Under the national development plan, a total of €206 million was invested directly in public transport projects in the BMW region between 2000 and 2003. Further expenditure is underway and planned. The figure to 2003 represents 52.4% of the forecast expenditure at the start of the plan.
While financial progress specific to the BMW region in the period was slower than anticipated, significant physical progress has been, and continues to be, made on key rail infrastructure projects such as rail trackwork and associated works under the rail safety programme and the rail network re-signalling project. Key rail lines into the BMW were completely upgraded to continuous welded rail on concrete sleepers at the end of 2003. Work on the rail network re-signalling project in the BMW is proceeding satisfactorily and, in relation to the Dublin-Galway line, work was completed in June last. The Sligo line is on target for completion in 2005.
In addition, expenditure on certain projects, such as the diesel rail depot at Drogheda, the upgrading and improvements at Heuston Station and the large investment in new rolling stock, while recorded in the south and east region, has benefits common to both regions, through additional capacity, shorter journey times and improved quality of service.
In the context of the priority investment plans over the remainder of the national development plan, my Department is discussing with CIE mechanisms for progressing investment in the BMW region to increase the spend in the region.
As regards the western rail corridor, the Deputy will recall that this was not included in the recommended investment strategy in the strategic rail review primarily because, among other things, it was not supported by complementary land use and settlement strategies. The present position is that, at the request of the various groups promoting the western rail corridor, I propose to establish an expert working group to examine its potential. I will be announcing the composition and remit of the group in the coming weeks.
At the present time, the regional authorities along the route of the corridor have prepared draft regional planning guidelines as part of the implementation of the national spatial strategy at the regional level. These are currently the subject of public consultation. One of the core issues that the western rail corridor group will have to consider carefully is the extent to which the rail proposal is facilitated by the land use strategies emerging from these guidelines when they are adopted over the coming weeks.