Thursday, 14 February 2019
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
The Minister and I again find ourselves discussing Kildare transport in the Chamber. I am beginning to feel a little bit like a broken record, but that is because the system is still broken and we are trying to fix it. I ask the Minister for his assistance today with that and with expediting some solutions. It has been well documented, not least in our debates, where the problems are.
The first debate I had in the Chamber was with the Minister, Deputy Ross, on transport issues but the problems go back further back than the arrival of either of us in the House. The problems have worsened. In part, that is a due to the success of the improved service on the Newbridge line, serving Sallins and Hazelhatch. The stations of Sallins and Hazelhatch are now in the Leap card short-hop zone and the trains go through the Phoenix Park tunnel. That is all very welcome. I came in on that train this morning and I will return on it in about an hour's time tonight. The problem, however, is that the capacity of facilities has not kept pace. Naturally, increased demand has followed the improvements. We welcome the growing economy and other reasons for people being back on the trains again but we have a chronic shortage of car parking in particular. The carriages are full as well. Just before I rose to my feet I got a report that the 5.30 p.m. train leaving Heuston Station this evening is chronically congested again but even getting a space in the morning to park one's car in the morning so one can get on the train has become almost impossible. In my case, it is probably a year since I have been able to get my car into the station in the mornings. Many people are finding the same difficulty.
One needs to be at the car park of the Sallins and Naas train station between 7 a.m. and 7.15 a.m. at the latest to have any hope of being able to park one's car and get on the train. That is a crying shame for many reasons. It is highly stressful for the individuals involved who are trying to juggle childcare, getting to work and other commitments and it is made more difficult by having to fight for a space that it is almost impossible to get at such an early time. It is a shame for society that people are being forced away from public transport. We all support the goal of improved public transport and public transport being the primary mode of transport. I would love to see a situation where the car would become the exception, other than for a trip on a Sunday afternoon, and the norm for going to work was on the train or Luas. However, unless we can provide people with the facilities and space to park a car in the first place and enough room on the train to stand, sit or manage to squeeze on then we are nowhere near getting there.
This situation was entirely predictable. We only need to look at the planning permissions being granted for houses in the Naas, Sallins and Clane area, which has grown and is growing. There are many developments there as there is much to recommend the area. It was entirely predictable that those demands would be placed on the train service because the train station is at the heart of the community and it is a commuter hub. All the planning permissions were granted on the basis of public transport being available to the area but, essentially, it is no longer available and people are being forced into their cars to drive into Dublin. People are fighting with each other in the mornings over available spaces and they are being forced into local housing estates, thereby clogging up the entire village and causing all kinds of acrimony. In recent weeks Irish Rail had to appoint a staff member to police the car park in the mornings and to avoid the literal, as well as the metaphorical, scrapes because the situation has reached a crisis point. People have nowhere to park and they cannot get the train into Dublin in the morning. They bought a house on the promise of a public transport system being in place in the Sallins, Naas and Clane areas in north Kildare and they are unable to use it because they simply cannot get a car parking space in the morning.
I hope the Minister can expedite some solutions. The obvious solution is to build a new car park fast but I accept it is not as simple as that. There may be other solutions. I hope the Minister will have some good news for me today.
I thank Deputy Lawless for raising this issue. He is correct that I am well aware of the problems which he has outlined in the Sallins and Naas area, and on many of the routes which he represents so well and so often in this House.
I have no doubt that both Deputy Lawless and I welcome the increased number of passengers availing of the improved train services along the Kildare line. The increases have been made possible through the improved level of services provided through increased public service obligation, PSO, funding, as well as the increased levels of capital expenditure on projects such as the completed Phoenix Park tunnel and the ongoing city centre resignalling project.
I have a script which I will provide to Deputy Lawless. I apologise, as I should have given it to him earlier. It might be helpful to him. I am happy to say that we are providing further increases to funding as part of Project Ireland 2040, which will further improve capacity on the Kildare line. The improvements include the DART expansion programme and the improved management of the overall network, which the new national train control centre will provide.
