Belated link-up corrects costly mistake

 

ANALYSIS:New Luas line cheaper than Metro project but €185m already spent on other shelved schemes

YESTERDAY’S DECISION by An Bord Pleanála to grant permission for the Luas Broombridge line to link the existing Red and Green Luas lines underscores the folly of having built two independent lines in the first place.

Not having done the job properly when the lines were built eight years ago has proved extremely costly in terms both of inconvenience to the travelling public and, probably more importantly, money.

With Dublin’s mainline stations on the outskirts of the city centre and the Dart hugging its eastern edge, it surely made sense that when a new rail system was being devised it would service the main shopping and business district. But that’s not how it panned out.

When the light-rail plan was first mooted in the mid-1990s the line was to have cut through the city centre linking the north and south sides of the river from St Stephen’s Green through to O’Connell Street.

However, by the end of the decade that plan had been abandoned by a Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats government which feared public reaction if they removed traffic from narrow Dawson Street and Nassau Street. Dublin Bus wasn’t too keen on the idea either as it feared it would be squeezed out in competition with trains and cars in the congested centre.

Instead they opted to construct two separate lines, the Green line from St Stephen’s Green to Sandyford and the Red line from Connolly Station to Tallaght. At their nearest point they were a good 15-minute walk apart.

Just a year after they opened in 2004 the plans changed again. The government’s new Transport 21 plan recommended that the Luas lines be connected and not only that but a Metro, covering largely the same ground as the Luas in its city-centre section, would run underground.

While that decision might have seemed a bit odd, the logic for the Luas connector seemed irrefutable. The two lines were hugely popular. Exceeding projected passenger numbers in the first year, Luas remains the only public transport system to wipe its own face, requiring no Government subsidy.

However, the Luas connector wasn’t about to get an easy ride. In July 2010 it was dropped again just a month after the Railway Procurement Agency had applied to An Bord Pleanála to build the line. The Luas BXD was shoved out of the government’s capital spending programme in favour of the Metro, although the planning process was allowed continue so it could be picked up again at a later date.

It was the change of government that saved Luas BXD. Soon after Leo Varadkar took up the transport portfolio, he announced that only one of “the big three” transport projects – Metro North, Dart Underground and the Luas interconnector – would be going ahead. Although he didn’t announce until last November that Luas was the winner, it was clear that was the way he was leaning.

Metro may have had the advantage of taking people all the way to Dublin Airport, but Luas has the advantage of being cheap, expected to cost about €370 million, while the Metro was projected to cost at least €3 billion.

There has still, however, been an outrageous waste of money caused by the will-they-won’t-they nature of successive governments’ transport planning. An estimated €150 million was spent on Metro North and €35 million on Dart Underground before they were shelved.