Thursday, 24 September 2020
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
Light Rail Projects
I echo what the Cathaoirleach said. I welcome the Minister of State. I very much welcome the fact that a Member of this House is a Minister of State. I congratulate the Senator on her appointment. It is a major innovation. The last time this was tried was with the late Senator James Dooge. That was a long time ago. The Constitution provides for someone such as Senator Hackett to be a Minister of State. I am very glad that is the case.
The topic I am raising concerns the future of the MetroLink project and the southern route to be adopted in respect of it.Deputy Ryan, who is now the Minister with responsibility for transport, passionately supported routing the southern end of the project towards Rathfarham and Churchtown, between the red and green lines of the existing Luas structure. On other occasions, he suggested routing it between the DART and the Luas green line towards Belfield and places like that. The one thing he was very clear about was that he opposed the cannibalisation of the Luas green line and its incorporation into the MetroLink project for two reasons. First, it would involve closing the Luas green line for between 18 months and two years. Second, we have that transport corridor which has public transport already established and the aim must be to have different corridors for major investment in public transport infrastructure. I noted that the Government has recently made a statement about the possibility of doing an extension of the Luas toward Finglas and the like. It may be a good idea in itself, but the worrying thing is that it would take at least ten years to be put in place. There is already a complete study and proposal for a Luas-type service to Lucan, which has just been shelved. The vibe I am getting from those involved in the MetroLink project is that they are going ahead with a project as they originally suggested, namely, to bring it to the Charlemont station on the Grand Canal and extend it south from there in a tunnel which would act as a kind of underground depot. This would eventually facilitate the incorporation of the Luas green line into the metro system.
During the last general election campaign, the Minister, Deputy Ryan, in particular campaigned extensively on the proposition that he did not want to end the Luas green line at Charlemont as is proposed by the MetroLink people, but that he wanted to afford different parts of Dublin the advantage of being the southern end of the MetroLink project to Dublin Airport. I now see it is proposed at some stage in the next year to publish a transportation strategy, but my information is that the planning of the MetroLink project, which has already cost a staggering total of €170 million, is proceeding at pace. They are drilling and taking samples of earth in Ely Place, Ranelagh and places like that. They are proceeding as if there were no real option open but to proceed with the proposal they have themselves. As such I ask the Minister of State, who is representing the Minister at this Commencement matters debate, to indicate what it is the Government is proposing. Has it decided to allow MetroLink to proceed as if the election had not happened and as if all of the commitments had not been made, or has there instead been no change in Government policy in this regard?
I thank the Senator for his kind words at the start of his remarks. I am here on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Ryan, who is taking Oral Questions in the other House. It is a rather unfortunate clash but that is the way it goes. I thank the Senator for the opportunity to address this issue in the House today.
This Government is committed to a fundamental change in the nature of transport in Ireland. We believe that to deliver on this commitment means we need a whole-system perspective across all modes of transport, whether that is active travel, bus or rail. That means developing evidence-based, multi-modal transport strategies that guide development over the medium and longer term. These transport strategies should be integrated with land-use plans and enable local authorities to locate houses, jobs and other demand attractors along high-capacity transport corridors.This is the type of framework that many of our European and international peers use and it is the framework that can deliver fundamental change. We are beginning to see the emergence of that framework in Ireland.
There is a statutory 20-year transport strategy in the greater Dublin area, GDA. The strategy covers all modes in all counties in the GDA, that is, Dublin, Meath, Kildare and Wicklow. The transport strategy must be reflected in all land use plans and is subject to extensive and statutory consultation during its development. The historical complaint that there is no transport strategy for Dublin no longer holds. As part of the current transport strategy, there were plans for two metro lines, effectively, a metro north and a metro south. Those projects were initially considered for development as one project, known as MetroLink. That project was subject to extensive, non-statutory public consultation. During that consultation various issues were raised regarding the proposed route, particularly regarding the proposed upgrade of the existing Luas green line. In response to those issues, the preferred route for MetroLink is now proposed to link the estuary in north County Dublin with Charlemont on the Grand Canal. The project will be future-proofed so that a connection between the MetroLink and the Luas green line can be provided in the future.
However, we still must tackle capacity on the Luas green line. There are two approaches to that. First, there is an ongoing Luas green line capacity enhancement project. This project has already delivered an expanded depot in Sandyford and is increasing all 26 existing trams to 55 m in length. Fifteen of those extensions are already in service, with another two due this month. Second, there are eight additional 55 m trams arriving, with three of the trams already here and the rest scheduled to arrive in the first quarter of next year. This project will increase capacity by almost 30% compared to previous capacity. However, more is needed to cope with the expected increase in demand on the Luas green line and other options are under consideration over the medium term, above and beyond the current project.
Returning to the transport strategy, there is a need to review and refresh it to ensure it is kept up to date and informed by latest developments. The need to review and refresh is a requirement of the legislation, which states that the strategy must be reviewed every six years. The NTA has started work on the review and, next year, will launch a public consultation and engage with the public on this issue. As part of the review, the NTA will commission analysis of other potential metro routes in Dublin, such as a metro to the south east or to the south west, and establish a refreshed evidence base to underpin transport planning in the region. These analyses will be published as part of next year's consultation on the broader strategy.
I hope this clarifies the situation for the Senator and look forward to hearing his views.
I note there were some additions in pencil in the document that was given to me. One of them is particularly revealing because it suggests that the Minister is considering doing a turn-back facility at St. Stephen's Green. That suggests there is a proposal to have a loop at St. Stephen's Green for the MetroLink project. That is interesting. However, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, told the voters in his constituency, at great length and repeatedly, that he wanted a different outcome from the one that was then being proposed, to marry the MetroLink to the Luas green line. He proposed two alternative routes and spoke at various public meetings about this. He has also spoken on the record of this House about it. I know he is planning a transport review, and he now says he will consider alternative routes. This pencilled piece of handwriting on the document appears to suggest that other things are being considered and the public is not being made aware of them. I do not know whether the Minister, Senator Hackett, wrote on this or it is somebody else's writing, but I would like somebody to explain what this new facility at St. Stephen's Green, a so-called turn-back facility, is.
I queried that before I came up here. I asked about it because I noticed there was mention of other options in the script. I chatted with some of the officials from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. That turn-back facility in St. Stephen's Green seems a potential option. I could certainly engage with the officials and find out if there are other options because the script indicates that there are. I am interested to know what those options are. I will pass that information back and if I get information to share with the Senator in return, I will be happy to pass it on to him.