate consequence of the suburban sprawl of the 1960s, and the lack of local amenities that went with the construction of these vast estates (Coolock Lane being a casing point) that anti-social behaviour became rife in the 1980s/1990s. With bus drivers carrying a cash float for providing change to passengers they became a target of attacks. By the mid-90s, albeit much later than many cities across Europe, Dublin moved to a fare box system still employed to this day.
The very first service that drivers did not carry cash was Route 42C in 1995, though in this case it was limited to after 7pm and tickets needed to be purchased for the service off bus in newsagents. On the 15th January 1996, a fare-box system termed “Autofare” was launched on a number of routes where drivers were at risk of attack; the routes in question being the 17A, 18, 40/A/B and 111. Passengers would put cash into the Autofare box, and if more was provided than required, passengers would be issued a change receipt that could be redeemed in Dublin Bus head office, a practice which continued all the way to September 2018. Because drivers had no access to the cash, attacks significantly reduced, and the system was eventually rolled out across all routes.
Sometime between September 1997 and April 1998, the 17A gained a new 0710 service from Kilbarrack to Finglas via “Plastronics”. Plastronics is a semiconductor electronics company founded in Texas that had premises around the Jamestown Road at this time. The buses left the 17A route at Finglas Village, turning right up Jamestown Road to the roundabout where it went right onto Balbutcher Way, past the then FÁS premises before looping back upon itself at Poppintree roundabout (a since removed roundabout at the junction of Balbutcher Lane and Balbutcher Way) and returning the way it came to rejoin the 17A route.
Traffic congestion in Clonshaugh Industrial Estate became a problem in the late 90s. On the 24th May 2000, the 0740 service from Kilbarrack via Clonshaugh Industrial was altered to operate the normal 17A routing. The evening departures via Clonshaugh Industrial Estate would also go around the same time for the same reasons. There was though still one service via Clonshaugh Industrial Estate from either end remaining.
Orbital services that don’t operate via the City Centre have always proved complicated for CIE/Dublin Bus. This is because of agreements, which with a few notable exceptions (e.g. Dún Laoghaire prior to Go-Ahead take over of routes), meant drivers started, finished and took their breaks either at the depot or in the City Centre. So for a route like the 17A this meant a typical two part duty involved running empty (light) from Summerhill Depot to Kilbarrack or Finglas, completing a few runs and then returning light to the depot for a break, returning light after the break to one of the outer termini, completing the remainder of the laps, before once again returning light to the depot to finish.
This practice resulted in significant inefficiencies in operation. It is worth noting that the new N4 which replaces the 17A in part is actually one of the first orbitals in Dublin Bus to not operate this way, with driver changes at DCU and staff cars instead of buses used to ferry drivers from DCU to the depot. This means the route can driver change at the closest point to the depot, with no need for buses to be running light back and forth, significantly decreasing mileage (fuel costs) and the PVR (peak vehicle requirement) of the route.
With these inefficiencies very much in force in the early 2000s, Dublin Bus sought to subcontract a number of these under-performing routes to private operation, namely the 17A, 51A, 75/76/76A/76B,114/145/146/184/185, 201/202/210/220/237/238/239/270, and a brand new Western Orbital from Maynooth to Tallaght. Dublin Bus announced the tender in February 2001 with the hope for these routes to transfer operation in December 2001, but in the end no suitable operator was found and the routes remained with Dublin Bus. Unlike the current situation with Go-Ahead, where buses are operated on behalf of the NTA, these private operators would have provided buses in Dublin Bus livery and all revenue would have gone to Dublin Bus who would have paid a set fee to the private operator.
On the 19th January 2004, the 17A lost more of its peak hour variants. This time the Plastronics and Airways Industrial Estate services were withdrawn, leaving only two morning services via Clonshaugh Industrial Estate (one from each terminus at 0800) as the only variants in the timetable.
With the expansion of Dublin during the Celtic Tiger era, and the rapidly expanding need for extra bus services, Dublin Bus embarked on building a new depot in Harristown near Dublin Airport, the first new depot since Phibsboro Depot in 1971. The garage began operation on the 31st October 2004, the 17A being operated from the depot from this first day.
2010-2022: Kilbarrack to Blanchardstown:
With the economic collapse of the country in 2008, and the subsequent reduction in passenger numbers and government subvention, Dublin Bus finances were in real peril. This necessitated a program of route withdrawals and mergers in order to reduce costs. The one exception was the 17A, which was actually expanded as part of Network Direct, being extended to Blanchardstown. The new extended service was introduced as part of Phase 2 of Network Direct on the 30th October 2010 (see first day feature here). At this point the 17A lost its final peak hour variants, with the morning services via Clonshaugh Industrial Estate being lost.
