Sunday 20 October 2019

Eamon Ryan: 'We must not miss last chance to get Metrolink right'

More Dublin metro lines will be expensive but vital for the long-term future of a city dominated by the car, writes Eamon Ryan

'The project engineers will be renewing their case for joining the Metro with the Luas Line and they should be given a fair hearing.'
'The project engineers will be renewing their case for joining the Metro with the Luas Line and they should be given a fair hearing.'

Next Tuesday, the National Transport Authority (NTA) will publish its latest design for Metrolink in Dublin. The northside route is largely agreed but there remains an issue on the southside. The integration of the Metro on to the Green Luas Line is creating real concerns because the new driverless and fully segregated system will divide communities between Ranelagh and Dundrum, who live, work, shop and go to school on either side of that line. More widely, we also have a once in a lifetime chance to expand the rail network on the southside.

This period of public consultation is the last chance to get it right. There are three options available to us:

Firstly, the NTA will try to address some of the local concerns by extending the tunnelling machine slightly further south than was originally planned. That would avoid problems at one or two level crossings but still require segregation at other stations and crossing points. It will also require the closure of the Green line for an uncertain period while the two systems are joined together.

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Transport Minister Shane Ross panicked last month, when he was reported saying the Green line would be closed for four years and the Government was now thinking of stalling the whole southside section. That would be the worst possible outcome. Our city is close to gridlock, so doing nothing or delaying any public transport project should not be an option.

The project engineers will be renewing their case for joining the Metro with the Luas Line and they should be given a fair hearing. We need to decide on the basis of what is the best transport outcome but that has to include valuing pedestrian accessibility, which is critical to creating well-connected local communities.

A second option would be to divert the tunnel to Harold's Cross, Terenure, Rathfarnham, Knocklyon and Firhouse, rather than running it to Ranelagh. This would mirror the very first Metro plan, which provided for a line via Kimmage to Tallaght. It would service one of the worst public transport blackspots in the city and be a transport option for those large housing developments being built in the foothills of the Dublin Mountains. A Bus Connects corridor is also planned for Rathfarnham but this is not an either/or decision. We have such a historic under-investment in public transport that we are going to need every sustainable mode available to us.

The third option would be to run south east from Tara Street to the new enterprise centre planned for Macken Street and from there to stations in Donnybrook Garage, UCD, Stillorgan and Sandyford. This would link up DCU, TCD and UCD and transform collaboration between all three colleges.

Each of these proposed stations is located in an area with large-scale development potential and growing transport demand. Putting in the stations when the foundations for those developments are being poured should dramatically reduce the metro construction cost. A final advantage is that the routing to Sandyford would allow us to cater for the long-term increase in passenger demand coming from that direction, without having to dig up and close the Green line for any period.

It will be hard for the engineers to change tack because earlier plans always envisaged upgrading the Luas Green line to Metro status. We built a bigger bridge in Dundrum and put a wider gap between the tracks. Transport planners could see from the start that passenger demand was always going to grow.

The transport plan for Dublin agreed in 2015 confirmed this approach but no one was aware at the time it would mean switching from the current tram system to a very different driverless and segregated service. We also have never had the scale of ambition required to turn Dublin away from the car-dominated city it has become.

Even with all the projects being promised, our transport climate emissions in Dublin are forecast to increase by 30pc in 2030. The cost of Dublin congestion is also expected to rise to €2bn each year. The additional metro lines would come with a significant cost but would be not nearly as expensive as keeping the current roads-dominated transport budget.

We should use the next few months to consider all the alternatives. We must avoid the mistakes made in other big capital projects before entering any contracting process. Now is the time to have one last look at all the alternatives.

We could, of course, build more than one line, by doing them in a staged process. Critics will say other parts of Dublin and the country also need public transport investment, which is true but such a wider ambition should not hold us back in south Dublin. The reality is we will have a tunnelling machine crossing the Liffey in seven years' time and have to answer the question now: what is the best way to use it?

My preference is to expand the network but we need immediate modelling to consider the benefits from each choice. This should not delay the overall project. We should start planning the rail order for the northside straight away and include the southside section once we have nailed down the final alignment.

Doing nothing or leaving the machine in the ground should not be an option. It is time to think big about public transport in Ireland. That includes the need for the Dart Interconnector in Dublin and a myriad of other public transport and cycling projects right across the country. Building the Southside Metro does not undermine the case for those other projects. It just happens to be the first decision point before us. We should not miss the chance to get it right.

  • Eamon Ryan is leader of the Green Party and TD for Dublin Bay South

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