Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Wednesday, 15 Dec 2010

Mid-Term Review of Transport 21: Discussion

The purpose of the meeting is to have a discussion with a delegation from the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport, CILT, on the mid-term review of Transport 21. I welcome Mr. Colm Holmes, chief executive, CILT, Professor Austin Smyth, author of the mid-term review and Mr. Edward Humphries and Mr. Stephen Wood, who are co-authors of the review.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to this committee. If witnesses are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. Witnesses are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given. They are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. I invite Professor Smyth to commence the presentation, after which we will have a question and answer session. The witnesses are very welcome.

Mr. Colm Holmes

I thank the committee for inviting us to this meeting. We very much appreciate the opportunity to present the review of Transport 21 which we commissioned. On the team we have Professor Austin Smyth who has more than 30 years experience in the transport industry. He works in the University of Westminster in London. We have two professional consultants who also work in the transport sector with 35 years and 25 years experience, respectively, in transport.

The Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport is a membership-based organisation. We have been in Ireland for more than 50 years. We are involved in all modes of transport. Senior managers who are members of our institute are from the road, rail, sea and air areas. Our mission statement is to advance and promote the art and science of logistics and transport. We do that through education, examinations on behalf of the Department of Transport and the HSA and also in policy development. The biggest capital investment framework was Transport 21 which was announced in 2005 when there was a lot of money around during the Celtic tiger. Things have changed dramatically since then, hence we felt it was most appropriate to commission this mid-term review of Transport 21 for the institute to review, first, what has been achieved, second, what remains to be done and, third, what projects should be prioritised. That is what we charged Austin Smyth and his team to do.

The aim of the review is to stimulate debate. The review does not necessarily reflect the official policy of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport but we see it as a major contribution to our efforts to further discussion about the direction of transport policy. We are organising a follow-up debate on 19 January in No. 6 Kildare Street. We will invite all members to attend that debate. I will hand over to Professor Austin Smyth to present a summary of the report.

Professor Austin Smyth

On behalf of myself and my colleagues, we are pleased and grateful to have the opportunity to present to the committee the findings of the mid-term review.

I start by reminding us of the background to Transport 21. It was launched in late 2005 as a capital infrastructure programme stretching over the subsequent ten year period up to 2015. It does not represent a plan, as such: it is a spending programme. It does not go into the full appraisal of the projects on a strategic basis. The average spend that has been secured since then has been of the order of €3 billion per year. That figure is now unsustainable given the changed economic situation facing the country. Transport 21 is composed of two separate programmes: one for the greater Dublin area and the other for the country as a whole, nationally, outside the greater Dublin area.

As to the current status of the programme, the road schemes have been finished or largely committed at this point. They have taken up approximately three quarters of the budget that has been spent so far. There have been a number of railway upgrades and enhancements of the Luas system in Dublin. In contrast, investment in the bus network has been very low in that period under Transport 21. Given the circumstances the country now faces there is a great danger that public transport cuts will result in various environmental consequences for the country as a whole.

In the document we assess the programme as it currently stands against a series of objectives ranging across the environment, the economy, social equity, balanced regional development and the like. I will highlight one or two issues from the summary table in the PowerPoint presentation that shows how we see the performance of the schemes implemented so far against those objectives.

By and large the contribution to national competitiveness has been marginal at best for most of the projects. The primary purpose of many of them, in particular the major interurban road programme, has been to redistribute the competitiveness of different locations within the country. The primary beneficiaries of those have been the major urban centres that are linked to Dublin via the interurban corridors.

What do each of the symbols mean on the slides?

Professor Austin Smyth

The ticks indicate a positive impact and the Xs indicate either a cost or a negative consequence arising from the particular measures that are identified.

What about the zero?

Professor Austin Smyth

It means almost no effect or neutral.

We could spend a long time going through the detail so I will highlight one or two issues. The major interurban road network improvements represent one of the major elements of the investment programme. We have assessed that the effects of that on national competitiveness are marginal. At the same time it has cost a lot of money, much of it funded through PPP schemes but, nevertheless, it does represent a significant drawdown of Exchequer funding. The consequences for the environment are potentially significant. As we will see, Ireland's performance in terms of CO2 emissions makes for a very challenging future. The current economic situation offers a respite but does not really address that challenge going forward. The road improvement programme also throws up a number of difficulties the country will have to face in terms of spatial development, in particular the promotion of urban sprawl and with that the consequences both for the environment and equity issues.

One other example to highlight is the Luas improvements. There again, the contribution to national competitiveness is marginal. The cost has been significant but not nearly of the scale of the investment in roads. It has brought about some localised environmental benefits and also some spatial development benefits in the greater Dublin area promoting a more sustainable urban development form for the future. Likewise, there are other benefits in the areas of safety and equity. The table to which I refer is designed to illustrate the points on which we base our final assessment and recommendations.

