Thursday, 22 September 2022
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
I was one of 40,000 people who left County Meath today to go to work.
No other county in the country sees a majority of its workers leave that county to go to work. It took two hours to travel from Navan to the centre of Dublin today and that is not unusual. Many people from other parts of the county are travelling two and a half hours for one journey. That comes to a five-hour commute for one day of work in a county with the second-fastest growing population in the country, with a town in the centre of it that is the largest town without a rail line. I am looking to see what progress has been made on the development of the rail line.
As the Deputy is aware, on the proposal for a rail line from Navan to Dublin, an assessment report was undertaken by the NTA, which has responsibility for the development and implementation of public transport in the greater Dublin area, GDA. The assessment report undertaken by the NTA was published as a background paper to the draft transport strategy for the GDA at the end of 2021. It considered the strategic rationale for such a rail link, assessed rail and bus options, examined potential alignments of a rail link, and provided a high-level assessment of cost and demand. The wider appraisal, which examined the qualitative and quantitative benefits of the Navan rail line, has shown that the scheme has the potential to deliver significant economic, environmental and social benefits along the Dublin-Navan corridor. On the basis of the assessment, the provision of a rail line extension to Navan is included within the draft long-term strategy for transport in the GDA, for delivery and opening at a point after 2030. The strategy is in draft form and it is therefore premature to comment on precise delivery timelines, costs and benefits at this stage. The strategy is subject to a formal statutory approval process and a final version is expected to be submitted from the NTA for my approval in the coming weeks. If included in the final strategy, this project will require significant assessment, planning and design before construction can commence.
I urge the Minister to make sure this project is given a concrete timeline and concrete investment. We have a system in Meath where if you stand still somebody will build a house on top of you, such is the level of development that is happening in the county. It is incredible that at a time when fuel prices are rising so much, and while the Government is increasing carbon taxes, so many people in Meath do not have a public transport that is feasible for their lives. It is having a massive cost financially, environmentally and on people's lives. When people get back to Meath they do not have the energy or time to get involved in football teams, community organisations or community efforts and they are only seeing their children as they put them to bed. This is having an enormous societal cost and I urge the Minister, because this has been promised for nearly 25 years in our county, to leave a legacy of a specific date for development and funding that will make it happen.
That was over 20 years ago. Now the assessment has been done and it has been decided that this is the correct strategic investment for us to make. We have to be honest with the people of Navan though. As I said earlier, we have €70 billion worth of projects and we have a €35 billion budget in this decade. It will probably be a similar budget in the next decade but we have to start planning now. As soon as the greater Dublin area transport strategy is signed off and approved we can start looking at timelines, costing and putting it into the project pipeline. In the meantime, there is a greater priority. I accept that on a wet day like today traffic snarls up for up to two hours; I hear the Deputy on that. We also need to invest in the BusConnects projects in Dublin so that in the interim, while we are waiting for the Navan rail line to be built, we get a high-quality bus service in and out because that is the only interim solution.
I understand that it is important to have a proper BusConnects system. There is no doubt about that but the truth of the matter is that Navan is the largest town by far in the State without access to a rail line. Meath is the biggest dormitory and commuter county and Meath people are living in Meath without the facility to commute. No other county has the same level of outward working as the people in Meath do. It is having an enormous cost and the rail line has been promised for decades. I remember Noel Dempsey, as the then Minister for Transport, delivering leaflets to say it would be built by 2004. Then the target was 2009 and then it was 2015. People bought houses in Meath 20 years ago and the prospectuses for the houses said the rail line would service it. It is excruciating on people's lives to have to commute five hours per day to work and it is having an environmental cost as well.
I agree with the Deputy and we need to build as quickly as we can. What would also complement this, as well as the greater Dublin area transport strategy, is the strategic rail review we are completing at the moment. It is important that it also indicates that the likes of this line make sense in where our investment priorities lie. We have a lot of priorities and we have a real challenge. We have to build rail in Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford as well as Dublin because we have an imbalanced system. As the Deputy says, all of the development is happening in Meath, Kildare, Louth and Wicklow; it is all happening in this ring around Dublin. That is not fair to anyone because it is overdeveloping the east coast and under-developing the west and south west.
The Deputy is right. We have an immediate issue in Meath and Kildare, where all this population growth is happening, and we must provide public transport solutions there. We also have to invest in the other parts of the country, as we discussed earlier, including in rural Ireland and elsewhere.