However, I recognise that in the short term, there are of course pressures across the network at certain places and at certain times. Car parking at Sallins is one of those pressure points. The pressures have increased with the expanded and improved level of service, as well as the inclusion of the station within the short-hop zone. Together, they have all led to increased demand, on what I know is a relatively limited amount of car parking at the station.
As the Deputy is probably aware, my Department provides funding through the NTA for car parking at train stations in the greater Dublin area, GDA. I can inform the Deputy that there is a project under development to significantly extend the number of car parking spaces available at the station. On foot of the funding provided through the NTA, larnród Éireann has been preparing the detailed planning and design and will take the lead on implementation. This will be a significant project, costing approximately €2 million, and will result in a total of approximately 445 spaces being made available for commuters, which is an increase of approximately 270 spaces on the current number.
In terms of progress, the various surveys have all been completed and pre-planning discussions with the council are ongoing. There have been some slight delays to the timelines as compared with those the Deputy was provided with by the NTA last September, which unfortunately has pushed out delivery times a little.
I am now informed that a tender will issue very shortly to secure a contractor for the physical works. Subject to planning, it is hoped to start actual construction later in the summer or early autumn. Construction will take between nine and 12 months and so the revamped car park will likely be ready by the second quarter of next year.
While I can completely understand the frustrations of commuters today regarding the car park, I hope they can take some comfort from the fact that works to address this issue are well under way.
I welcome the commitment the Minister gave me last year during one of our previous debates to pursue the car park option.
I know that is under way. Unfortunately, it has hit some roadblocks locally. I have been in discussions with the NTA, Kildare County Council, Irish Rail and various stakeholders to try to move it forward. I ask the Minister to join me and to apply what pressure he can in order to bring to matters to a head and prioritise the works necessary to get that over the line. There is a plan in motion. There have been some technical and planning difficulties, but it is important to get all the relevant people around the table. I am doing everything I can and I ask the Minister to do the same in his Department to encourage the parties to resolve outstanding issues and move this forward.
There are other potential solutions that can be explored. Along with Hazelhatch and Celbridge Station, Sallins and Naas Station came into the short-hop zone approximately two years ago. There are still commuters from Newbridge, Kildare town and further out, and possibly even Monasterevin, who actually drive past their local station. They drive from the south of the county to park at Sallins and Naas Station because it is in the short-hop zone and they can avail of the cheaper fares. It does not really make sense from several perspectives, not least that of climate change. More emissions are produced by people driving farther to get to the station. It also does not make sense logically or with regard to practical convenience and comfort. People do not want to drive past their local station in order to get to another station, but their budgets decree that they must. I ask the Minister to talk to the NTA about extending the short-hop zone to Newbridge and possibly beyond. That will remove some of the pressure.
I wish to put another suggestion to the Minister, and I would like him to explore it with the NTA and other stakeholders. There is a system of feeder buses serving some of these stations, including Sallins and Naas Station and Hazelhatch and Celbridge Station. The feeder bus makes a lot of sense. People from the surrounding towns and estates from three to five miles away, places that are too far away to walk from, can travel to the station by bus. This is already happening in Naas, but there are not enough buses and the routes are not comprehensive enough. With a small improvement that would fit very well into public policy, we could expand the feeder bus network to cover the likes of Clane, Caragh, Sallins and Naas and bring people to the stations without ever having to step into their car. I am talking about fast-tracking one of those options. Perhaps a temporary site could be explored in the short term. It is an emergency situation.
If it is helpful to the Deputy, I will certainly pass those alternative solutions, including extending the short-hop zone and the feeder bus solution, to the NTA and see what is its view. I am sure it will respond to the Deputy. I understand his frustration at the long time this has taken. It happens a lot with car park developments. People want them overnight but they cannot be done that quickly. The Deputy was provided with the detailed information by the NTA last September in response to a parliamentary question he put.
At that stage, it was hoped that the planning application would be submitted by the end of 2018. The Deputy is perfectly correct. However the deadline was not met due to preplanning discussions with the council. I hasten to add that there is nothing of substance behind this delay. The project will go ahead. Rather, these discussions highlighted issues around the zoning of the proposed new car park which needed to be taken into account while preparing the planning application.