One of the issues that has emerged from the work we have done is that Transport 21 largely ignored the environment and the consequences that go along with the investment programme. One graph attempts to show how Ireland's performance has changed relative to other countries in various parts of the world in terms of CO2 emissions. The essential thing to note in terms of the bar chart on view is the massive increase in per capita emissions that have taken place in the period covered by the graph. That is a challenge that will re-emerge substantially when the economy grows again after the current recession period.

It is interesting to note that in the meantime the Government has become wholly aware of this challenge and through its smarter travel plans has identified these and related areas as a series of clearly identifiable policy goals. It has identified a need to reduce travel demand and also reduce the level of car dependency. It has highlighted the need for a reduced reliance on fossil fuels. Measures have been identified in terms of decarbonising the car fleet, for instance. Issues have also been identified on the need to improve the accessibility of transport services and its accessibility to the community as a whole. It is important therefore to use that as a new starting point for the future. On the basis of the current economic circumstances the country faces and recognising the environmental and other challenges that exist for this and future generations we have identified a potential to refocus Transport 21 both for the rest of the period covered by the programme but going beyond that because obviously financial issues may dictate that to be the case. We have identified three broad strands, the first of which is the need to develop a multimodal approach to the major interurban corridors. The sorts of routes in question include those between Dublin and Cork, and Dublin and Galway. With regard to these corridors, we need to consider road pricing or some fuel duty increase.

One of the major consequences of improvements in roads has been undermining of the competitiveness of the railway system. The railway system faces a considerable challenge. It is highly subsidised and the subsidy requirement will rise sharply given the reduced competitiveness of the system. The country will then be faced with three options, one of which would be to accept a rising level of subsidy, and with that a reduced role for the railway as it becomes more dependent on people without access to cars. The second option would be to close the system down progressively. Given the financial position, that might be thought about. The third option involves overhauling the system radically to enable it to compete with the high-quality road system that has been developed in recent years. That would have very significant consequences for the country and the perception of people within it. I refer to the enabling of journey times between Dublin and Cork of one hour and 45 minutes, and similar journey times between Dublin and Limerick and other such routes throughout the island.

This affords an opportunity to deal with a phenomenon mentioned several times, that is, the financial support given to regional air services. They are heavily loss-making and require much subsidy given the size of the market served to ensure their continued operation. That subsidy could be used more productively to support surface-based public transport.

One of the points that emerged from our review is that there is little in Transport 21 about freight. This is a major issue that needs to be dealt with urgently. Evidence relating to the greater Dublin area suggests the financial position will dictate a major reduction in the amount of spending on transport. Since the Government issued its reprioritisation material in the summer, indications are that expenditure will have to be further reduced by two thirds. I refer to transport expenditure that is approximately 25% of what was being sustained up to 2009. The result is a need for prioritisation of major schemes. We reviewed the DART underground project, the Luas cross-city project and the metro north scheme and the evidence suggests that, on the basis of value for money for the taxpayer, priorities are such that the DART underground project should proceed first.

We also identified an opportunity to exploit the potential for road-user charging in the Dublin area. That would have two major implications. First, it would be a very useful traffic-management tool and, second, it would be a source of revenue to support the transport system as a whole. None of the recommendations would work without a much stronger planning system. During the review, we had extensive discussions with key officials who indicated that this was in train and would be pursued actively in the future. Allied to the transport proposals is a much stronger planning system that will encourage a more sustainable pattern of urban development.

Transport 21 had a major focus on Dublin and the interurban corridors but an important issue must be addressed in terms of major urban centres outside Dublin, including Cork, Limerick and Galway. All warrant the development of schemes that will support a much more sustainable future and that will help support those cities' future competitiveness as centres of economic activity. We have identified in the documents detailed proposals for this. There is a very strong need for more progressive and active monitoring of the impact of transport spending and whether the State is obtaining value for money from the investments being made.

We have seven messages we believe are appropriate. We identify and recognise that circumstances have changed radically since 2006, economically and environmentally. We have highlighted the success achieved in terms of the spending programme in improving the major interurban road network. Those improvements and road schemes have had an unintended consequence, that is, they have undermined the competitiveness of the major intercity rail network. We, therefore, recommend multimodal strategies to be pursued for those corridors, which strategies would seek to ensure the competitiveness of the railway system and bring about major environmental benefits, such as reduced dependency on the private car and, consequently, reduced carbon dioxide emissions.

With regard to the greater Dublin area, we have identified the need to prioritise projects given a limited budget and we have identified the DART underground scheme as the most promising in terms of potential to boost economic competitiveness, not only in Dublin but in the State as a whole. We have identified the need for potential opportunities afforded by various forms of road-user charging, within and outside Dublin.

