Thursday, 24 September 2020

Questions (8, 21, 30)

Duncan Smith

Question:

8. Deputy Duncan Smith asked the Minister for Transport the status of the MetroLink development as of September 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25666/20]

View answer

Eoghan Murphy

Question:

21. Deputy Eoghan Murphy asked the Minister for Transport the status of strategic transport infrastructure plans for Dublin, including but not limited to BusConnects and the MetroLink project. [25678/20]

View answer

Eoghan Murphy

Question:

30. Deputy Eoghan Murphy asked the Minister for Transport the status of strategic plans of the transport infrastructure of Dublin, including but not limited to rail capacity and new measures needed. [25679/20]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Transport)

I would appreciate the Minister giving an up-to-date status report, hopefully a positive one, on the vital MetroLink project, which has been long in gestation. Hopefully, we will see progress on it soon. The Minister, when he was previously in office and held this brief, supported moving the project forward. At that time, it was known as metro north. Any update the Minister can provide will be greatly appreciated.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 8, 21 and 30 together.

I will give a general response to all three questions and I will then specifically address the MetroLink project. I am happy to go into detail on MetroLink, but I should also set out the status of some other major transport projects in the greater Dublin area and the current status of the transport strategy.

There are three current mega-projects under development in the greater Dublin area, namely, BusConnects, DART+ and MetroLink. Each of these projects are multibillion euro investments, among the largest public investment projects ever to be undertaken in the State and each is significant in its own right. Together they have the potential to utterly transform sustainable mobility in the region.

On BusConnects, I am pleased to see continued progress with today’s announcement of the final network redesign. Implementation of this new network will now commence in 2021 and I very much welcome this move towards implementation. Work is continuing on the development of the preliminary business case and in finalising the infrastructure requirements for the core bus corridors, with another round of public consultation scheduled for November.

Over the summer, I launched a consultation process on DART+, specifically proposals for the Maynooth line. DART+ will effectively double the capacity of the commuter rail network and is hugely important. Alongside that consultation process, work continues on developing the preliminary business case and assessing tenders received in relation to fleet expansion. As required by the public spending code, all of these preliminary business cases will require Government approval to allow the three projects to progress together, and I expect to bring these business cases to Government early next year.

At a strategic level, the Transport Strategy for the Greater Dublin Area 2016-2035 is being reviewed and will be updated if required. A review is required every six years and the NTA has already commenced work on this, which will include examining the potential for further metro routes into the future. I understand a public consultation will commence next year.

On MetroLink, the finalised business case is expected to be submitted to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport during the first quarter of 2021 and brought to Government for its approval in line with the public spending code. It is expected that the railway order and planning permission application will be lodged with An Bord Pleanála next year also. Construction will begin once that procedure is completed.

It is my hope and expectation that the business case presented to the Department will be the strongest one possible. I do not know of any other strategic project in planning that meets such a transport deficit. MetroLink links the third largest town in Ireland by population, Swords, with our capital city, our international airport, Dublin Airport, and Dublin City University through Phibsboro and into the city centre. It is vital infrastructure.

Many people have asked me and the Acting Chairman, Deputy Alan Farrell, if the issue of MetroLink comes up at the doors when we are canvassing. It does not come up because people in north County Dublin and Swords do not believe it will happen. In recent months, however, people have seen some exploratory works and ground testing taking place. The MetroLink insignia has also been seen on barriers near Seatown Villas and other areas around Swords. That gives people hope that the project will move forward and ultimately be delivered.

I ask that the railway order and the business plan be arranged as early in 2021 as possible. The Minister referred to the first quarter but we have an hourglass for this important project and we cannot allow quarters or years to pass.

I fully agree with the Deputy. We are 20 years late on this project. We started it in the late 1990s when I was on the Dublin transportation advisory committee. At the same time, the Danish city of Copenhagen was looking at a project involving a similar length of line. In the meantime, I believe Copenhagen has built three metro lines while our project is still stuck in planning. We have to get it out of planning and start building.

The debate earlier focused on Dublin versus the regions. MetroLink is a critical piece of national infrastructure. The case for it has always been the planning gain. It is not just a metro to Dublin Airport but a project that will allow us to align our housing with sustainable transport systems. It will allow us to plan for sustainable development of housing in the city as well as the development of transport. Transport-led development is where we need to go in addressing our housing crisis. We need real certainty for developers and local councils in the city. We need to tell them that whatever they do, they must ensure new housing is built in close proximity to the new stations that will be in this project. That will guarantee quality of life and an efficient, clean and social city. This is why this project and all the other public transport infrastructure we have are important.

The Deputy is right that we need to move into planning. Given that an earlier iteration of the project has already gone through planning and it has probably been the most researched, assessed and tested project on the planet in the 20 years we have waited for it, I hope we can quickly get the business case completed and the project moved into planning and built.

I am encouraged by the Minister's reply. We have spoken about this outside the Chamber as well. The Minister is consistent in his view on this both behind the scenes and in this House which is very encouraging.

The town of Swords, which will benefit from MetroLink, is an example of an area where we can improve active travel, to which the Minister referred in earlier answers. We can improve the cycling infrastructure in order to be able to get people from the west side of Swords to where the MetroLink stations will be located without them having to use their cars. We need to improve walking routes and disability access as well. If and when this is delivered, and I am an optimist on MetroLink, we must make sure that people will not have to get into their cars to travel from one side of Swords to the other. They should be able to travel quickly, efficiently and in an environmentally friendly way to the metro to go to college or into town. This will benefit all of Fingal, particularly those living in the rural villages and rural areas who will be able to get to Swords relatively quickly and then on into Dublin city. It is not just a service for Swords or the airport; it is infrastructure that will benefit the whole of north County Dublin. It is something I will be bringing up on an annoyingly regular basis in this Chamber during these questions and I hope we can continue to see progress on it.

Again, I am in danger of agreeing with the Deputy. I will go back, if I can, to the Copenhagen example and how the Danes made it work. These are very expensive pieces of infrastructure. They are multibillion euro projects. In Copenhagen, outside the train station there is a very low-cost bicycle park which has thousands of bicycles. The surrounding community, through a ten or 15 minute cycle, has access to the train service which is easy, reliable, quick, clean and cheap. Such low-cost solutions deliver high-quality local communities and attractive places to live which are not dominated by cars and where everyone has good quality connectivity that is not expensive. That is the gain according to the cost-benefit analysis. To go back to what I said earlier, it is the wider planning gain we get from this type of public transport alongside connected, active travel through pedestrian, cycling and local bus service connections. It is that sort of vision and if one costs the benefits from all of that, it makes these projects stand up and make sense and that is why we need to build them now.