The Irish Times view on Dublin’s Metrolink: time to get on with it

It has taken almost 20 years to get the current proposal to the stage of an oral hearing at An Bord Pleanála

It is hard to think of an equivalent city that has made as big a meal out of building a metro as Dublin. The idea was first seriously mooted in the 1970s. The latest iteration – Metrolink – emerged circuitously from the then government’s Transport 21 plan published in 2005.

It has taken almost 20 years to get the current proposal to the stage of an oral hearing at An Bord Pleanála. If the board grants a Railway Order – the equivalent of planning permission – then it is possible that the line could open in the middle of the next decade. Assuming, of course, that that there is no successful application for a judicial review of the decision.

Lack of money was the main reason for the delays. The State’s finances may have improved immeasurably in recent years, but the number of people opposed to the project in its current form has also grown.

An Bord Pleanála will hear from 120 of the 318 parties who made submissions. Over half of them were supportive of the project, according to Transport Infrastructure Ireland, the agency responsible for delivering the project. However, it is the objectors that will garner the most attention. That is because they will deal in the most part with the relatively short-term but nonetheless significant impact of the disruption caused by the construction of the line.

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Objectors will also highlight the permanent changes to the cityscape that will result. These include the loss of a historic pub, the demolition of a block of 70 apartments in the city centre and the co-opting of a part of the east side of St Stephen’s Green for a station entrance. All the objectors – including the Office of Public Works in respect of St Stephen’s Green – have a right to be heard and their views need to be taken into account.

But they must also be weighed against the wider public interest in the building of a metro and the potential to transform Dublin’s transport infrastructure. Commuting times from the city centre to the outer Northern suburbs and the airport will be 25 minutes or less, with an estimated 53 million passengers a year using the network.

The positive impact of the metro on the environment, the economy, and the quality of life of Dubliners is obvious. This is provided its use is maximised by allowing housing to be built along the line where it does not currently exist, thus ensuring a high level of use and the removal of as many cars as possible from the cities clogged-up roads.

The proposal is far from perfect. At €9.5 billion it is expensive by international standards and the State’s record of managing the costs of big infrastructure projects is mixed, to put it kindly. There is also a lack of clarity as to what happens south of the terminus at Charlemont in terms of connecting to the wider transport network.

That said, there are not many cities whose citizens regretted the construction of a metro.