Wednesday, 6 December 2017
Topical Issue Debate
Rail Network Expansion
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this matter. The Minister is very much aware of the particular requirements of commuters on the north side of Dublin. For several years there have been serious capacity problems along the northern commuter line which extends as far as the Border and they continue to get worse. Although additional capacity is urgently required, I understand Iarnród Éireann is not in a position to extend existing services beyond what it already has done.
As part of the capital plan announced in 2015, I was pleased to see included an undertaking to extend the DART beyond its current finishing point at Malahide to Balbriggan, with a view to eventually electrifying the entire north-eastern commuter line. It is vital that the necessary funding and resources be put into delivering on that commitment. This afternoon, however, I have received a letter from Mr. Hugh Creegan, deputy chief executive officer of the National Transport Authority, which acknowledges that not much work has been done on electrification, particularly on the northern commuter line. This is very disappointing, particularly as I was informed heretofore that the project would proceed to planning before the end of the year. It is beyond me why my previous overtures on this matter, pointing out that the project was not being given much attention, as Mr. Creegan now acknowledges, were ignored.
The other major transport infrastructure to be delivered in my constituency is the metro north project. It was due to proceed to planning, or at least public consultation, in the fourth quarter of 2017. We are now in December and there is no public consultation process. I read a newspaper article yesterday which made reference to a public space on St. Stephen's Green, but no additional information was provided on what the transport authorities were doing to ensure timely delivery of these essential projects. If the DART project is delayed by 12 months or, more likely, two years, we are looking at 2021 before the four-year plan, construct and build process, as outlined in the national capital plan, will commence. As a daily user of the DART, I often travel on trains after 9 a.m. that are absolutely jammed leaving Malahide and do not get into the city until 10 a.m. That is incredibly frustrating, particularly for commuters further down the line. I appeal to the Minister to allocate the necessary resources to deliver these projects. The capital plan is being reviewed and additional funding provided for it. I cannot think of a better use for that additional funding than for the purpose of accelerating the delivery of the DART extension project.
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.
It is obvious that very little priority has been given to this project. It was announced in 2015 and there was a four-year delivery plan but the Minister's response suggests it will be at least two years late in being delivered and I am very disappointed by that. I commend the Minister and the Minister for Finance for the additional resources that have been allocated to the transport projects identified in the capital plan but I am disappointed about this one because it is crucial for the northern commuter line. It provides those living in the northern towns in County Dublin with additional options to get them out of their cars and keep them out. A recent transport assessment identified that Dublin city will require an additional 40 multistorey car park facilities in a relatively short period in the absence of the delivery of key transport infrastructure, in particular on the north side of Dublin, in the form of DART services and the electrification of the northern and Maynooth lines. It is imperative that the NTA and TII deliver on what has been promised in the national capital plan for transport services across the State.
I commend the additional funding but I sincerely hope we will have no further slippage on this particular project. There is chronic overcrowding on an awful lot of services on the northern commuter lines, such that mainline diesel trains arrive in Malahide already full and this is the first stop that overlaps the DART. It is well and good for people around the first couple of stations to get into the city at peak times but for everybody else it is a chronic problem and the knock-on effect is significant.
I share the Deputy's impatience but I do not have the kind of cheque book I would need to sort out this problem immediately. I ask him to accept that we have made serious commitments, not just in respect of the DART underground but in respect of Metro north, of which the Deputy will be aware, and the Luas which was an expensive project that will be opened this Saturday. The additional resources are committed and I do not think there will be any further slippage. Next year may be a little bit slow but the BusConnects project and others will - not immediately but in time - relieve the problems to which the Deputy refers. He must not doubt that the Government is committed to this capital plan. The face of transport in Dublin in the next decade will be transformed in a way of which we can all be proud, particularly on the north side.