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Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 27 June 2013

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Questions (9)

Peadar Tóibín

Question:

9. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his plans to develop a rail service to Navan, County Meath, linking it with Dublin city. [31035/13]

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Oral answers (5 contributions) (Question to Transport)

This question is about plans to develop a rail service to Navan. I will be officially opening the new Hansfield station tomorrow. This is the final element of the first phase of the extension of the rail line to Navan, from Clonsilla to the M3 Parkway.

The Government’s policy on capital investment is set out in the document, "Infrastructure and Capital Investment 2012-16: Medium Term Exchequer Framework". Under the framework, the extension of phase 2 of the Navan line has been postponed for consideration in advance of the next capital programme. Overall, the level of Exchequer funding available for the development of transport infrastructure has been greatly reduced in recent years.  As this reduced level of funding will not allow for significant investment in new public transport infrastructure, the Government's focus is on aiming to make better use of the existing system and resources. Funding has been prioritised to ensure the maintenance of the existing infrastructure and advance a small number of projects which can add value to the existing network.

Despite the reduced level of funding available, my Department has allocated over €135 million towards the rail network this year. The bulk of this funding will go towards renewals and maintenance under the railway safety programme and enhancement projects such as signalling, the provision of automated ticketing facilities and the removal of level crossings. For example, work will shortly commence on the removal of Reilly’s level crossing on the Maynooth line which will be of benefit to passengers travelling on phase 1 of the rail line to Navan.

Work on Reilly's bridge is starting next month and will be completed towards the end of 2014. That is a positive move. However, we will have to consider the bridge further up at Pelletstown, where there is a problem. There is another bottleneck there and the crossing is operated manually.

The rail link between Dunboyne and Dublin city centre is working well. It is a pity that line cannot be continued further to the commuter belt in the Navan area, taking in Dunshaughlin, Kilmessan, Navan and the northern edges of Navan. It has a massive population that constantly commutes to Dublin and other areas. It would be brilliant if we could consider it at some stage and also whether it would be possible to run a line from Navan to Drogheda. It might be an alternative. I do not know if it has ever been considered by the Department, but can the Minister say whether that would be a possibility? There are some old rail lines in the area.

We are going to examine the possibility of extending the line from Pace to Navan in 2015 in the context of drawing up the national development plan for 2016 onwards. At present, it is just not affordable. Every rail line in the country, including the DART, requires a subvention and that subvention is very tight. Even if we were to find the capital required to build a new rail line, we could not afford to subvent it. In the context of shrinking budgets, I am struggling to keep the existing rail lines open. I am not in a position to support the building of new rail lines that would require an additional subvention that we do not have. The contrast with this is the Luas link-up in the city centre, which will not require an operating subsidy. When it is built, it will carry 10 million passengers and cover its own costs.

I mentioned the line from Navan to Drogheda. Has it been considered? The Minister has said the Department is entering into more PPPs. Is there no possibility in the future of considering some of these vital lines with a view to using PPPs? I am sure the Minister has explored that option, but perhaps we might consider it further. As the economic climate changes, there might be more possibilities in that regard. Businesses might be given an opportunity to contribute, too. In the case of metro north, levies were collected from businesses along the line. I am not saying that is the way to proceed, but is there an innovative way of doing this by obtaining funding from some other source?

One could impose a levy scheme on businesses and households along the way, but there would be big downsides to that also. It would have to be a very high levy to fund the project. Much as people in County Meath would like to have the rail line, I doubt that they would be willing to pay levies of that scale to build it.

In the case of PPPs, it must be the type of project that will produce not just an economic return in the general sense but also an actual cash return that can be used to pay back the banks, bondholders and pension funds on which we rely to finance PPPs. They expect to be paid back. They are not charities, as the Deputy is aware. It is very difficult with rail projects because they do not produce enough cash to pay back the investment. That is why they are usually funded by the Exchequer. It is particularly a problem in the case of tunnels. There have been PPPs around the world for rail tunnels, but they have gone spectacularly wrong. As the PPP companies have been left with huge bills as a result, PPPs for tunnels are just not happening anymore. It might be thinkable for a stand-alone project somewhere, but it would be a little tricky where it was connecting to an existing line.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.
The Dáil adjourned at 7 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Friday, 28 June 2013.
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