Dart’s €2.6bn extension plan beyond Dublin unveiled after 15 years

Additional services to Drogheda, Celbridge, Maynooth envisaged in expansion of service

Plans for the €2.6 billion extension of Dart services from Dublin to Drogheda, Celbridge and Maynooth, first announced 15 years ago, have been published by the National Transport Authority.

The expansion programme, rebranded DART+, aims to double peak-hour capacity from 26,000 passengers an hour in each direction to 52,000 an hour per direction by 2028, with more trains and new stations, to create a “full metropolitan area Dart network for Dublin” said the authority.

The project will involve five main elements: electrification of services on the three commuter lines; purchase of new Dart trains; and upgrade of the existing southern Dart line to Greystones.

The Maynooth project will be first of the three lines to progress, with public consultation on the route beginning today.

The authority plans to seek a railway order, the planning application for rail infrastructure, from An Bord Pleanála in the first half of next year.

In addition to electrification of the 40km of existing Sligo line as far as Maynooth/M3 Parkway to allow for Dart services, this project, dubbed DART + West, will also mean elimination of level crossings along the route to end conflicts with road traffic.

In the second half of next year another railway order will be sought for DART+ South West, to electrify the Kildare line as far as Hazelhatch/Celbridge. Three new stations are proposed on the line, subject to assessment, at Cabra, Heuston west and Kylemore south of Ballyfermot.

It is likely to be the second half of 2022 before an application is made for DART + Coastal North, the electrification of the service to Drogheda on the northern line, which will mean Darts running north from their current terminus at Malahide.

The upgrade of the line from Connolly to Greystones is being rebranded as DART + Coastal South. The authority will seek a railway order for this project, which will also involve the elimination of troublesome level crossings, at the beginning of 2023.

In parallel, the authority is buying a new Dart fleet. The tender process for 600 new carriages, equivalent to 75 trains, is under way with award of the fleet contract scheduled for early 2021.

Underground service

The expansion programme was allocated €2 billion under the National Development Plan to run between 2018 and 2027. But it emerged last February that new cost estimates drawn up within Irish Rail put the overall bill for the project at more than €2.6 billion.

Final costs, according to the authority, will be established only when designs are complete.

The expansion plans were proposed in 2005 along with the creation of a Dart “interconnector” or underground service in the city area.

In 2010 Irish Rail applied to An Bord Pleanála for a Railway Order for the €4.5 billion Dart Underground project to link Heuston station to the Dart line, with underground stations at Spencer Dock, Pearse Station, St Stephen’s Green, Christ Church and Heuston,

In November 2011 the project was shelved by the Fine Gael-Labour government. The following month the board granted the railway order.

The underground, while included in the Transport Strategy for the Greater Dublin Area 2016-2035, was not included in the 10-year National Development Plan published in 2018, and the tunnel is not included in the expansion plans published on Wednesday.

Olivia Kelly

Olivia Kelly

Olivia Kelly is Dublin Editor of The Irish Times