The route operated from Blanchardstown Shopping Centre directly onto Blanchardstown By-Pass, then into Connolly Hospital, Waterville Road, Snugborough Road, Ballycoolin Road, Cappagh Road, Mellows Road, then as per the former 17A routing to Coolock Lane where it diverted from the former routing to serve Beaumont Hospital via Dundaniel Road, Kilbarron Road, Trim Road, Beaumont Hospital, Trim Road, Kilbarron Road, Kilmore Road, returning to the former routing at Oscar Traynor Road and operating as before to its Kilbarrack terminus.
Former Harristown, now City Tour open-topper, EV50 is seen operating Route 17A at Blanchardstown Shopping Centre on the first day of the extension to Blanchardstown, the 31st October 2010 (click on photo for larger version).
The 17A would finally be subcontracted out 17 years after originally intended, though in this case the government had control of who ran a service and decided to award the contract to a then new operation, Go-Ahead Ireland, with a depot in Ballymount. Go-Ahead began operating the route on the 2nd December 2018 (see feature here), the routing remaining the same.
The 17A appeared on these pages a few times more than those linked to above. As per this article, the generally peak-hour only DT-class did appear on the 17A reasonably often. Back in 2012 I covered a rare Saturday allocation of DTs onto the 17A, which was very usual at the time. A feature on DT10 also had a photo of Route 17A from 2013. The 17A was one of the last routes to have RVs allocated in Harristown and appeared in a feature on what was meant to be the last day of RV operation in Harristown. The 17A was also the route featured in a feature on the Go-Ahead 119xx class.
Finally I have included some links to some of my favourite photos of the 17A from other photographers, but it is by no means a complete list (Google and Facebook searching can be selective). As noted above, when the route was introduced in 1975 it was operated by C-class buses. A number of photos from the late Eamon McArthur are available online of C-class buses operating the 17A circa 1981-1983:
As noted previously, there was a shortage of C-class buses during the later years of their operation on the 17A and it was not uncommon for crew operated double-deckers to be allocated either as single-deck replacements or as universals. Three such shots from Eamon have also been shared on the internet, namely RA86 at the Kilbarrack Parade terminus in the late 70s, D230 on Coolock Lane in 1982 and KD314 on the Oscar Tryanor Road in November 1983.
The KCs arrived on the 17A in November 1983 and were the mainstay on the route well into the late 90s, being allocated all the way to their withdrawal from Summerhill in December 2000. It is therefore incredible how few KC photos on the 17A are available online. However, sometimes its quality over quantity, and Pat Losty’s KC34 at the Finglas terminus captures a time in 1991.
The 17A could also be allocated double-deckers during the 90s and Darren Hall has shared some excellent images from this period:
With the withdrawal of the KDs and KCs in the late 90s, culminating in their final withdrawal from Summerhill in December 2000, and the arrival of AV-class buses for the Airlink, the 17A became a mix of Olympian (RH/RA/RV) and Alexander Setanta bodied DAF SB220s, AD-class, buses. Few photos of the ADs on the 17A exist on the internet, but there is one of AD70 on Santry Avenue. The label notes it dates from 1995, but due to the livery and the fact that AD70 was on Airlink duties up to 2000, the photo would date from the early 2000s. Darren Hall also shared an incredibly rare capture of WV5 on the 17A in April 2006, WVs generally been kept on the Blanchardstown locals during their time in Harristown.
Otherwise, the Olympians would be the bus of choice for the 17A for the 2000s, with the RHs especially seeing their end in Harristown Depot on Route 17A. Photos dating from this period are:
The 2010s started with a bit of a mix. AVs were the mainstay, especially the early AVs, wich became the predominat class on the route from the 2009 fleet-wide cut-backs, but RVs were still reasonably regular right up to their withdrawal, as were the seldom used DT-class. Towards the end of the 17A with Dublin Bus in 2018, the route was an AX/EV/VG mix. Photos on the web from this period are:
After Go-Ahead's take over, the allocation was primarily the 115xx class, though the 119xx class were also common even if there are only 12 of them. Content shared on line from this period are:
Last Day of Route 17A:
The last day of a route is always a momentus occassion. The imminent end of a route means greed sets in, cause when its gone its gone. The buses that operated Route 17A on its last day were as follows (though not all at the same time): 11509 (operated the last from Kilbarrack), 11512, 11514, 11517, 11520, 11523, 11524, 11532 (operated last from Blanchardstown), 11556, 11563, 11567, 11568, 11582, 11590 and 11912.
Go-Ahead's 11523 is seen at the main Ballymun Town Centre stops on the Ballymun Road on the 28th May 2022, the last day of Route 17A's operation. This stop is not served by the replacement N6 (click on photo for larger version).
