Seanad debates

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Public Transport Infrastructure


10:00 pm

Photo of Paschal DonohoePaschal Donohoe (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Chair for the opportunity to speak on this matter and the Minister of State for being here to respond on behalf of the Department of Transport.

The matter I wish to raise concerns the general provision of public transport infrastructure in the Dublin region. I wish to ascertain the status of the many projects promised for the area. The most recent budget delivered by the Government successfully created the impression that the capital projects under the national development plan would not be affected by the economic climate and that the focus would be on examining current spending to find what efficiencies could be made there. In recent weeks a number of media reports and various comments have given rise to the impression that this is about to change. Therefore, I want the Minister for Transport to clarify the status of the transport projects currently promised for the Dublin region, particularly on the north side. Two projects in which I am interested are metro north and the provision of the BX and D lines for the Luas, which will extend the Luas lines to the north side and into Grangegorman to support the new planned DIT campus for that area.

The most recent public debate and discussion on this matter indicated that the timetable to which the Government had committed was unchanged. Will the Minister of State, on behalf of the Department of Transport, comment on whether there will be slippage in these projects in light of the current circumstances and, if that is the case, will he highlight the new timetables for these plans?

Leaving aside the obvious need for these two major projects in the Dublin area, I would make two points. First, in the debates we have had on the economy in recent weeks in the Seanad, the stance of the Government on European fiscal stimulus projects — a clumsy phrase — has shifted slightly. Originally, the Government said there was no need for a stimulus package in Ireland. Then it went on to state that the interest rate cuts the European Central Bank is giving is the stimulus package. However, the provision of the national development plan within the original timeframe would probably be the greatest stimulus package the economy could get. I would appreciate it if the Minister of State would provide clarity and an update on the position in the House this evening.

The second reason I believe the update is needed is that many of the projects about which we are talking are due to be provided by public private partnerships. If the financial model of PPPs is to work, there must be liquidity and lending, because what we are doing is asking the private sector to take on board the risk the public sector is not in a position to take on. In light of the changed economic circumstances we are now in, it would be helpful if the Government would comment on whether the public private partnership projects it seeks to deliver for national public infrastructure are on track. In looking at the private markets and the big companies seeking to provide these projects, does the Department of Finance believe there is capacity within the private sector for these projects?

I note with great interest a statement made by Dublin City Council last night. While it had been relying on the public private partnership model to provide some much-needed public housing projects, it is beginning to shift from that position and now has expressed its belief that the requisite lending and liquidity is not in place to make that happen and, consequently, there is a need for it to shoulder more responsibility than it may have wished.

There is a great need from a transport perspective to deliver these projects and from an economic perspective, their value to our economy is clear. I welcome the Minister of State taking this opportunity to update the House on where matters stand at present and his provision to Members of a new timetable, if such exists, in light of the circumstances in which we all find ourselves.

Photo of Dick RocheDick Roche (Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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I am grateful to the Senator because this has provided me with an opportunity to fill myself in on the extraordinary progress that has been made in public transport. It is also remarkable that the public capital programme represents 5% of gross domestic product at present, which is among the highest, if not the highest in the European Union at present. This is not to say one would not wish to see more money invested in this regard.

I wish to advise the Chair that I am taking this matter on behalf of the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey. The Government continues to make a substantial investment in developing Ireland's transport infrastructure. We undoubtedly face significant global economic challenges and action is being taken to reflect this reality. Incidentally, I agree with the Senator that this is a good time to make such an investment both from the perspective of Keynesian demand management and fiscal stimulus, and from a value for money perspective, which was a point made by an earlier speaker. However, in addressing these challenges, the Government has sought to ensure that the immediacy of current problems does not obscure or cause to be forgotten the prospects of a brighter future. It is conscious that such a loss of focus could be damaging to that brighter future if associated planning and structural changes needed to underpin our medium to longer-term economic prospects were neglected. It is for these reasons that the Government continues to provide significant funds to invest in upgrading our transport infrastructure. The recent budget provided almost €2.4 billion in Exchequer funding for Transport 21 in 2009, of which €917 million will be invested specifically in public transport.

The Minister for Transport's priority for public transport is to deliver additional capacity across all modes as quickly as possible. Major projects, such as metro north, will be hugely important in providing the capacity to meet existing and increasing future demand for public transport in the greater Dublin area. Strong progress continues to be made on the roll-out of public transport projects under Transport 21. The two Luas extensions currently under construction in Dublin, to the docklands and Cherrywood, are on target for completion in 2009 and 2010, respectively. The railway order for the Luas extension to Citywest is in force and construction will begin shortly. I believe I noticed some hoarding being erected last week as I passed this site. Construction continues on the Midleton rail line and on phase 1 of the western rail corridor from Ennis to Athenry. Both of these projects will be completed during 2009. The Kildare route project is also advancing well. A number of new stations on the route already have been opened and the double-tracking of the line, which is highly important to increase capacity, is on schedule for completion in 2010. Phase 1 of the Navan rail line from Clonsilla to Dunboyne recently commenced construction and services are scheduled to commence in 2010. Detailed planning work continues on the DART underground project, with a target to lodge a railway order application in respect of the project towards the end of 2009.

Excellent progress continues to be made on the metro north project. The public private partnership, PPP, public procurement process is at an advanced stage, with the submission of tenders required by 6 February 2009. The planning process is continuing in parallel with the tender process. The Railway Procurement Agency submitted an application for a railway order to An Bord Pleanála in September last and an oral hearing will be held early in the new year. In January, the Government approved the funding structure for the metro north PPP, including an Exchequer provision for advance works ahead of the main PPP contract and a capital contribution during construction. This deals with an issue raised by the Senator, who discussed the issue of liquidity and capital availability. In accordance with the requirements of the Government decision on Transport 21, metro north will be submitted to the Government for a final decision on the project once the public procurement and statutory approval process have been completed. This is a requirement for all major projects costing over €500 million. The 2009 allocation for metro north will include provision for the start of enabling works in the second half of 2009.

The emerging preferred route for metro west was announced by the RPA in July 2007. The selected route alignment will connect Tallaght, Clondalkin, Liffey Valley and Blanchardstown and will connect with metro north at Metro Park, close to Dublin Airport. It will provide for integration with the Luas red line, the Kildare and Maynooth suburban rail lines and the Lucan Luas line. A further round of consultation is now under way to provide greater definition to the route, after which the RPA will proceed with the preparation of a railway order application. The RPA plans to apply for a railway order in 2009.

Earlier this year, the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, mandated the RPA to proceed with the planning for the delivery of a Luas line from St. Stephen's Green to Liffey Junction, using the old Broadstone railway alignment. It will not be possible to fully construct this line at the same time as construction of metro north because of the traffic management implications that would arise in the city centre. The RPA is developing a construction strategy for this line, in close co-operation with Dublin City Council, which includes use of metro north construction sites and recognises the traffic management requirements in the city centre. The Minister understands from the RPA that public consultation on the route options for the city centre to Liffey Junction part of the line has concluded and that the identification of a preferred route alignment is likely in the coming weeks. The RPA plans to apply for a railway order for the line in 2009.

The start and completion dates of Transport 21 projects, which have not yet commenced, will be determined by the outcome of the statutory approval and procurement processes and the funding allocation available during the current difficult economic climate. As I stated earlier, providing additional capacity on all modes is the investment priority of the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, and major projects, such as metro north, will be hugely important in this regard.

I thank the Senator for staying in the Chamber until this late hour.