The National Transport Authority has poured cold water over the possible fast-tracking of the Metro North project, with a leading official saying construction cannot commence before 2021.
Addressing the seminar Fingal on Track: Preparing for Metro North, in Swords on Monday, the NTA's deputy chief executive, Hugh Creegan, said months may be shaved off during the construction phase, but that work cannot be brought forward by a number of years as had been mooted recently.
Plans to build a light-rail link from Dublin city centre to the airport and on to Swords had been at an advanced stage prior to the economic crash, when they were put on hold, but the €2.5 billion project was officially revived as part of the last government’s 2015 capital programme.
Asked about the potential to have the 17km line in place before the notional deadline of 2026-2027, Mr Creegan said: “We may be able to shave some months off it as we go along, but I don’t want to promise that we can shave years off it. I don’t believe that’s possible.”
Despite misgivings over fast-tracking the proposals, Mr Creegan repeatedly expressed full support on behalf of himself and his organisation for a project he described as the “only solution” to decreasing traffic congestion approaching the capital.
“We looked in the past at alternatives to it and we confirmed that the Metro North project is the only right, long-term solution that will relieve congestion along the [airport to city centre] corridor. Without it, we’re going to suffer increasing congestion along that corridor,” he said.
Frustration among locals
Politicians present at the meeting articulated a sense of frustration among locals about the drawn-out process, with multiple speakers from the floor advocating for an expedited Metro North timeline.
Chief among them was local Fianna Fáil TD Darragh O'Brien, who referenced the Luas Cross City link-up, saying that "the only transport project that has been delivered in the last six or seven years has effectively benefited the southside of Dublin".
Should the project get the go-ahead from Government, as is expected later this year, it will move into the public consultation phase in 2018, followed by an application for procurement orders in 2019 ahead of the start of works in 2021.
Revamped proposals for Metro North unveiled last year cut the size of trams from 90m to 60m, but allowed for more frequent services. Some stations from the original scheme were omitted entirely, with others moved overground or underground to achieve efficiencies and cost savings.
Journey times of 19 minutes between Dublin Airport and the city centre are expected once Metro North is completed, with more than 30 million people projected to use the service annually.
Councillors who attended the seminar also asked questions about the possibility of resurrecting the Metro West project and adding spurs to Metro North that would reach further into the north of the county, both of which were rejected out of hand.