Confirmation in the National Transport Authority’s (NTA) 20-year strategy for Dublin that the Metrolink line won’t be completed by 2027 is unlikely to come as much of a surprise. The softening up exercise began two months ago with “Government sources” indicating the line from Swords and Dublin Airport to the city would not be completed until before 2034.
However it was already apparent well before then that the 2027 completion date could not be met. To achieve that timeline, which included a six-year construction phase, the application to An Bord Pleanála needed to have been submitted in 2019 and the board's decision would have to have been issued last year, with shovels in the ground this year.
Therefore the NTA might have hoped that the revelation in the Greater Dublin Area Transport Strategy that Metrolink will be built post 2031 would not have attracted such outrage.
Opposition politicians have latched on to the notion that the 2031 date means the project has been delayed by 10 years – presumably a calculation done by subtracting now from then, but obviously 2027 to 2031 or even 2034 is not quite a decade.
The NTA has in turn latched onto this miscalculation to work up some outrage itself, denying there was any delay at all, which doesn't stand up to any scrutiny either. It may in this be relying on the 2027 date having been predicated on a line running all the way from Swords to Sandycove, while the line it will apply for next year will stop just south of the city centre, making it a different project. But, of course, that should make the construction phase shorter, not longer.
The strongest indication yet that it is looking like a mid 2030s date came from deputy NTA chief executive Hugh Creegan when he briefed Dublin city councillors on Wednesday and told them the construction phase would take eight to nine years, not six, and that's after a two-year planning process, and a tendering process, not to mention the potential for a judicial review.
In reality anyone could pick any time in the last 20 years to cite the point at which the clock started. Was it when the late Séamus Brennan in 2002 guaranteed the line would open in 2007? Does it date from when the board last granted permission for Metro North in 2010?
Endless arguing over timelines and delays is dispiriting but it also masks something more concerning – a lack of urgency in the strategy to get these projects underway. If there is to be any hope of meeting climate targets, the metro and other rail projects need to be brought forward, not pushed out to some nebulous time between 2031 and 2042, or beyond. Sadly, the strategy looks too much like another aspirational plan, not the inspirational one it should be.