Wednesday, 23 September 2015
Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions
3. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he will confirm that it is his intention not to proceed with the DART underground at this time; his rationale for this decision; his view on whether it is the case that no other proposed option could deliver the network-wide capacity increase needed in the Dublin region, whose population is expected to grow by 400,000 by 2030; if he will reverse this decision in advance of the deadline for activating compulsory purchase orders; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32056/15]
My question relates to the DART underground or interconnector, which is essentially the 21st-century piece to connect up the investment that was made in the 19th century in the four primary rail lines that come into the city. It is the piece that would allow the capacity constraints to be eliminated and it could deliver the difference between 33 million passenger journeys and 100 million passenger journeys, so it is a critical piece of infrastructure.
I thank the Deputy for her question. She has raised this matter with me at every Question Time I have taken in the Dáil since I took over this Department. Her description of the project is accurate in terms of its future importance. The business case, which was published yesterday afternoon by the National Transport Authority and which I have made fully available to the public, illustrates that the assumptions made over a decade ago in regard to what transport use would look like in the future are very different from where we are now, although those assumptions were made for good reasons and I understand why they were made.
The tunnel alone is a €3 billion project. If I am going to recommend expenditure like that, which means I will not be able to do many other things, including things the Deputy has raised with me on other occasions, I have to be absolutely confident that this project is engineered appropriately, is cost-effective and will meet needs that we realistically believe will materialise. From my analysis of the business case, which is available for the public and the Deputy to see, it was very clear to me that there is a need for the tunnel to be redesigned. Money for that redesign is included in the capital plan that will be announced, as I confirmed publicly yesterday. Other elements of the project will go ahead, such as the extension of the Dart to Balbriggan and improvements to the control centre in the city centre to allow capacity to increase, and we will also begin the works in regard to rail electrification on the portions of the lines to which the Deputy has referred.
The one feature of this interconnector that is consistent is that of postponement. It is not just the Minister's fault, as this has been talked about for over 30 years. I remember it being part of the Dublin transportation initiative in the early 1990s, when it was a critical piece of infrastructure. This has a cost in terms of congestion. We need to look at this in the way people in the 19th century looked at the investment in rail; it has to be seen in a very long timeframe. We can see that the costs of insurance are rising, not just for people in the city but around the country. Traffic accidents happen to a greater degree at peak times than at any other time. We have climate obligations which mean we will be handing over hard cash due to a failure to change our habits in terms of moving from our dependence on the car to rail.
This is the big game-changer. This is the project that can really deliver a return. Welcome and all as it is, we are adding an extra line into an already congested scenario where the existing train lines do not operate in an efficient way and do not connect up. This is short-sighted and we are going to pay a price for it into the future, big time.
It is precisely due to the need for better integration of our public transport network and to increase its capacity that the Government is funding the Luas Cross City project and making it happen. We are extending the Luas to Cabra and Phibsborough. We are joining up the Luas in the city centre, and that work is under way. This is the subject of the next question from Deputy Dooley. It is also because of the need to increase capacity on public transport that we have opened up the Phoenix Park tunnel, a project that has been talked about for decades. It is a tunnel that has been in existence for nearly 150 years. It is now being reopened and will be open for business next year, carrying an additional 1 million passengers on public transport.
While the Deputy's analysis in regard to the need for greater integration of public transport is correct, I have a question for her. Where would she find the €4 billion to pay for this project?
This project must be seen in the same way as the 19th-century investment in the railways. That was the biggest investment in the country in that century, and we are still reaping a benefit from it. We have to see this in terms of long-term return. It has to be factored in that the population of this city and the surrounding counties is projected to grow by some 400,000 people up to 2030. In fact, since the last census, there are more people now living in Dublin city and county than are living in the whole of Munster. What we are constantly doing is adding to the size of the city without putting in the things that would make the city run smoothly, so it can be a truly 21st-century city that does not have the kind of congestion that we saw last week, when there was a fire in Dublin Port Tunnel. When such a incident occurs, the whole of the city closes down and every business and every person who needs to go to work or to a hospital is constrained because of that one thing. We do not have the kind of alternatives we need to have for this city, the surrounding counties and the whole country due to the under-investment in this area. It is not all on the Minister's watch, because this has been planned for a very long time, but the decision is being postponed again. There is no other way of saying it.
I am disappointed with the Deputy's reply. I do my best, when I come to the House, to answer all of the questions that are put to me. I accept many of the points the Deputy is making, but I have also pointed to the fact that, in regard to the very integration she refers to, investment is under way. The Luas Cross City project is being built, the Phoenix Park tunnel is being opened up, more money has been found in the last 18 months to invest in the bus fleets of Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus, which is evident in the number of new buses they have ordered and that are now available, and public service obligation funding is unchanged for the first time in six years. All of this reflects my appreciation of the role of public transport and my knowledge that public transport is core to how we will meet some of the broader issues to which the Deputy has referred, such as emissions and how we cope with a growing population.
I put a simple question to the Deputy. Where would she find the €4 billion to carry out this project?