| 18.4°C Dublin

Ultimately cost will determine which track is taken

IRISH Rail's plan for an extended airport link is certainly ambitious.

Whether it comes to pass in the current review of transport options for North Dublin is another question.

At first glance, it makes sense. Dublin Airport is the country's biggest, offering 161 routes and served by 53 airlines.

More than 21 million people used it last year.

Crucially, some 570,000 of these customers live in Northern Ireland, meaning there is certainly a market for a direct train line both from our nearest neighbours and people living in Co Louth.

In terms of serving Dublin city, it's a no-brainer.

A DART service could operate every 20 minutes, not only giving residents from Swords a quick journey into the city, but also allowing those living on the northside quick and easy airport access.

The biggest problem is linking with the rest of the intercity network.

Trains from Galway, Cork and Kildare terminate at Heuston Station, but the Government plans to reopen the Phoenix Park tunnel to traffic from 2016, which will allow travel to Connolly before joining the DART line and travelling to the airport.

However, if the Government decides to go ahead with the proposal, it could put further pressure on regional airports that are already struggling to attract passengers.

Galway and Sligo have both closed in recent years to commercial traffic, while Waterford is under severe pressure and Cork is struggling for passenger numbers.

While the Government has provided €13m to Kerry, Knock, Donegal and Waterford, the funding programme is due to end this year.

That means that regional airports must become self-sustaining if they are to remain in business. That will prove difficult for some.

The new rail project is vying with a lot of other worthwhile proposals, including an extension of the Luas system and the Bus Rapid Transit proposal, all of which have their own merits.

The biggest problem is it is arriving a bit late in the day for the current Government and National Transport Authority review.

Ultimately, this will come down to cost - and which project gives the biggest bang for the Government's buck.

Irish Independent