I thank Professor Smyth. I am interested in his message on the need for better interurban rail corridors and on road pricing. Will he comment on the investment required to have higher-speed rail? The road pricing question was raised here previously. How difficult would it be to introduce a road-pricing system? How would the system be different from the kind of congestion-charging system that operates in London and elsewhere? What is Professor Smyth's view on the rationalisation of domestic air travel?

I have similar questions. The interesting element of the presentation comprises the suggestions being made on refocusing Transport 21. I accept the factual comments made thereon.

With regard to road pricing, I presume Professor Smyth is referring to charging people for using the motorway infrastructure by way of levying or taxing those who use it most. Does he not believe it is counterproductive to charge people for using large, safe, fast motorway infrastructure, thereby directing them on to rural roads, the very roads we are trying to take them off? While I understand Professor Smyth's point that we need to shift the emphasis to charge people who use their cars the most for the privilege of doing so, the idea of targeting the safest, most efficient roads does not make much sense? What are his views on that? If roads are to be targeted, surely they should be the interurban routes that are not part of the motorway infrastructure. If this were the case, people would be directed on to motorways and out of towns, provided those towns are not their destinations. The idea of introducing new charging mechanisms on the Dublin-Galway motorway, for instance, is such that motorists would use non-national roads to make the same journey to save money. It seems to me to be very counterproductive. The same argument can be made about any of the big motorway infrastructures. Surely we want to try to get as many people as possible onto these roads and to find other ways of incentivising rail and public transport for these journeys.

I have met Irish Rail about this a number of times but in terms of high speed rail what type of targets are realistic in terms of connecting the major urban centres? Presumably Professor Smyth is talking about Dublin-Belfast, Dublin-Cork, Dublin-Galway and Dublin-Waterford and what is his assessment of the current speed capacity on these lines benchmarked, say, against what other European countries have achieved?

I know the Chairman is interested in PSOs. There are a number of regional airports, particularly in the west in Donegal, Sligo, Knock and Galway – although Knock is, arguably, in a different category. What is Professor Smyth's view on the future of these airports because they have a role in those regions as regards driving investment there rather than simply acting as commuter transportation mechanisms? The IDA or Enterprise Ireland will say that it is much more difficult to get companies to locate in towns and cities in the west if air access is cut off. Has this been factored into Professor Smyth's comments?

In terms of freight policy, we had a very interesting meeting yesterday with a private company that wants to use the now disused railway line between Foynes and Limerick. What is Professor Smyth's view on introducing private sector interests to the rail network to use and upgrade disused lines and perhaps compete with Irish Rail on existing State-owned railway infrastructure?

Finally, I was interested to hear Professor Smyth say that DART underground should be prioritised over the Luas interconnection and metro north. Certainly, the impression I get from the Department of Transport is that metro north is being prioritised. Perhaps he might give the committee some more detail around his reasoning there.

I thank Professor Smyth and his colleagues for their work to date on reviewing Transport 21. It is cold comfort to hear that Transport 21 was blind in terms of CO2 emissions, given the graph. I notice that Germany seems to have managed to halt the CO2 emissions growth in its graph, and it would be interesting to compare how it managed to do it when Ireland did not. Perhaps Professor Smyth might give us some indicators on that.

He mentioned the smarter travel plan as a way of, belatedly perhaps, trying to address that runaway train, so to speak. He might also comment on the cycling strategy as well, if he sees this as having a role.

The off-road integrated network, which is commonplace in other European countries, does not seem to have caught on here. It seems to be very much hit and miss and perhaps he could give us advice as regards how outcomes could be more satisfactory in that regard.

I am delighted that the Department of Transport has prioritised metro north, because as a Deputy in north County Dublin, in which Dublin Airport and Swords are located, I believe it would be difficult to justify dropping it at this stage, given that the DART underground and Luas have a certain amount of infrastructure in place already, while Swords does not. I know he said the bus did not get much investment in Transport 21, but from here to Swords, which is less than ten miles, can be a two-hour journey at the moment. I am not sure whether Professor Smyth is telling people that this is satisfactory, or if they can just go and wait. However, they are absolutely hungry for metro north at Dublin Airport and in Swords.

I believe internationally as well there is a case to be made for a link by rail, from the country's largest airport, in particular. There is a report in the newspapers today that seems to be saying the exact opposite, and that metro north from a jobs viewpoint and based on value for money criteria, is very justifiable, even in the current economic context. I just wonder whether the witnesses can come around to that view.

