Thursday, 16 September 2021
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
76. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the status of plans to expand the DART to Drogheda and the electrification plans for the northern line; the expected timeline for the proposed diesel hybrid fleet to commence services to Drogheda ahead of the electrification; if any other relevant detail will be provided; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43907/21]
Drogheda is rapidly growing into a city. There is phenomenal growth in our town and over 40,000 people reside there now. In east Meath and south Louth there is huge growth in the population. Key and central to this growth is adequate and appropriate transport locally and nationally, and there are weekly applications - some very controversial - under strategic housing developments to An Bord Pleanála in that regard. What is the status of the plan to expand the DART to Drogheda, which was announced some years ago? I ask the Minister for an update.
The DART+ programme is critical for our transport future in Dublin and the eastern region. It comprises five complementary projects: DART+ West; DART+ South West; DART+ Coastal North; DART+ Coastal South; and DART+ Fleet. Naturally, there is a sequencing to the delivery of these different projects as each sits within the overall programme framework. It is also the case that the success of some of the projects depends on the early delivery of other projects. Key to the overall programme is the delivery first of DART+ West, which is the most advanced project. Its early delivery is particularly important due to the new depot to be constructed which will facilitate the huge expansion of the fleet. I understand the second round of public consultation is under way in relation to that project with a closing date at the end of the month. Next is DART+ South West and an initial public consultation has already taken place, with a second one planned before the end of the year.
Turning to the DART+ Coastal projects, I am informed that a design team was appointed earlier in the year. Work has begun on the preliminary design and the preparation of an emerging preferred option which will then be the subject of a public consultation and will inform the preparation of the necessary planning documentation. Finally, there is DART+ Fleet, which is of particular importance to the northern line as it will enable improved services on the line in advance of the later electrification. This will be achieved through the use of battery-electric units on the current northern line and will mean improved and expanded services for passengers. A preferred bidder has been identified but it is too early at this stage to give an indicative date as regards when one can expect to see the new fleet introduced into service. However, that should become a lot clearer in the next few months as contracts are signed and commitments made. The northern line will also benefit from the introduction in 2023 of new intercity railcars, ICRs, which are currently being built and will provide a welcome boost to capacity and services in the short term.
I welcome the commitment to extend the DART to Drogheda and I am meeting Jim Meade, the chief executive of Irish Rail, next week to discuss further plans they may have for that. It is absolutely critical that the Minister continues with the commitment that is there. I have no doubt he will be aware, as I am from listening to the radio this morning, of the backup of traffic in Julianstown coming from east Meath, Drogheda and south Louth trying to get to Dublin and indeed traffic coming from Dublin to get into that same area for people going to work. It is critical that we have both an alternative bypass of Julianstown and also a high-speed hybrid electric fleet in place as soon as possible. To be clear, I think what the Minister is saying is that the hybrid vehicles will be on the rail before the electrification comes and that should mean it will be in place much sooner than one would normally expect. Again, what timeline has the Minister been given for that?
The key initial development is those new ICR units which can fit within the existing train, adding an additional carriage. They are very imminent. Going on memory, they will be coming in 2023. It is not a long delay. The next iteration is the new battery-electric DART trains and they will be a significant improvement and improve capacity. They do not require the full electrification of the line as the battery will kick in where there are not overhead rails. The timeline for that is not certain yet but it will not be that long. We have a major problem in that there are so many public transport projects and roads projects. Regarding the timelines, a lot of the physical construction on some of the rail investments will happen over a period but that new fleet coming in will provide immediate capacity increases, under the 2023 plus timeline that I mentioned. That will be very significant for commuters on the northern DART lines but also elsewhere on the network.
That is very welcome. The key point is that Drogheda will become a major regional transport hub. Hopefully we will have a new station in north Drogheda, and Laytown itself will become a DART station. The frequency of commuter services between Dundalk and the whole north east will also be significantly improved by making Drogheda city a hub for rail transport.
Does the Minister have an updated or guaranteed timeline on the Enterprise service, which is meant to be going to an hourly service? Do we know over what period of time this will definitely be introduced? That service is vital for Dundalk and Drogheda.
We have just started a strategic rail review. Included in that is consideration of an upgrade on the Dublin-Belfast line, including new trains and so on. I do not have the specific details here but I will come back to the Deputy directly with information on that.