Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

Brother, can you spare a dime?

Posted in Ireland, Politics by Chairman Pip on 15 November 2010

What are we to make of the situation? Transport 21 was announced five years ago as a massive investment in Ireland’s transport infrastructure, with a significant amount spent on rail. In fairness, the heavy rail projects that are listed on the website have by and large been completed, or are in progress. Likewise, elements of the planned extension of the Luas have opened. But, two massive projects, which have just received approval, have yet to start – the DART Underground, which primarily involves a twin bore tunnel under central Dublin (the “Interconnector”), and which will see the splitting of the existing DART route split in two, and the Metro North line of the Dublin Metro, intended to, amongst other things, provide Dublin Airport with its first rail link to the city. However, there are also major extensions to the Luas planned, a second Metro line, the extension of the newly opened Clonsilla-Pace commuter line to Navan, a major programme of electrification of the commuter routes around Dublin and the purchase of a new fleet of EMUs. The Railway Procurement Agency has already put in an application to begin work on the Metro West line and the proposed Luas extension to Broombridge, while there has been a commitment from Iarnród Éireann to deliver the Navan extension. So what then can we make of the situation that the Irish government finds itself in, with a budget deficit estimated at around 12% (or 32% when the cost of bank bailouts are taken into consideration), and (although it hasn’t confirmed it yet) apparently about to go cap in hand to the European Financial Stability Facility, which is the bailout fund set up by the EU to prop up Eurozone countries that are in difficulty, to the tune of around €80bn? If the EFSF imposes similar conditions to the money it provides as the International Monetary Fund, then the money it provides will be intended to reduce Ireland’s deficit rather than for investment. Where then does this leave the Transport 21 proposals that have yet to start? As far as I know, the funding for the Interconnector is ring-fenced, as the Metro North funding may well also be. The rest of it has received no such guarantees. Additionally, all of these plans are for projects in and around Dublin. Where does this leave planned investment for the rest of the country? As part of the National Transport Authority’s decision to allow the closure of the Waterord-Rosslare line, it insisted that Iarnród Éireann continue the care and maintenance of the line to ensure that services could be quickly reintroduced. SWIFFT remain optimistic that they will come to an agreement with a private operator, but it is still likely to take time to get trains running again. What will happen if Iarnród Éireann decides to place the line at the bottom of its list of priorities due to having no money available? Then there is the “Gluas”, the proposed light rail system for Galway, which has been in “development hell” for years, with very little sign of any progress. Not to mention plans for speed improvements on the Belfast-Dublin line and an hourly timetable for Enterprise, or the unfunded third phase of the Western Rail Corridor to Sligo. Then there are the pipe dreams of pressure groups, such as reopening the line through Moate What will become of all of this, with the plan announced that next year’s budget is intended to reduce the deficit to approximately 9.5% next year (which will see €6bn of savings), with a view to getting it below 3% by 2015. This will put massive pressure on the planned investment that was envisaged at the start of Transport 21, and anything not in there can probably forget it. You may find envious eyes cast across the Irish Sea at the United Kingdom, given that, even in spite of the Age of Austerity, investment in the railways is continuing.

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