I thank Professor Smyth for the presentation and the document. It is very timely and comprehensive. It highlights the fact that Transport 21 omitted certain key issues such as CO2 emissions. It is very hard to understand that at this time, and why it did not deal with freight, which is a substantial issue as well. Neither did it seem to have any commitment to value for money as part and parcel of the inbuilt mechanism of its operation. All of these are strange factors.

As regards CO2 emissions, the graph we have seen is pre-Transport 21, which is 2006-15, and relates to 1990-2005. Is there a more up-to-date indicator as regards the comparative measurement between various countries because, obviously, the recession has had an amazing impact on Ireland in the context of CO2 emissions?

The other element that needs to be thrown into the equation relates to something that came about after this document was produced in November, namely, the four year plan that we are tied into with the EU and the IMF, where there is a very tight rein, particularly on capital expenditure. The document refers to the fact that we are down from €3 billion to €1 billion, and declining rapidly, so major transport projects are certainly very difficult to come by. They will be like hens' teeth in the future if that type of straitened capital expenditure model continues.

The road network has benefited enormously, and represents 75% of the budget, 89% of which was on interurban and 5% on bus, so clearly the linkage between the main cities was incredible. However, the effect of this has been somewhat counter-productive. It has made the rail system inefficient, costly and by comparison, slower, and also has placed a question mark around the future of the regional airports. While we have improved one element, road transport, we have put the public transport aspect of the rail system in doubt, as to its viability, and now it seems it can only be viable if massive investment is made on the fast-speed option for the future. Again there is a question mark over how much that would cost and whether, in the event, we will be taking traffic away from the roads or from another sector.

We have been operating in a non-interconnected scenario here in terms of the massive road building programme, while the fallout in other directions has been fairly severe and may prove to be an ongoing cost to the Exchequer. Bus, which is the most efficient sector, is the one that has benefited least, by only 5%, in the period under review, so that is a serious matter.

If we look to the future, then, with question marks around rail links to the major cities and the regional airports, what major new projects can be embarked upon? Professor Smyth has given his preference in terms of the major projects in the pipeline as being the interconnector and the Luas underground, with metro north being put on the long finger. The Department of Transport has taken the opposite position and put the other two on the long finger, more or less, and given metro north the nod as being the priority project. It seems to me that neither option is correct. Perhaps the project that should be examined first is the Luas BXD that goes from St. Stephen's Green through the city centre, up through Broadstone and onto the Maynooth line. This will provide a transport link that is needed. That would be the cheapest of the lot. On the other hand, the DART interconnector is not what it proposes to be. It proposes to link the main hubs in Dublin, but it does not. It links Heuston Station but it does not go near Connolly Station. That is a fatal flaw for an interconnector because it does not link up to the second major hub in the city. It bypasses it and links up with the Dublin to Belfast line. Surely that is not good enough for an interconnector. We cannot simply say that Connolly Station is too congested for an interconnector. Surely it has to be adjusted before it is a viable project. It would be a multi-billion euro project similar to the metro north project, whereas the Luas BXD would not. It would open up other things like the children's hospital at the Mater Hospital site and the Grangegorman DIT development that is necessary for 25,000 students. Given the expected rapid decline in capital expenditure, maybe a further assessment might be needed.

I am very supportive of the Smarter Travel initiative. It was rather disappointing to see the Minister come in here the other day and indicate that a large amount of the proposed cycle lanes were not going forward because planning permission had not been obtained and half the money was not being spent this year. The road user charge should be applied either through tolls or through taxing diesel and petrol. It would seem that the extra charge on fuel would be the fairest and simplest to operate, and would avoid the suggestion made by Deputy Coveney that it could deter people from using these major new arteries.

What is the witnesses' opinion on the A5 between Aughnacloy and Derry? It is part of the overall road transport system, even though it is not in this jurisdiction. It is probably the major upfront loading faced by the Exchequer over the next four years. What is their view on the links from Aughnacloy to Dublin? As everything has changed so rapidly, should we develop a new plan with new targets and new priorities, rather than reviewing Transport 21?

I thank the delegation for their presentation. I was struck by the point made a number of times in the presentation that the investment had not translated into a gain in national competitiveness. What kind of transport investment yields a benefit in our country's competitiveness? If we look at the investment that has gone into the interurban routes and examine the amount of traffic now on them, are they over-geared? Was too much done to deliver them?

Professor Austin Smyth

Many issues have been raised by those questions, and I will deal with them one by one. The Irish rail network currently receives a subsidy of around €170 million per year. That subsidy level will inevitably rise as a direct result of improvements to the road infrastructure. The railway has to fight to retain markets and encourage new markets, but most of those new travellers are travelling on discounted tickets. The railway is facing increasing problems with sustaining its existing market share in the face of the improvements in roads. For example, the North-South line was the first to be impacted by road improvements. Its level of use is down by at least 20% from its peak, and this was happening long before the downturn in the economy. This has happened largely because roads have improved so much. The graphs in front of us show the journey time changes that have taken place as a result of improvements to the road infrastructure in comparison with the railway system. In almost every case, if not every case, we will see that it is now quicker to travel by road than by rail.

