Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

Where do I go?

Posted in Infrastructure, Ireland, Politics by Chairman Pip on 24 November 2010

Thus it has come to pass. The Irish government has finally given in and asked for financial assistance. The European Union, the IMF and several individual countries, including the United Kingdom, will loan Ireland as much as €80bn in an attempt to stave off national disaster. But, as part of the deal with the international organisations, the government will be required to slash public spending and hike taxation – the suggestion is that around €10bn of savings need to be found and an extra €5bn of taxes need to be raised. Where this leaves the ambitious building projects for Dublin is anyone’s guess. An Bord Pleanála, the independent planning tribunal that makes final decisions on the approval of major infrastructure projects, has just started its hearing into the construction of DART Underground, and has received around 280 submissions and objections to the construction of the tunnel. Obviously, with such a major piece of tunnelling work to do, there would be major disruption to the centre of the city for a considerable time (and anyone that works around Tottenham Court Road will have a fair idea). But, had there been a booming economy, or at the very least one that is not staggering like Audley Harrison during his fight with David Haye, then it is likely to have been given the approval of the board relatively easily. But what about right now? Joe Costello, who is the Labour Party spokesman for Transport, has said:

the country cannot at the moment afford the Underground DART, which has to be built alongside the Metro North and LUAS city centre link up, all of which have a combined estimated cost of €8bn.

These are without doubt flagship projects that have been trumpeted for a number of years as giving Dublin the integrated transport network it has lacked for so long, and it would be a source of major embarrasment if they were to be sacrificed as a result of the huge savings that will be required by the IMF, not to mention likely being detrimental to the long term restoration of (genuine) economic growth. But that does not get away from the fact that DART Underground alone is likely to cost the thick end of €2.5bn, thanks to the tunnel, electrification of routes to Maynooth, Hazelhatch and Drogheda, the construction of a new depot, and the purchase of potentially as many as 70 new trains. Despite the estimate of creating up to 7,000 jobs, and the Minister for Transport stating that they money for the project was confirmed in the Capital Spending Plan announced in the summer, is it possible to say with any certaintly that this will go ahead? Similarly with Metro North, which is estimated at around €2.5bn, will require a tunnel of similar length to the DART, a depot and a new fleet, and will connect to the airport. The question becomes “is this a major priority?”. While it may be inconvenient, both in terms of Dublin’s transport network and politically, as the current government have invested a lot in getting this done, Dublin could possibly get away without it, although one of the major reasons for building the DART is to free up capacity at Connolly station, which could then be used to expand Enterprise’s timetable, but is impossible as it stands. There would be little room to grow and expand services to the north and north-west unless some way is found to deal with the capacity issues and, using the experience in Great Britain as a model, it is likely that more capacity will end up being needed. But, the one project that is vital is the city centre connection to Luas. One doesn’t like to promote stereotyping, but it doesn’t do Ireland’s image much good to have built a brand new light rail network, costing over €700m, and not have the two lines connect somewhere. Part of the original extension plans was to connect the two lines, but this has been expanded to include both the connection and a new line out to Liffey Junction. This new line should certainly be put on the back burner, but the connection is vital to the use and growth of the Luas network as a viable transport system. Of course, as I’ve said, hard choices are faced when it comes to what (and if) money can be spent on the railway infrastructure. But you hope that the choices that are made end up being the right ones.

“New DART line plan costs €40m”
“Hotel group threatens DART underground action”
“Ireland austerity plan to cost Irish households £3,000”

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