Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 3 November 2021
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport
Revised National Development Plan: Discussion
I welcome Mr. Walsh, Mr. O’Neill, Mr. Creegan, and Ms Graham here today and thank them for their attendance at previous committees. I will always be willing to engage with Oireachtas Members and councillors up and down the country because obviously transport, public transport, and active transport are of huge interest to everybody throughout the country. How we get around is not just how we get to work, but how we get to school, to study, to recreation, to public services, and to social services. It is therefore hugely important that we have a functioning transport system in the country.
I look around at the vision and enthusiasm that I see for public transport, especially over the last 18 months to two years. Cork BusConnects was recently announced. There is talk of a feasibility study for a light rail transit system in Galway. Connecting Ireland was launched last week in County Wicklow. I have had great feedback on that. People are looking at the maps. We are connecting towns and villages that never had bus routes before. We are improving the frequency on areas that had that bus transport system but that was not great. I fully support that project. I would like to feed back to the NTA that the representations I have gotten back so far on Connecting Ireland have been positive.
It is worth announcing, as there might be some people watching, that 10 December is the last day for public consultation on Connecting Ireland. People should positively engage where those services and frequencies are improving. It is not just about the countryside. There are improvements in Dublin as well. The BusConnects proposal for Dublin is needed. It will increase frequencies and reliability of journey time. One does not have that with a car. There is no reliability on journey time in a car, whereas if we put in good public transport routes, as well as the spine roots and orbital roots that BusConnects is talking about, there will be reliability in the service. One will be able to go out with a sense of security that it is not likely that they will be late. One will be able to say that if they are on time for their bus, their bus will be running on time, and they will be able to get to work or study on time. That is important.
There has been much talk about rail. I have never heard so many Members be so enthusiastic about rail as they have been in the past 18 months. William Dargan and Isambard Kingdom Brunel would have been delighted. I think that they would like to return to get involved in some of these projects. The suburban rail in Cork is an exciting project. It is badly needed and will bring great benefits to Cork. The Chair mentioned Limerick. Limerick is ideally geographically set up for a suburban rail system, as is the inter-connectivity from Limerick Junction to Cork.
Shannon was mentioned. When we had our submission on the national development plan, NDP, we suggested that a spur to Shannon is important. We looked again in general terms at the economic developments that will happen along the area of the Western Rail Corridor. Rail has always been key to that. Rail actually caused areas to boom economically. We need to service the boom in economies with rail so that people can get around and get to work properly in those locations. I am looking forward to the launch of the transport strategy for the greater Dublin area. I should also mention the DART+ scheme, which is a major investment in electrification of rail systems since the first launch of the DART in 1984. We will see electrification to Drogheda and beyond, to Hazelhatch and to Maynooth. I think I have made a good case for Wicklow town and hope that there would be something positive for Wicklow.
It is obviously an area that will grow in population. Electrifying a rail line gives better acceleration and braking capacity for trains on that line, allowing for a greater frequency of service; it makes considerable sense. I have listened to the figures on expenditure on roads at approximately €12 million per mile. A train line can be electrified for €1.5 million or €2 million for the same distance. We could have a very good, electrified service between many of our towns for the cost of building new roads. We need to consider that. The programme for Government commits to a 2:1 ratio of spending between public transport and new roads. We need to do that sensibly. We need to maintain the existing roads. People need roads much of the time and we need to maintain them. However, we need to tip the balance back to public transport.
I have a question for the NTA on the more vulnerable road users. We have talked about bus users and rail users. We have the vision and funding to provide services for them. Our footpaths have become very hostile environments for children trying to walk to school. I am lucky enough to walk my own children to school and I see that in the mornings. Regarding the NTA's active travel objectives, what is the biggest impediment preventing children walking and cycling to school? What targets does it have to try to get back to the levels we had in the 1970s and 1980s where up to 40% of children walked or cycled to school? That is down to very low levels now. What figures would it hope to achieve over a decade of having €360 million per year to spend on active travel?