Wednesday, 6 December 2017
Topical Issue Debate
Rail Network Expansion
I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. He cannot think of a better project to put funding into, but the problem is that there are many competing projects and, in each case, its advocates think there is no better plan.
They are all urgent and not every one of them can be fulfilled immediately. The Deputy's points were well made, however, and there is a crying need for a lot of the transport to which he referred. In the meantime, we will have to continue with the programme we have outlined and we have agreed to give increased capital to projects in the north and south of Dublin as part of the new capital plan.
The Government's budgetary framework for capital investment, as set out in Building on Recovery: Infrastructure and Capital Investment 2016-2021, was reviewed earlier this year in the context of the mid-term review of capital priorities, delivery and funding. Following this work, budget 2018 increased the multi-annual capital investment funding envelopes for the coming four-year period, including providing an enhanced capital envelope of €2.7 billion for public transport investment between 2018 and 2021, including funding of about €230 million for mainline rail and DART capacity enhancement. This will enable acceleration of the initial stages of the overall DART expansion programme, focusing particularly at this stage on providing additional fleet to enhance capacity and on extending the electrified DART system. Specifically, it will allow substantial progress on electrification of the northern rail line as far as Balbriggan and the Maynooth line.
The NTA’s transport strategy for the greater Dublin area, GDA, 2016-35 proposes implementation of the DART expansion programme. The original cost of the overall DART expansion programme, including the DART underground tunnel element, was estimated at €4 billion of which €3 billion was in respect of the tunnel as originally designed. The Government decided in September 2015 that the original proposal for the tunnel should be redesigned to provide a lower-cost solution. I understand the NTA's work on this is expected to be completed soon. Notwithstanding funding constraints over the past few years, a major upgrading of the city centre re-signalling programme was progressed and is well advanced to completion. Furthermore, limited design work has been carried out on electrification of the northern line to Balbriggan. Following the additional funding announced as a result of the capital plan review, it is intended to reactivate the design and planning work for this project during 2018. At this stage it is not possible to be prescriptive on the construction commencement date as this can only be finalised following the completion of initial design work. However, it is likely to be 2021 before building work starts, subject to receipt of necessary statutory planning approval. Planning consent is likely to be sought during 2020.
The overall DART expansion programme has been assessed by the NTA as a positive project from an economic perspective and its advice is that the programme is essential for efficient transport in the GDA region and nationally. The programme is an important key to delivering an efficient transport system. When fully implemented, the enhancements to the heavy rail system provided for in the NTA's transport strategy will create a full metropolitan area DART network for Dublin, with all lines connected. This integrated rail network will provide the core high-capacity transit system for the region and deliver a substantial increase in peak-hour capacity on all lines from Drogheda, Maynooth, Hazelhatch and Greystones.
I am advised that the NTA, in conjunction with Irish Rail, continues to examine short, medium and long-term options for increased demand and the associated requirement for rolling stock investment. The expanded rail network on the northern line will be supported by a core regional bus network incorporating routes from Balbriggan and Skerries. The BusConnects programme, recently announced by the NTA, is a transformative investment package that will finance new and expanded bus routes and greatly improve bus access through and around the capital and I secured funding of over €750 million in the budget to progress the programme. My top priority over the next few years is to increase investment in public transport rapidly while also increasing public transport services for the greater Dublin area and around the country.