€2bn Dart expansion plans could see ‘elimination’ of level crossings

Proposals for project include closure of level crossing at notorious traffic bottleneck

Plans for a €2 billion expansion of the Dart commuter train network in Dublin still include controversial proposals to close five level crossings between Lansdowne Road and the Merrion Gates.

A paper prepared by Irish Rail for a presentation last year shows its plans for an improved and more frequent Dart service to Greystones include the possible “elimination” of level crossings at Lansdowne Road, Serpentine Avenue, Sandymount Avenue, Sydney Parade and Strand Road/Merrion Gates.

The semi-State rail company adds in the document that such closures would be subject to review by the National Transport Authority (NTA) and Dublin City Council.

The Strand Road/Merrion Gates level crossing is regarded as one of the worst traffic bottlenecks in Dublin, especially during rush hour when rising traffic coincides with an increase in frequency of Dart services.

The NTA announced in June 2018 that it was shelving plans to close the level crossing and construct a flyover for traffic. Almost 700 submissions were received regarding the proposal, more than half of which opposed the development. The NTA said, however, that given the frequency of Dart services would increase in the future, the issue would need to be addressed at a later date.

New bridges

The presentation also discloses that six level crossings on the Maynooth line would need to be permanently closed to facilitate the expanded Dart service. Some of those would require new bridges to be built to accommodate vehicles and pedestrians.

The Dart expansion programme is a cornerstone of the Government’s National Development Plan for 2018 to 2027, and also of its major capital programme, Project Ireland 2040. It proposes new electrified Dart services to Drogheda on the Northern line, to Celbridge on the Kildare line, to Maynooth and Dunboyne on the Sligo line as well as an enhanced service on the southeastern line.

At present, the Dart runs only on one line, from Greystones in Co Wicklow to Malahide, Co Dublin. An interim measure on some lines pre-electrification would see Dart stock being powered by hybrid engines using diesel and battery packs.

The Iarnród Éireann presentation concedes the Dart Underground is 'still unaffordable' in the medium term

The original plan for the expansion of the service included an ambitious Dart underground proposal which would necessitate a twin bore tunnel linking Heuston Station and Connolly Station via Stephen’s Green and the city centre.

However, the €3 billion project has been postponed indefinitely on cost grounds.

A separate communication sent by the Department of Transport to the Dáil Public Accounts Committee (PAC) also disclosed that an assessment carried out in 2015 concluded there was a stronger economic case for surface Dart expansion than pursuing an underground scheme on its own.

Benefit-to-cost

The letter, which was published on the PAC’s website on December 31st, stated that the benefit-to-cost ratio of the underground element alone was 0.8 to 1, while the expansion programme had a ratio of 1.4 to 1. However, the combined underground and expansion elements had a positive cost-benefit outcome.

The Iarnród Éireann presentation concedes the Dart Underground is “still unaffordable” in the medium term. There is no mention of Dart Underground in Project Ireland 2040, which suggests it will be at least a quarter of a century before the project is developed.

For now, it states, the “Dart underground tunnel alignment will be established and protected for future delivery to meet long-term passenger demands”.

It is estimated that the Dart Expansion, when completed, would allow peak commuter capacity increase from the present 26,000 passengers per hour at peak times to 60,000. Should the Dart underground tunnel become operational, it is estimated the capacity would increase to 80,000 at peak hours.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times