There are not too many speed cameras on the Dublin to Cork motorway.

Professor Austin Smyth

These are official figures and we can talk about them in some more detail. The essential consideration is that because of this, railways are relatively less attractive and so we have all these discounted Internet-based ticketing systems in an attempt to keep the trains full.

We are proposing that the State has a choice to make. It can either continue to sustain those losses, and those losses will inevitably rise as more people desert trains. It can consider closing lines down, where it is politically tenable, or it can improve the railway system. We are not talking about high-speed rail, because the population probably would not sustain the level of investment, but higher speed rail than that which currently exists. Benchmarking existing Irish Rail performance in speed would put it at the lower end of European performance. At the same time, we have a road infrastructure that is almost second to none in terms of speed, so the consequence is that in order to enable railways to compete, they need to be made much faster.

In respect of the cost of making the railways faster, we have identified indicative figures that would require around €500 million to be spent on the Cork corridor to enable it to achieve speeds of one hour and 45 minutes between Dublin and Cork. There are two things required for the route to Belfast. The first is to improve the capacity of the approaches to Connolly Station - a separate issue associated with the greater Dublin area - which would require something of the order of €400 million to €500 million to enable that route have three to four tracks, similar to the route out of Heuston Station. To enable the line to Belfast achieve competitive speeds would require around €100 million to €200 million to be spent in the Republic of Ireland and in excess of €400 million in Northern Ireland. With such improvements in place, we would have a journey time between Belfast and Dublin of less than one hour and 15 minutes.

If such schemes were to go ahead, there would be an opportunity to provide heavy rail access directly into Dublin Airport. We feel there is an opportunity for Dublin Airport to assume a role similar to Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands. Direct access by rail to the airport would cost a further €400 million to €500 million.

Where would that go from?

Professor Austin Smyth

It would go from the Belfast to Dublin line, north of Howth Junction. Allied with the introduction of three or four tracks into Connolly Station, one could run a dedicated service from the airport to central Dublin which would offer journey times at least as competitive as those intended to be offered by metro north. In addition, one would have direct heavy rail access to a range of destinations throughout the State, from Cork to Belfast. This would represent a complete funnelling of traffic into Dublin Airport, allowing it to assume a role akin to that of Schiphol Airport.

Senator Donohoe referred to economic competitiveness. For an open economy which depends on inward investment and international trade, Dublin Airport is a key factor in competitiveness. Supporting the airport, notwithstanding issues of sustainability, is a vital ingredient in any competitiveness strategy. In addition, a crucial element missing from Transport 21 is port infrastructure. Ports are another key ingredient in ensuring the future success of the economy and their omission is a very questionable aspect of Transport 21. We should address the ports question allied with freight strategies.

Members asked about the costs associated with rail infrastructure. For the intercity network, we are talking in the region of €1.5 or €1.6 billion, of which some €400 million to €500 million would need to be spent in Northern Ireland. We have also identified an investment requirement in the order of between €500 million and €1 billion to enable a more adequate development of the northern suburban routes to Drogheda, as well as direct access to the airport by heavy rail, if required.

On the question of road pricing on interim corridors and the issue of taxing people off the roads onto other routes, we have identified two options. One is to target tolling on the roads in these corridors and the other is to impose a higher tax on fuel. The reason we have not come to a firm view is that a detailed analysis is required to establish the extent to which people would divert onto secondary roads on the corridors. If one is trying to minimise the impact on deep rural areas - places such as counties Kerry and Donegal - one will surely focus on pricing car journeys on the major interurban routes. We would need to look at the opportunities people have to divert to parallel roads, bearing in mind that many of the journeys are of short distance in any case. The crucial issue is that we must provide a way of enabling the railways to compete if we are to maintain an efficient and competitive rail system. It would also generate a revenue stream that could be fed back into public transport to reduce the dependence on the Exchequer for that investment.

Mr. Stephen Wood

On the question of tolling and the effect it might have on pushing people off new roads, the reality is that the level of service improvement in terms of journey times is such that there is fair potential for payments to be made, while maintaining the attractiveness of the new roads compared with the old. While we acknowledge the point being made, we are of the view that there is headway to extract some payment without there being a significant reassignment. What we have in mind is a much more even spread of toll points rather than the current situation where there are only a small number of them. There would be a much more even spread, I hope with some electronic format of toll collection that would make revenues easier to collect and not slow traffic.

