Rail Services.

I thank the Minister for his attendance in the House to deal with the matter of the extension of the Maynooth railway line from Clonsilla to Clonee. I congratulate the Minister on the launch of Luas which goes through his own constituency. I am struck by the great similarities between this matter and the Luas line. The Luas line runs on the old Harcourt Street line which was closed down in 1958; the line I am speaking about was closed down in 1963. The beds of both lines were kept relatively intact and free of development. However I heard the Minister say at the launch of the Luas that in 1977, he was almost a single issue candidate campaigning for the reopening of the Harcourt Street line. I do not wish to be known as a single issue candidate seeking the reopening of the Clonee line but I have been raising the issue single-handedly for some time and the Minister is aware of that.

The Minister has recently shown a great willingness to invest in the railways. The Department of Transport announced recently the reopening of the line from Midleton to Cobh which is a line very similar to the line to which I refer. The distances are similar, approximately seven to nine kilometres, on old railway line beds, relatively free of development. However, Dublin west and along the Maynooth catchment line comprises the fastest growing area in Ireland. I doubt if any statistics could refute that point.

Several developments, which have started already, will come on stream soon. These are in Pelletstown on the border of Fingal County Council and Dublin City Council, which will consist of 4,200 housing units, the racecourse development adjacent to Phoenix Park consisting of 2,200 units and the Hansfield zone in Clonsilla, an SDZ under the previous Government that is under appeal. I submitted an appeal against the development of the Hansfield zone to An Bord Pleanála last October on the grounds that it does not have a railway line. Other large tracts of land with planning permission along the railway line also await development.

Fingal County Council is considering an application to construct five blocks of eight storey apartments. This is a step too far. Until now, four storey apartment blocks have been built along the line on the basis that they will be adjacent to a public transport corridor and comply with housing guidelines. While eight storey apartment blocks would also be within the guidelines, Fingal County Council would be taking French leave, so to speak, were it to grant permission for these blocks on the basis that they will be beside a railway line. The council will, however, correctly argue that upgrading the railway line is not its responsibility.

Given the investment and development in the area, something must be done to alleviate traffic congestion on the Navan Road and address the level of house building along the Maynooth line, which I use daily. Even the 9.30 a.m. train into Dublin only has standing room and this is an off-season period when students are off and people are on holidays. One can imagine the circumstances facing passengers on peak time trains at 8.20 a.m. and 8.40 a.m. and what they will face in October. At a time when we are encouraging people to leave their cars at home, it is not safe to encourage people living along the Maynooth line to use the public transport system.

Statistics have shown that the quality bus corridor on the Navan Road is the worst performing bus corridor in Dublin. I appeal to the Minister to consider making the necessary investment in the Maynooth line. Irish Rail approved a line to Clonee as part of its five year strategic plan and is conducting a feasibility study. The Spencer Dock and Clonee lines must be developed in tandem. In light of the Minister's approval for a line to Midleton, I ask him to approve upgrading and development of the Maynooth line, particularly given the high rise developments along the line.

The Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance stated recently that a metro would be a good project, but it is not likely to see the light of day in the short term because we cannot afford it at this point. I hope this is not the case. We must, however, consider alternatives, whether suburban rail, extensions to Luas or a greater roll-out than of the quality bus network that the Minister envisages. For this reason, I ask him to seriously consider my appeal for an extension of the rail line from Clonsilla to Clonee.

I thank the Senator for raising this matter and for his comments. He will be aware that I appreciate his special interest in transport, which is even evident on the head bills of his letters to me. I am being genuine, not patronising, in informing him that I take particular account of proposals he makes because of his special interest in transport which I have observed over the past two years. I will, therefore, take special note of his contribution this evening.

I thank the Senator for his comments concerning the Luas. I believe its success will increase as the days and years pass. I also thank him for raising the future development of rail services to Clonee and Spencer Dock. As he stated, Irish Rail is examining the possibility of developing a spur from the Maynooth line to Dunboyne which passes close to Clonee. This project is consistent with the Dublin Transportation Office strategy up to 2016, Platform for Change.

In this regard, the company is undertaking a feasibility study and outline scheme design. This study will address future traffic demand, operational feasibility, capital costs, cost benefit analysis, project delivery options and funding options. It will be set against the background of planning guidelines for the region, planned developments in the area and future road developments. The work is expected to be completed within a six month timeframe. Irish Rail will involve representatives from Meath County Council, Fingal County Council and the Dublin Transportation Office in the exercise.

In order to cater adequately for the anticipated traffic growth along the Maynooth line, Irish Rail is also proposing the construction of a new station at Spencer Dock to help alleviate the congestion difficulties being experienced at Connolly Station. My Department is in discussion with Irish Rail on the matter and a formal proposal is awaited.

The Taoiseach's comments concerning the metro referred to the 20 or 30 year overall plan, which would cost billions of euro. While he and I agree it is not possible to proceed with the whole plan, we are likely to proceed with the airport to the city centre section as a first step. The Government will finalise its considerations on this matter within a few weeks.

I thank the Minister for his comments. I look forward to Irish Rail's formal presentation to him when it completes its feasibility study. I hope funding will be made available for its proposals. Money is no longer the problem. Value for money will always be an issue but the line will come up trumps in any cost benefit analysis. I ask the Minister to approve the proposal to assist the future development of the area.

The Seanad adjourned at 10.40 p.m. until10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 8 July 2004.