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Irish Politics

A panicked political decision on Metrolink

The MetroLink madness is continuing. Our Taoiseach says he is open to re-routing the southern end of the proposed Metro line from Swords and the airport so as to serve the suburban areas area from the city centre via UCD Belfield to Sandyford.

But is this just political palaver designed to defuse the Metrolink controversy as an issue in the local elections in May?

He says the idea of a different route deserves to be “considered”. And then he adds: “But I would not like that to hold up the project”, which is arrant nonsense.

If he is being truthful he must know that re-routing the southern leg of MetroLink away from the Luas Green Line will inevitably cause delay. It would be a radically different project from that being contemplated and plotted by the National Transport Authority.

The NTA’s revised plan proposes terminating MetroLink at Charlemont Station at the Grand Canal, but continuing the underground tunnel for a third of a mile past Ranelagh station towards Beechwood creating an underground cul-de-sac in which Metrolink trains would be stored when not in use and from which they could be pressed into service at peak times.

The NTA says that this underground tunnel could be used to incorporate the Luas Green Line into MetroLink in 20 years’ time.

How the NTA could blithely say that they now believed that their previous plan to cannibalise the Luas Green Line could be safely deferred for 20 years is inexplicable. No such admission of prematurity was made when they launched their last “public consultation” last year. The very opposite impression was given.

But when it became clear that the cannibalisation proposal would entail interrupting the Green Line service for between two and four years, the Government suddenly woke up to the blindingly obvious. The proposal was ridiculous.

The NTA had previously claimed that the Green Line interruption would be three months for building works and three months for commissioning the new MetroLink. This assertion was nonsense. Every station on the affected part of the Green Line would have to be closed and rebuilt with platforms at a higher level than Luas trams.

Every station would have to be isolated by building walls around it so as to control access. The plans envisage stations with platform partitioned from the line so that sliding doors would correspond with doors on the trains. The plan is to make the system compatible with driverless trains, Oireachtas members were told.

No trams could use the stations while these major works were under way. The commuting public could use buses during the closure.

When the southern tunnel proposal was examined, the possibility of a four-year closure emerged. Only then did Minister Ross accept the folly of the project. He and Eoghan Murphy suddenly attempted to claim political credit for stopping the Green Line cannibalisation.

Which raises the question: “Where were they when the original proposal was being concocted?” What accountable democratic or ministerial input was there while €170 million was being spent on detailed planning for the project?

When more than €360 million was spent on extending the Green Line across the city to Broombridge who asked how it could be justified economically if the Green Line was to be part-cannibalised for the MetroLink project which also  serves the city centre at St Stephens Green, O’Connell St and the Mater hospital?

Why was the fact that the project was not actually needed for twenty years concealed from the public?

The farcical suggestion now made that consideration will be given by the Government to a radical re-routing of the southern leg of Metrolink while the NTA are intent on still constructing the tunnel to Charlemont, Ranelagh and beyond shows either that no-one in the Government is in charge or else that no-one in the Government is being straight with the people.

There is every sign of a panic political decision to give voters the mushroom treatment until after the local elections are over. Persuade the gullible that the problem is over for now  - and secretly get on with implementing the MetroLink madness.

By delaying the purchase of more extended 55 metre tram sets the NTA attempted to soften public opinion by deliberately creating overcrowding on the Luas Green Line.

Now they will buy the extra tram sets. Now they will lengthen the existing tram sets. Only now. Only now does the NTA state that they will run 30 trams an hour in each direction on the Green Line.

By when? By 2028 ! The year that the original MetroLink project was meant to have been completed and operational. 

The NTA admitted in February that the current number of trams sets on the Green Line was wholly inadequate.  There are five type 401 trams which are 40.8 metres long and can carry 308 passengers.  There are 26 type 402 trams which are 43.6 metres long and can carry 312 passengers.  There are seven type 502 trams on the Green Line, each of which is 54.7 metres long and can carry 380 passengers.  The type 401 trams cannot be lengthened.  All 26 type 402 trams will be lengthened to 54.7 metres over the next two years, starting in May.  Eight more of the longer type 502 trams are on order but will only be delivered at the rate of one per month from May 2020.  By the end of 2020 there will be 37 55-metre tram sets comprising seven already in service, 23 of the 26 type 402 trams and seven out of the eight extra type 502 trams currently on order. 

When Minister Ross was asked to give this information to the Dail at the beginning of this year, he stated: “As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have responsibility for policy and overall funding in relation to public transport.  The National Transport Authority has statutory responsibility for the development of public transport in the Greater Dublin Area, including the Luas Green Line. In light of the NTA’s responsibility in the matters raised I have referred the matter to the Authority for a more detailed reply.”

Forgive me for being cynical.  It seems to me that the government has abdicated from its function to ensure that there is real  accountability in relation to the planning of transport infrastructure for the Greater Dublin Area.

My heart sank when the NTA informed a Dáil committee last week that the NTA could not cost the Metrolink project at this stage but could promise that it would deliver good value for money.  For a project which is likely to cost between €3.5 billion and €4.5 billion (twice the cost of the children’s hospital) it seems that policy is developed organically and incrementally by an unaccountable process.

I would like to know exactly who will decide on whether the NTA is allowed to proceed with its plan to cannibalise the Luas Green Line or whether the southern leg of Swords-City Centre Metrolink service will be built to serve other suburbs east or west of the Green Line which have no Luas or rail services. 

It is hard to have any confidence in the democratic political process when such chaos, obfuscation and indecision permeates our infrastructural planning.  As for the NTA’s would-be cannibals, to quote Gerry Adams, “they haven’t gone away you know”.


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