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Sunday 22 October 2017

Politicians can't afford to put public at risk... they must invest

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Paul Melia

Paul Melia

The State doesn't have the best track record of maintaining what it has. Under-spending in the water network over years has left the public with a €13bn upgrade bill. There's a €10bn backlog of repairs required across our road network, and Irish Rail has an annual €100m shortfall in the level of funding needed to maintain the network as is.

A cynic might argue there's a simple reason. No government wants to spend hundreds of millions of euro every year on projects that don't require a politician to show up and perform an opening ceremony.

But unless money is spent, the safety of every road and rail user, and every person who drinks water from a potentially dangerous source, is at risk.

This is what Irish Rail chief David Franks is warning about. He says the network is safe, for now, but money is needed to replace aging track and signalling. Failure to complete works will result in longer journey times, driving even more people to the car, adding to air pollution.

But maintenance funding is only half the battle. Irish Rail wants to upgrade its fleet at a cost of more than €1.8bn between now and 2040, and enhance services. It wants to expand the Dart network into Kildare, delivering two Dart lines for the Greater Dublin area, and offer high-capacity, high-speed services as a viable alternative to the private car.

It proposes electrifying inter-city lines, beginning with Dublin-Cork and Dublin-Belfast, and to move to an electric/hybrid fleet, transforming the railway into a cleaner transport option, helping to combat climate change.

That comes at a cost, and requires vision. While €1.8bn appears a lot, trains have a 30-year lifespan. The original Dart carriages introduced in 1984 are still running today.

The question for Government is how serious is it about safety, and maintaining the network we have, but perhaps more importantly, what is its vision for public transport?

There's no shortage of plans, both from the National Transport Authority and public transport companies. Unless money is spent, Dublin will remain stuck in gridlock, eliminating any chance of attracting inward investment and prolonging the daily misery for commuters. It's time to invest.

Irish Independent

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