Mr. Edward Humphries

Several members expressed concern about the proposal to price traffic on roads that are newly built and the consequent danger that drivers would be diverted to older roads, thus losing the benefits of the new roads. We recognise this is an important political and practical point. However, there are other considerations, including that freight operators are making good use of the new roads and keen to see that usage continue without substantial traffic growth leading to congestion. There is already congestion in Dublin which affects access to one of the country's major ports. A system of selective pricing along the lines discussed by my colleagues might be very helpful to the freight fraternity.

Professor Austin Smyth

Members asked about the relative merits of the metro north project and the DART underground proposal. One of the issues we have confirmed from the work we have done is that in straitened times such as we currently face one will seek to maximise the benefits from the use of taxpayers' hard earned money. If one looks at what is on offer between these projects, we have found that the DART underground project would cost in the order of two thirds of the cost of metro north and deliver twice as many benefits in financial terms. The benefit cost ratio for the DART underground project is of the order of 4:1 under similar circumstances to be assumed for the metro north proposal. The latter, if the costs can be constrained to the order of €2 billion to €2.5 billion, could in best possible circumstances generate a benefit cost ratio of approximately 2:1. Therefore, we are faced with a choice, if funding is limited, between a project that is 50% more expensive than and generates half the benefits of the other. We have not gone into great detail on the Luas cross-city route because we are of the view that it almost answers its own question. Consideration of it is caught up with what happens regarding metro north, given the way in which the system is currently configured.

A question was asked about the A5. I have major concerns about whether proposals in that regard represent value for money either for the Republic or Northern Ireland. However, that is perhaps a discussion for another day.

Mr. Stephen Wood

On that point, there is no doubt that the A5 western transport corridor needs to be improved. The question is whether the physical standards currently being proposed are justifiable and necessary at this time. The standard being proposed in terms of almost a high speed dual carriageway brings with it major environmental impacts, for which the case needs to be proved.

Mr. Edward Humphries

Deputy Coveney spoke about freight and mentioned Foynes in Limerick as a location where there was a private sector interest in providing rail freight facilities. I am not familiar with this proposal which would have to be discussed with Iarnród Éireann. It may be that private money can assist the company in getting more freight on rail in this case, especially if bulk movements are involved. However, I would not wish to comment on who should operate such a service. That would involve all types of other considerations such as the role of the infrastructural authority which looks after the railways, access to the railways by private operators and other complications beyond our remit.

Professor Austin Smyth

On foot of our discussions with Iarnród Éireann, we are aware that there has been something of a resurgence in rail freight from the north west down to Dublin. Forestry products now are being shipped and a new train service has recently started from Ballina. Such developments are to be warmly welcomed and partnerships between the private sector and Iarnród Éireann inevitably will be required if a success is to be made of this. We passed over an issue-----

Mr. Stephen Wood

I am aware of a particular instance of a private rail freight operation, involving unitised freight from the north west down to Waterford in which the private operator actually takes the risk in respect of putting together the loads, thereby taking the risk of operating empty services away from Iarnród Éireann. This kind of partnership between Waterford Port and the private-----

Is there potential to do more of this? The committee had this discussion with Iarnród Éireann.

Mr. Stephen Wood

I understand there is. At present, although the operation is put together regularly, a heavy tonnage is not being moved. What is interesting is that the operator in the north west puts together the load and therefore bears that risk, which obviously takes away from Iarnród Éireann that financial load and risk.

Yes, but a traditional situation obtains there, whereby the Coca-Cola plant uses freight all the time. How realistic is it to develop a rail freight business, given the country's small size? Although I certainly agree with the witnesses regarding the upgrading of rail lines for passengers, is there not a limit to the quantity of rail freight one can develop in Ireland, given its small size?

Professor Austin Smyth

There is a limit to the potential size of the market but a couple of points are worth noting. For instance, there have been a number of initiatives in Scotland in recent years involving engagement between the private sector haulier industry and the railway industry in which, for instance, there are rail freight movements of as short a distance as 50 miles across the central belt of Scotland. They are developed by the private sector and have nothing to do with public subsidies. These are specific identified schemes that were found to sustain enough business to make them worth doing. It also is worth pointing out that both Mr. Ed Humphries and I were involved in developing the cross-Border rail project back in the 1990s. At that time, approximately 15% to 20% of freight in the corridor between Belfast and Dublin was carried by rail. That traffic has all disappeared and it is not necessarily the case that it could not have been sustained in some shape or form.

