Thursday, 4 November 2021
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
My question relates to the DART+ project, an important project which I strongly support. The scope of the project is terminated 2 km or 2.5 km before Kilcock. I went to the Department yesterday and brought the Minister, Deputy Ryan, a map so he would have it today because a picture speaks a thousand words, but he is not here. Essentially, this question is about him seeking to engage with the NTA to expand the scope of this project to take in the town of Kilcock, which has a population of approximately 8,000.
I received the Deputy's map so we got that correspondence. I will read out the reply on behalf of the Minister. DART+ West is the most advanced of the infrastructure projects that make up the overall DART+ programme. As outlined in the transport strategy for the greater Dublin area, DART+ will extend or enhance the current DART system west to Maynooth and Celbridge-Hazelhatch, south to Greystones and north to Drogheda. The transport strategy sets the overall framework within which the programme is being developed, including its overall geographic scope. However, it is not to say that future extensions to the new network, once DART+ has been deployed, cannot be considered. In fact, as I understand it, the review of the transport strategy, which is under way and will be subject to public consultation this month, will make proposals in that regard. I have no doubt the Deputy will make her views known during the consultation period.
I recognise that there is a view locally that the current DART+ West project should be extended to include Kilcock at the new depot on the line. That line lies west of Maynooth station on the way to Kilcock. I am informed that to extend the twin tracking and electrification beyond the depot into Kilcock faces a number of technical constraints, such as clearance issues at existing bridge structures; turnback facilities and the layout of the existing Kilcock station; and insufficient width on the approach to Kilcock to accommodate double tracking. These issues and others would require detailed consideration and engineering assessment.
As I mentioned, DART+ West is currently the most advanced of all the DART+ infrastructure projects and the current focus is on ensuring the existing project is brought forward into the planning system and moves into construction as soon as possible. DART+ West will transform rail services in north Kildare, west Dublin and the broader region thanks to the new depot. I assure the Deputy that future extensions can be considered at a later date.
This is the second time there has been a later date for Kilcock. The track was doubled between Clonsilla and Maynooth some years ago after extensive engagement with community groups. Kilcock was left out at that stage. The town's residents will rely on the Sligo line for commuter services, while the eight-shed depot that is being constructed is in Kilcock. It is across the road from a new housing estate on the Meath side of the town.
There is complete unanimity across the political spectrum on delivery of this project. People just cannot understand why its scope did not go further. The very same points were made about not being able to fit a double track when we argued for it all those years ago. It was fitted and is a very successful service. Some time ago, I received a reply that informed me it was not surveyed in detail. I question the information the Minister of State is being given on this matter. We get the population but we do not get the services to go with it, which is the worst of all worlds.
I share the Deputy's ambition on this matter, as would most people. The two primary reasons we simply cannot extend DART+ to Kilcock at this point are linked to the way land use and transport planning works in the greater Dublin area and engineering. Uniquely in Ireland, there is a statutory transport strategy for the greater Dublin area and it has set the geographic scope of the DART+ programme. That scope is then reflected in all land use strategies for the area.
The strategy states that the DART will be extended to Maynooth, which is the planning context for the overall DART+ West project that will be considered by the planning authorities. The scope can be changed but that must happen through the review of the transport strategy, which will reconfirm the delivery of DART+ as it stands, but will also state that future extensions beyond the current scope be considered in the future as separate projects. We could extend DART+ West to Kilcock but it first needs to be reflected in the transport strategy. It will then be considered as a stand-alone project into the future.
I ask the Minister of State to pay attention every morning when she listens to AA Roadwatch reports. She will hear the M4 and the M7 repeatedly referenced, yet DART+ is not going beyond Hazelhatch on the Kildare line and it is not going to Kilcock on the Maynooth and Sligo lines.
We know we are in a climate emergency and have to get people onto public transport. It just does not make sense not to go 2 km further to an area with 8,000 people who are in the commuter belt and are travelling to Maynooth in their cars, parking there to get the train, blocking the train station and adding to congestion there. Kilcock residents can see the depot from the houses across the road where a station could be provided. Even if we cannot go as far as providing a station, all sorts of other facilities, such as sidings, could be used. This is a very disappointing response.
I understand the Deputy's frustration. As I said, I share her ambition on this matter, but the fact is it would delay the process. DART+ West is the most advanced of the four infrastructure projects, with two rounds of non-statutory public consultations already completed. Its next step, subject to Government approval, is to enter the statutory planning system. As I said, this matter can be reflected in the revised transport strategy and it will then be considered as a stand-alone project into the future. I will relay the Deputy's concerns to the Minister in that context.