When the Luas Green Line was first announced and planned, its route was right beside where I live. I welcomed the project then and still have good feelings about it. Those, like me, who live near it are entirely used to it, including peak-time noise levels which are certainly no louder than road traffic in an urban setting. I would have no objection either to its becoming a metro light rail – if that makes economic and social sense.
Like many projects, the Luas Green Line has become a victim of its own success.
The result of the cross-city Luas project has not yet been what most people expected. Its extension to Bride’s Glen and the failure to punctually provide extra extended-length tram sets for the line has resulted in Tokyo-like over-crowding for rush-hour commuters. The few longer tram sets delivered to date have now encountered technical problems and have been withdrawn so that those problems can been remedied.
Predictably, there has been a lot of grumbling. The chaos arising from the failure of Dublin City Council to accommodate cross-city Luas in a coherent traffic plan has exacerbated the problem.
Add into that witches cauldron the controversy over the Council’s College Green pedestrian and tram plaza and you have the makings of a perfect storm.
Right on cue, like the US cavalry, comes a so-called “solution” in the form of the recently announced proposals for a single metro light rail project between Swords, Dublin Airport, the city centre and Sandyford.
But is it a solution at all?
Firstly, Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) claims that it is only now commencing a public consultation process. The proposal, we are informed, is only being put out there for discussion.
TII simply describes its plan as the Emerging Preferred Route (the EPR). They say that they are still open to suggested alternatives which would be welcome, we are assured.
Does that sound re-assuring? You can look at some of the EPR proposals on a website www.metrolink.ie.
Reading between the lines, it seems that the Luas Green Line tram service is to be broken into two parts. One part would be a surface Luas tram service between Broombridge near Cabra and the Charlemont halt on the Grand Canal. The second Luas tram service would run overground between the Sandyford depot and Brides Glen.
A segment of the present Luas Green Line between the Grand Canal and Sandyford would be cannibalised for the new metro light rail service to Swords, going underground at the Grand Canal, at Charlemont, and re-emerging north of the city centre for a largely over-ground service out to Swords.
In other words the new Emerging Preferred Route consultative proposal involves scrapping the existing continuous tram service on the Green Line from Brides Glen to Broombridge so that a portion of the line between can be added on as a southern metro rail section to what was previously to be called the Metro North line service from St Stephens Green to Swords.
And all of this may have a price tag between €3 billion and €4 billion. The original Luas Green and Red lines each had a separate price tag of about one tenth of that. And the newly laid Cross-City Luas cost us €368 million.
Some economists that I have spoken to are very sceptical indeed about the validity of TII’s skimpy and recently published costs benefit analysis. They query whether a different and far less expensive type of service to the airport and/or Swords would be better. They also doubt the case for cannibalising the Green Line for an extended metro system.
A more fundamental question is whether it would be better to leave the Luas Green Line alone and/or to build a different route for the southern leg of the metro line if that is really needed. Are there not other areas of south Dublin which also need mass transit systems?
NIMBY objections are always bound to emerge in any major infrastructural project. You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs, it is true. That is not the issue.
But when I saw the extent of the TII’s online planning drawings for the new Charlemont interchange and southern tunnel entrance, including section drawings of the proposed new Charlemont station’s structure featuring even the foundation piles, I began to wonder just how much of a consultation with the public is envisaged, and whether the term “Emerging” is really apt to describe the “Preferred Route” at all.
Has the train left the station?
It looks to me as if planning is far more advanced than that - and that a vast amount of money has already been spent on developing the TII’s proposal to incorporate a huge chunk of the Luas Green Line into the light rail Metrolink system.
Much more important than consulting individual householders about the possible effect of the Emerging Preferred Route on their property is the wider question as to whether there really is a case for building the metro to Sandyford at all.
Is it now conceded that the Luas Green Line is no longer fit for purpose because of excess demand? Why then was the recent cross-city Luas built at all?
Would anyone have justified spending the money building a tramline connecting Broombridge with the Charlemont stop with all its implications for centre city traffic management if the idea of ending tram services on the line between Charlemont and Sandyford and converting that line into a metro light rail was a serious possibility?
Is there a real demand for a separate centre city tram service between Charlemont and Broombridge that would justify the cost of building it? It cost us €368 million. It took four and a half years to build.
It had, and has, major implications for Dublin’s city centre – both as regards traffic management and the viability of retail activity. How many people will use it now –especially if the proposed metro has its own stations planned at St Stephens Green, Tara Street, and O’Connell Street?
Exactly what kind of joined up thinking went into spending €368 million on a tramline joining up St Stephens Green to Broombridge when most of the major city centre will now also be served by an underground metro rail service serving the same areas?
I have heard that the latest metro proposal was not formally considered or approved by the board of the statutory National Transport Authority.
If the TII, as it now claims, really has an open mind on whether to proceed with the project at all, why was the principle of the project not made the subject of a genuine public consultation process with the alternatives set out in principle and the likely cost of such alternatives set out for public consideration?
All of this fills me with a sinking feeling that that a very expensive process is underway, publicly described as a consultation exercise but in reality a high profile feature of public expenditure plans that will prove too embarrassing to challenge, or to change, or to stop.