One last point I forgot to mention was in response to a question on the issue of public service obligation, PSO, air services and what will happen to the affected airports in the future. It is important to realise that the level of subsidy that goes into sustaining the air services, let alone the airports, is approximately €18 million per year. Most of these journeys receive a subsidy in excess of €100 per passenger. It is a large sum of money to commit to a system of air services for which, by and large, given the road improvements, the robustness of the case is questionable. In other words, when Ed Humphries and I arrived at Dublin Airport today, I noted that a flight was scheduled to take off to Sligo. I find it amazing that the State is subsidising air routes of that sort or between Dublin and Galway in the present circumstances and against the background of improvements to the road infrastructure. Perhaps this issue should be examined case by case. Clearly, locations such as the airports in Carrickfinn or Kerry are rather different from Galway or Sligo.

The road to Sligo has not yet been built.

Professor Austin Smyth

I believe it is in progress.

The motorway or dual carriageway has not been built. Once one passes Mullingar, one is on a bad road.

Professor Austin Smyth

Okay, but I am sure it will be improved.

There is no sign of it, so one should keep Sligo Airport open.

Professor Austin Smyth

Perhaps I could go into detail one by one. Deputy Coveney asked a question with regard to the issue of economic competitiveness and inward investment to certain locations. It is interesting to note that apart from some places that are served by subsidised air services, other locations within the internal air route system, such as Cork, do not receive subsidies. The Cork to Dublin route sustains an air service notwithstanding the improvement in the road service and the reasonable rail service relative to other services in the country. I find it hard to believe that those levels of subsidy make a significant difference to the level of investment being made to those locations. In current circumstances, one must question whether they can be sustained in the medium term.

I will return to that topic.

I hope Deputy Coveney appreciates all his questions being answered in his absence. The witnesses are very kind to him because my question about the measures in Germany was not answered. Perhaps it is for someone else to answer it or perhaps I can find out myself if the witnesses do not have an answer to that question. I detect a slight contradiction in that the witnesses highlighted the economic importance of Dublin Airport. Everyone can agree with this and the figures speak for themselves. The perception that metro north is not so critical, however, appears to suggest that Dublin Airport can manage fine without it. That is not a view I hear too often and perhaps the cost benefit analysis is too narrowly focused. I do not know whether a perfect set of criteria exists for a cost benefit analysis but from what I hear, Dublin Airport would benefit greatly from metro north. Swords certainly needs a much better connection given that many people who live there depend on Dublin as an economic hub as well as on Dublin Airport. If a proposal is made to create a rail spur from north of Howth Junction, it starts to sound a little like the debates that took place at the outset of the construction of the Luas. Initially a plan was put forward, followed by a plan that was tweaked, followed by further tweaking and by the time the project was delivered, it was less than had been planned for.

While it certainly might be good business for consultants to have variations on a theme and at least someone will get something out of it, overall I fear that once a plan is put in place, throwing it out brings about an economic cost. I am unsure whether this is included as part of the cost benefit analysis. In an ideal world, we could start again and it is valid to make an argument on the basis. Although we are dealing with a process that has long departed the station, is it correct that the witnesses propose to jettison it?

My final point pertains to the ports. A quite comprehensive study was conducted on Ireland's port needs and, living in Balbriggan, I am aware the Bremore port proposal often refers to it. While it may not have been part of Transport 21, it is still valid as a study on Ireland's port needs. Are the witnesses aware of this report?

Professor Austin Smyth

Yes. If Mr. Humphries will comment on the ports issue, I will revert to the rail question.

Mr. Edward Humphries

We are aware of work that has been carried out in respect of the ports. We are also aware that the policy has been that ports should remain in the private sector and that public money should not necessarily be put into ports because there are strong commercial considerations in this regard, which we understand and broadly support in our thinking. In our report we make the point that reports on ports capacity in Ireland show that over the long term, a substantial increase in capacity will be required simply because population increase comes into play. In these circumstances, the Government may want to support certain port development schemes by enabling them rather than necessarily throwing money at them. All we are stating is that ports should be considered and important transport schemes which can assist ports, such as port road schemes and using more rail, ought to be brought into consideration.

Mr. Stephen Wood

A case in point was Ringaskiddy where a proposal was put forward but because there was no rail head and no possibility for one and because the motorway network had not been extended south to Ringaskiddy, issues were raised about the network being overloaded. This is quite strange because the interurban network exists to try to facilitate strategic movements. However, because the link was not in place, it was perceived that it would have created an overload. This was one of the reasons for finding against Ringaskiddy. I am not trying to point either way on this. I am pointing out that freight needs to be considered and ports need to be thought through.

We are a bit stunned at the stance of the CILT on metro north.

Professor Austin Smyth

It is not a stance. We have not recommended abandoning metro north. In the report, we have recommended that whatever happens, the alignments are protected for future use. We recognise the position the company faces. Looking at it from a purely value for money basis, metro north does not perform nearly as well as the DART underground project.

