Minister to seek approval for Luas task force


The Minister for Public Enterprise, Ms O'Rourke, is expected to seek Government approval tomorrow to establish a long-delayed task force to oversee delivery of the expanded Luas light rail system for Dublin.

The task force - officially an "advisory/action group" - was originally announced by the Minister on July 1st, with its members to be named shortly afterwards. But it is not until now, more than three months later, that Ms O'Rourke is bringing her recommendations to the Cabinet.

A spokesman said the delay was caused by the difficulty of finding people from the private sector who would give their time to the project rather than serving as mere "rubber stamps". The idea was that it would be a "small but dynamic group".

The spokesman confirmed that Mr Donal Mangan, director of the Luas project, would be on the task force as well as Mr Pat Mangan, assistant secretary at the Department of Public Enterprise and former chairman of the Dublin Transportation Initiative.

It is understood senior CIE officials opposed the creation of the task force because of their belief that it could result in Luas being "taken out" of the company's orbit, both during its planning phase and, later, when it becomes fully operational in four years' time.

However, the Minister takes the view that the task force would provide evidence of the Government's determination to ensure that Luas was put in place "as quickly as possible", including the contentious underground link between St Stephen's Green and Broadstone.

Given that the Progressive Democrats, as the Coalition's minor party, would expect to have one nominee on the five-member task force, it was being speculated this weekend that this was likely to be Mr Gerry Duggan, author of the party's Dublin transport policy document.

Mr Duggan, a senior project engineer with ESB International, was directly involved in the process which led the Government to opt for a short tunnel in the city centre, even though the independent W.S. Atkins consultancy study recommended an above-ground system.

Meanwhile, the public inquiry into the first phase of Luas - a line running from Tallaght to Middle Abbey Street - is due to open on November 2nd under the chairmanship of Judge Sean O'Leary, who chaired the original inquiry which was aborted by the Government. Under the timetable announced last June by Ms O'Rourke, work on this line should start in spring 2000, with the Sandyford-St Stephen's Green line commencing that autumn. Construction of these above-ground sections of the project is expected to take three years.

Consultations are expected to start soon on the surface section of the proposed line linking the city centre with Finglas, Ballymun and Dublin Airport, followed by consultancy studies of the underground section and the drilling of trial bore-holes along the route next summer.