‘Public transport in Meath is broken. There is no work-life balance’

Commuters vent frustration at failure to deliver train line linking Dublin to Navan

Political promises come and go but patience when it comes to a long-standing pledge to deliver a train line linking Dublin and Navan, Co Meath, is wearing thin due to residents facing long travel times when commuting by car or bus.

Locals say the traffic problem is getting worse as a result of growth in the commuter belt’s population, with buses often full before reaching stops along the route.

This has seen the need for a rail line, and a solution to the problem of workers being stuck in cars and on buses for hours every day, emerge as an election issue in the Meath constituencies.

"The old catchphrase of Navan being 'only an hour from Dublin' certainly doesn't hold true any more for the commuters, many of whom could be home to their kids in a lot less time in the evenings if there was a train," says Sinead Walker Nelson (49), who leaves her home in Navan before 5.45am to reach her job at AIB in Ballsbridge on time.


Hefty costs

“I work remotely two days a week and drive to work the other three as buses would not get me in on time. I leave early to beat the traffic and mornings aren’t too bad, taking about 1½ hours but the evenings are a nightmare.

“I’ve tried every route and they are all the same. I leave work and am in the car by 4pm, so technically ahead of rush hour traffic. It still takes me 2½ hours to drive 62km. Regularly it takes me an hour to travel just 12km.”

She says the costs are hefty too, with tolls coming to €120 a month and petrol a further €300.

To help put these quality of life and infrastructure issues on the agenda ahead of next month's general election, a public meeting entitled "Meath on Track" is taking place in in the Newgrange Hotel, Navan on Thursday, with Meath West Aontú TD Peadar Tóibín chairing.

Rail services ran between Dublin and Navan until the 1960s, when the line was closed as part of a major rationalisation of the State’s railway network.

The restoration of the line has been mooted many times since, often around election times, and in 2005 it was announced the line to Navan would be rebuilt in two phases as a branch of the western commuter line.

Since September 2010, train services have operated from Dublin’s docklands to the M3 Parkway station near Clonee. An additional 21-mile stretch to Navan was to open by 2015 under the then government’s Transport 21 programme.

After the recession hit, plans for the extension were omitted from national infrastructure plans. It was not included in the Government’s Project Ireland 2040 strategy last year and it was reported last summer that Minister for Planning Eoghan Murphy had issued a draft directive to the Eastern and Midlands Regional Authority to downgrade the status of the proposed rail line.

Jammed buses

Earlier this month, Minister of State and Meath West TD Damien English said the National Transport Authority and Department of Transport were to complete a feasibility study this year on the rail line and that once viability had been proven, the next phase would be the allocation of funding.

For people like Andrew Ralph (23), who lives between Dunshaughlin and Ratoath, a rail option cannot come soon enough.

He says commuting is the “single biggest issue” in and around Ratoath where he estimates that 70 per cent of people commute to work.

“At the minute the biggest problem in Ratoath is that there are no direct buses to Dublin from a village of 11,500 people,” he says.

Ralph estimates that he spends an average of 13 hours commuting per week commuting from the town, which is 25km from Dublin city centre.

“At the minute, the buses are jammed. The commute is stressful and there is no work-life balance. Public transport in Meath is broken,” he says.

In Johnstown, a village outside Navan, commuters report being left on the side of the road regularly by passing buses as they are full to capacity.

"When a bus finally stops, there's a seat lottery. Queues of people push and shove to get on the bus and get a seat," says Clodagh Roche (45).

She says it can take 5½ hours to get to and from college in Blanchardstown and that this means "our quality of life has been diminished".

“We are the people who get up early in the mornings – to try and catch a bus against the odds,” she said.