First day of Routes N4 and N6:
Phase 3 of the Bus Connects project was implemented on the 29th May 2022 with the introduction of two new services, Routes N4 (Point Village to Blanchardstown Centre) and N6 (Finglas Village to Kilbarrack). Each serves a portion of the former route 17A which was withdrawn as part of this phase, along with peak-hour only Route 31D from Baldoyle to DCU. Both operate every 10mins daytime, 15mins on a Sunday, with the N4 also being a 24 hour service, operating every 30mins throughout the night/early morning. For more information, including a map, see here for the official NTA booklet.
The N4 operates from the former 17A terminus at Blanchardstown Centre and operates pretty much as a 17A all the way to Glasnevin Avenue via Blanchardstown Hospital, Ballycoolin, Cappagh Hospital and Finglas Village, the one exception being that the N4 operates via Blanchardstown Village which had previously been by-passed by the former 17A. From there it continues onto Collins Avenue Extension, serving DCU, where driver changes also occur. Buses continue along Collins Avenue to Killester Village, where they turn onto the Howth Road, then Clontarf Road, Alfie Byrne Road, East Wall Road, East Road, before terminating at the Point Village.
The N4 is not the first bus to serve the full length of Collins Avenue directly, the original 103 did before it was changed to operate via Beuamont and Ballymun, but the N4 is significantly more frequent and an incredible addition for students of DCU, so hopefully it has better patronage than the original 103 of the late 80s. Of other significance is that the route serves Alfie Byrne Road. Though not the first city service to serve the Alfie Byrne Road, Go-Ahead route 104 already operates along a portion, as did the Dublin Bus 103/104 for a time, it is the first city route to stop on it, as well as serving the section close to East Point Business Park which is a significant area of employment in the city. The allocation of the N4 is predominatly the 2013 batch of GTs, and a mix of NTA-liveried SGs, though PA23 did make it out on the first day for one of the night buses.
The N6 on the other hand operates from Kilbarrack to Finglas Village, following the former 17A route to Ballymun via Tonlegee Road, Oscar Traynor Road, looping into Beaumont Hospital, Santry Avenue and Ballymun. At Ballymun, it turns right onto Balbutcher Lane and follows the 220 route through Poppintree to Balbutcher Way then contines along to Charlestown returning to Finglas Village via St. Margaret's Road and McKee Road, thus not serving the Ballymun Library stops and Glasnevin Avenue section of the former 17A. A stop is provided on Seamus Ennis Road for transfer to the N4, the buses continuing down to the By-Pass, before returning through Finglas Main Street to the terminus close to Seamus Ennis Road. Connections are good from the N4 to the N6 with both buses stopping at the same stops on the Seamus Ennis Road in both directions.
At Ballymun an opportunity would seem to have been missed. The main stops in the centre of Ballymun are not served, albeit stops on Balbutcher Lane have been provided that provide only a short walk to them. These were among the busiest stops for the former Route 17A, and one can't help thinking that in other modern European cities an effort would have been made to retain them. In this case a simple bus only right turn through the central meridian would have allowed the buses to serve Silogue Road in front of SuperValu before continuing onto Balbutcher Lane.
Go-Ahead have allocated 115xx class buses, those that have been repainted into the NTA Green/Yellow livery (predominantly the early numbers). Of note from the photos above is the destination Drogheda Mall. The Drogheda Mall is a line of shops off Seamus Ennis Road, which sure enough the N6 terminates at, and which is the minor description of the stops directly at it. However, this term would probably not be widely known, even to Finglas residents. Given the publicity highlighting the new N4 and N6, and how to change buses at Finglas, it seems a large oversight that these buses are going around with Drogheda on the front of them rather than Finglas. Of further note is the early finish of the N6 compared to the former 17A. The last 17A left Blanchardstown Shopping Centre at 2330, getting to Finglas probably 15-20mins later. The last N6 departs Finglas at 2320, a good 25-30mins earlier. With Bus Connects generally bringing later services on routes, this is a real loss to passengers of North Dublin (in fact the NTA N4/N6 booklet refers to buses after midnight on Saturday/Sunday, so one would assume this was a late change).
First week update:
A brief update on Saturday 4th June 2022 (the first Saturday of operation of Routes N4 and N6). Of significant note is that the N6 Drogheda Mall was updated to display Finglas Village, buses having the updated scroll from Thursday 2nd June. The allocation of the N4 is pretty strict, being dominated by GT129-GT142, with a few NTA-liveried SGs for good measure. PAs have being appearing at night, but on the first Saturday operation a few made their way onto daytime service, with PAs 25, 35 and 40 all doing a number of laps on the N4. Long may it continue as PAs suit the new Bus Connects routes.