The phony consultation process allegedly underway into the proposed Metro from Swords to Sandyford is, I regret to say, increasingly obviously an elaborate con job - not merely on the people of Dublin but also on the people of Ireland. The plan, which has gone well beyond an outline consultation process, is one which will entail the wasteful expenditure of between €3 billion and €4 billion on a single metro line which does little or nothing for the great majority of the capital’s citizens.
For that kind of money we could build between seven and ten surface Luas lines. We could transform the mass transit future of Dublin to serve huge areas of Dublin that have no prospect of any mass transport if the money is sucked into the black hole of the Metrolink project. Areas such as Glasnevin, Rathfarham, Coolock, Ballymun, Lucan, Chuchtown, Sallynoggin, Deans Grange, Clonsilla, and Palmerstown could be given a Luas tram service as successful and as convenient as the existing Luas Red and Green lines.
The problem with the Metrolink project is that the alternatives have not been publicly considered in principle. Huge sums have been spent by the National Transport Authority (NTA) and Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) in studying and developing the pet projects of their railway engineers. Most people have already forgotten the elaborate plan to build a metro or underground Dart between Connolly Station at Amiens Street and Heuston Station at Kingsbridge. That plan has been quietly abandoned – at God knows what cost.
As late as 2015 the NTA still wanted to spend €3 billion on building that east-west Dart tunnel with a handful of stations. Between 2015 and 2018, the boffins went back to their drawing boards. Irish Rail in 2017 proposed an entirely different underground Dart linking Heuston Station with Pearse Station, the South Docks, the North Docks and a portal on the main northern Dart line. That too seems to have been out-ruled.
The Metrolink project is centred on a fixation that Dublin Airport must be served by a rail transport link. Why? The highly efficient bus services to Dublin Airport are, apparently, insufficient to serve airport traffic. With a road tunnel already connecting the airport to the city and with plans to build a new Luas bridge across the Liffey to extend the Luas Red line into the South Docks area, there is a very real question as to whether there is a real economic need to build the previously planned Metro North serving the airport and the Malahide area or to cannibalise the Luas Green line between Charlemont and Sandyford as part of a single metro line.
The alarming thing is that the whole process is driven by project engineers with apparently enormous planning budgets. They want to spend €3 to 4 billion on a single north-south line. Five years ago, they wanted to spend €3 billion on a different east west Dart Metro.
Where was the whole idea debated? Where were the multiple Luas line alternatives considered? Who is actually making us choose the Metrolink project? Is it the Department of Transport or its Minister? We have statutory and non-statutory bodies devising plans. What role did public debate have in this process? What role did the Oireachtas have? What role did local authorities have? Is there any democratic element in choosing, say, between having eight new Luas lines or one metro line for Dublin.
The argument is made that the Luas Green Line is nearing its full capacity. And there has been inexcusable delay in commissioning the extended-length tram sets for which extended platforms were built a long time ago. But that argument only hold water if the catchment area for that line has only one mass transit service available. Commuters might choose a different Luas line serving, say, Cabinteely, Stillorgan, Belfield and Ballsbridge if it were built.
Nobody has spelled out the consequences of the Metrolink plan for ordinary commuters. How long would the Luas Green Line be completely out of commission before its permanent dismemberment? A year?
Will the metro trains be high floor or low floor vehicles (like the present Luas trams). If they are high floor, every existing Luas station to be incorporated into the Metro would have to be re-built.
How long would the east side of St Stephen’s Green be closed off for the building of a underground station? Do we really need two stations, one overground and one underground, on opposite sides of St Stephen’s Green. Do we really need the same replication on Upper O’Connell Street?
Do people realise that under the proposed Metrolink scheme a commuter from Carrickmines to the DIT campus at Grangegorman would have to take three journeys - a tram to Sandyford, a Metro to Charlemont, and a tram to Broadstone – instead of a single tram journey as at present?
Why are some city centre areas to have two mass transit stations while other centre city areas will have no stations?
All of this underlines the need for a real high level public debate on the need for, the costs of, and the alternatives to Metrolink – not a phony PR exercise in which those who are already completely committed to the project pretend to hear “submissions” from the befuddled public and then rubber-stamp their pre-ordained outcome. People worried about the line’s effect on their property are simply in no position to make a high-level challenge or critique of the project by reference to entirely different alternative strategies for Dublin’s transport infrastructure. That is the business of elected legislators – national or local. It is also the business of the capital’s social partners.
I suggest that we need to have a real debate on Dublin’s future – one that includes housing densities and real urban renewal of run-down areas, that considers the possibility of relocating the city’s port to Bremore and building a new high rise city in the docklands north and south of the Liffey, one that really gets to grips with the traffic infrastructure (including a further orbital motorway to relieve the M50), one that plans urban mass transit on an integrated basis.
Instead we have a mess. We have four local authorities (Dublin City Council has 6000 employees); we have Dublin Port getting the go-ahead for further infill of Dublin Bay; we have a group of railway engineers yoyo-ing between an east-west Dart underground metro and a north-south metro duplicating stations with Luas (or what will remain of Luas), but no high-level consideration of how all these broken shards of proper planning can ever fit together. Will nobody shout stop so that we can consider the chaos?