Decision on Metro North in Dublin confirms narrow thinking

Political cowardice again raises its head on major investments in public transport

 

If the French had dithered like we do over major investments in public transport, they would not now be enjoying the benefits of TGV high-speed trains, the RER commuter rail network in Paris, and sleek light rail systems in cities as diverse as Bordeaux, Grenoble, Nantes and Strasbourg. The big difference between France and Ireland is that French governments of all political hues took a long-term view of public transport projects, while our politicians are driven by short-term considerations. The next general election is their only horizon. And they’re playing this dismal game yet again over transport plans for Dublin that have been kicking around for years.

Dart Underground, the single most important strategic investment project, has been shelved for a second time by the present Government, with Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe telling the National Transport Authority to devise a cheaper alternative. Metro North, a highly questionable scheme to run a Luas line largely underground between St Stephen’s Green and Dublin Airport/Swords, is back on the agenda, after being shelved in 2011. Earlier, the Minister toyed with the notion of extending the Luas Cross City line from Broombridge to the airport, tunnelling under Glasnevin Cemetery, even though light rail is inherently unsuitable for the purpose.

For decades, governments have failed Dublin by not proceeding with plans to integrate suburban rail services and locate the city’s expansion along the railway lines. That’s what the 1972 Dublin Rail Rapid Transit Study proposed, but all we got was electrification of the existing line between Howth and Bray in 1984, which was later extended to Malahide and Greystones, with an extension to Balbriggan now promised by 2022.

When it came to Luas, the then Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrat coalition decided in 1998 to build two free-standing light rail lines, with no link between them in the city centre. A crude diagram was even produced by minister for transport Mary O’Rourke showing how they might be joined up in the future, underground. It was sheer political cowardice.

As a result of this dithering, Dublin developed and sprawled out into Leinster as a motorised city, reflecting extremely outdated 1960s thinking about transportation. Comparable European cities, with which Dublin competes for inward investment, were much wiser – putting the emphasis on improving public transport rather than throwing roads at the traffic problem.

Yet Dart Underground has now been excluded from the Government’s capital plan, in favour of proceeding with a single “metro” line serving Swords and Dublin Airport – in all probability because this more politically saleable at the coming general election. Such chopping, changing and cherry-picking of strategic public transport projects must be brought to an end, for Dublin’s sake.

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