Sunday 15 February 2015

I was inspired by the fact that it was the Valentine's weekend for my post today. Meditating on the victims of my little sniper Cupid I was reminded of two first encounters I had took place at train stations: one was Tralee and the other Galway. These grey stone buildings up and down the land are the embodiment of Victorian ideals- regularity, uniformity, formality. They are ironically the most romanticised of buildings associated with such insuppresible emotions: expectation, nervousness and excitement. Some of my favourite films have a train scene Brief Encounter, Dr Zhivago and Some Like it Hot. When you stop and think about it a train station is just a large waiting room for the conveyance of people from A to B. It is not really a place of action but of anticipation. An interchange of greetings and farewells. It is what Marc Augé in his book 'Non-Place: An Introduction to Supermodernity' refers to as "non-space." I like to think of Limerick Train Station as a liminal space between action and non-action, the Georgian and the Victorian city, the commercial district and residential areas, and old Limerick and a new Limerick. 

Recent events such as the City of Culture year have given Limerick a more confident perspective. No longer is the train and bus terminals a place to say goodbye to family or friends but as a place of welcome. This handsome building on Parnell Street is sadly sitting in a tired part of the city full of chippers, pubs and off-licences. I could never understand why funds were not invested in this area during the boom years as it gives visitors their first impression of our city. One saving grace is that People's Park is nearby as a reward for the traveler after their journey. It is therefore great news for Limerick regarding the proposed development of a new public plaza, taxi rank and car set down area to the front of the station building. 

The Limerick Railway Station building itself was opened on the 28th of August 1858 replacing an earlier, temporary station some 500m further east, which had operated from 9th of May 1848. The Station was originally known simply as the Limerick Railway Station until 1966 when it was named after Cornelius Colbert, the County Limerick man executed following the Easter Rising. This station is unusually located as it was custom to locate such a structure centrally within a city. Aristocratic and middle class interests prevented it from being constructed in the more fashionable parts of the city and so it was therefore built at the edge of the Victorian part of the city.[1] Its architect was English architect and surveyor Sancton Wood (1815-1886)[2]. who also designed the Old Kilkenny Railway Station, Royal Hospital Kilmainham, and Heuston Station, Portlaoise Station, and Thurles. 

Within the site of the Station there is the terminus building, sheds, and a hard surface car park to west and north of the site and bus station termini to south all enclosed from Parnell Street by original limestone plinth wall supporting steel railing, c.1990. The building itself is a compact, detached seven-bay, two-storey over partially concealed basement. The structure is faced with fine carved limestone detailing in a restrained Classical style. The terminus building consists of a two-bay, two-storey breakfront ends which flank an arcaded entrance front which is reached by a series of steps. The roof is hipped with pan-tiles which give it a corrugated effect and shoulders rendered chimney stacks are just visible behind parapet wall. Coursed rubble limestone walls to south-facing elevation of train shed with limestone ashlar Doric pilasters which become painted and partially rendered limestone ashlar piers, internally to the east. Colbert Station is a protected listed structure and by extension, the protection includes the parking areas on all sides of the building as well as the Bus Station to the south.  
Image taken from
The long overdue redevelopment to start within the first quarter of this year is estimated to cost €16.9 million. Phase One (€2.5million) redevelopment prepared by Iarnród Éireann in collaboration with Bus  Éireann, Limerick City & County Council and the National Transport Authority funded by the Department of Transport, Tourism & Sport through the Regional Cities Funding Allocation for 2015 will see the existing car park area removed, the existing derelict petrol station and Council Depot will also be demolished along with the train station's toilet block. This will make way for A new bus station is proposed to the Northern side of the existed train station building. This will be a double height public concourse with ground and first floor office areas. The offices link at first floor level to the existing train station building.
Maser, Draw Out Project.
Image taken from
Phase Two will be marked by the new plaza in front of the station consists of a limestone paved area of 3,350 sqm together with feature lighting, landscaping, bench seating, bicycle parking and associated street furniture and fittings. A new ramped and stepped entrance will be formed to access the proposed new bus station. The proposed taxi rank and car set down consist of an area of 1275sqm of paving with tree planting, benches, shelters and bicycle parking. 
Image taken from
Phase Three will see change to the interior of the station with the opening of the area to three central bays that would include repositioned retail units, relocation of the ticket office and new stone flooring. A new surface level car park is proposed to the south eastern area of the site in addition to new car parking adjacent to the train station building on the southern side. Part of the plans will see 264 new bicycle parking spaces located in the new rear car park, the new plaza and the new taxi rank  and set down area. You can read more about the planning permission here

With such provisions for bicycle parking we will now have the look of a city that has been designated as one of the three centres to be the First Smarter Travel Demonstration Areas. A joint initiative by Limerick City and County Council and the University of Limerick given €9 million to spend over 5 years to roll out a wide range of measures and interventions, targets at encouraging people to use sustainable modes of transport and to engage in transport planning. This redevelopment is the creation of a major transport hub allowing people to leave the car at home. More importantly for the passengers, staff and residents living nearby this will make Colbert Station and attractive place to meet and linger. I use this station regularly and at the moment it is not a place that I would kill time  or stay after meeting friends. Hopefully this scheme will rejuvenate Parnell Street, Davis Street and other streets that approach the station marking a new phase for Limerick as a city that can welcome every new visitor or old friend with confidence. Passengers can step off the train, hop on a bicycle and explore the city. Colbert Station can depart the in-between space it inhabits to become the perfect place for perfect first encounters. 

I'd like to thank Gregg Ryan the Heritage & Conservation Manager for Irish Rail for providing information on the redevelopment for this blog post. 

[1] Judith Hill, The Building of Limerick, (Dublin, 1991), p. 168.
[2] The Irish Architectural Archives, Dictionary of Irish Architects & Builders. 

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