According to the report it is two thirds of the cost with twice the benefit and has a 4:1 ratio as distinct from a 2:1 ratio. Will Professor Smyth give us some detail on the 4:1 ratio?

Professor Austin Smyth

The cost of the DART underground project is approximately €2 billion for the complete scheme, which involves the electrification of connecting lines into it. We are aware this will generate economic benefits which exceed those discounted costs over the lifetime of the project by a magnitude of four, so four times the cost will be received in economic benefits, much of them concentrated on the economic benefits associated with Dublin city centre as the powerhouse of this economy.

No figures have been publicly released for metro north but we were asked in this review to identify the scale of benefits. Having identified those benefits under the most optimistic assumptions, which do not apply at present, we identified that if one were to identify what capital costs could be sustained by such a project on the basis of generating benefits at a ratio of 2:1 to costs, with a capital investment of €2.5 billion one would generate benefits of approximately twice that figure. We discussed this with the Department and indicated that the figures we came up with for an implied capital cost were very close. I will not quote the exact words, although Mr. Holmes noted them at the meeting, but the capital cost in question is approximately €2.5 billion to €3 billion for metro north. This was our deduced figure and it has been confirmed by discussions, even though it is not being publicly released. Spending approximately €2 billion on the DART underground would generate twice the level of benefits of that which would be sustained by a metro north implemented on the same basis.

What if it comes about through more integrated transport, enhanced movement or economic development? Metro north is seen by Fingal as a catalyst for very considerable on-site and off-site development downstream.

Professor Austin Smyth

The work we did was at a strategic level. We are well aware that for the DART underground project, extensive investigation has gone into the scale of wider economic benefits associated with that scheme. They generate approximately one third of the total benefits associated with the DART underground project. We have not seen the cost benefit details for the metro north project but we estimated them to be a certain level. We then added to those an amount to allow for the wider economic benefits that would accrue to Fingal, Swords and other areas as well as to the city centre on the basis of a judgment on the impact of that scheme in those areas. We have taken a very generous view of the benefits associated with the metro north project and made a very optimistic set of assumptions about the future prospects for those areas in terms of regeneration. This is how we have arrived at this conclusion.

Has the CILT analysed the cross-city Luas BXD?

Professor Austin Smyth

No, because we knew it was complicated by the existence of the metro north project.

Has the CILT examined the negative impact of not having a DART interconnector coming into Connolly Station?

Professor Austin Smyth

No, we have not, but the observations made by Deputy Costello are well worth investigating. The points he made have a logic about them that should be investigated. It comes back to the issue that holding up a developing project would create delays. While substantial investment has been put into developing both projects, particularly metro north, we are of the view that given the skills that have been harnessed by the RPA, it would make much sense for the new organisation to be formed by the merger of the RPA and the NRA to take over responsibility to deliver the DART underground. It could be accelerated to bring forward its benefits. Where money is tight and given the new indications of capital envelopes available to the State, the type of proposal we put forward is affordable. If metro north goes ahead, none of the other schemes will be undertaken in the coming decade. I am almost sure of this.

This is a very important message of which we must take cognisance.

Equally, one might say that if the DART underground goes ahead, it will be the 41 bus that will serve Swords for the next ten years. When putting a cost benefit analysis together, the question must be asked whether it takes account of the social impact of the lack of that infrastructure. Although the DART underground may not be the bells and whistles project which the CILT is favouring, there is an infrastructure issue. In the case of Swords and Dublin Airport, from the point of view of a traveller or a local person, quite a faulty system is in place at present which does not serve the needs of the 21st century. It needs to be balanced.

Professor Austin Smyth

What we are saying is that for the cost of metro north, one could have heavy rail access to Dublin Airport and extra capacity northwards from Connolly Station to serve the suburbs of north Dublin and places as far north as Drogheda.

It would need lines.

Professor Austin Smyth

One would need four and one would be able to put them-----

Is it the intention to knock down a few houses?

Professor Austin Smyth

They do not need to be knocked down. The National Transport Authority, NTA, is working on it and the scheme has been identified to enable this to happen. That is what we have costed into this set of recommendations. On the Deputy's point about Germany, the DART underground proposal is an exact copy of the S-Bahn systems in almost every major German city whereby tunnels under the city centre enable inter-suburban movements by public transport. This is one of the most difficult areas in which to encourage people away from private cars. It would also underpin the vitality of Dublin city centre, which is the engine of the economy. It does far more for the strategic interest of the State and the city than one line connecting Swords to the city centre via the airport. The evidence is overwhelming.

I understand it will require a long lead-in period.

How much will it cost to construct four lines between Connolly and Howth Junction?

Professor Austin Smyth

We have seen figures that suggest it would cost in the region of €500 million to complete the scheme.

Why was this not considered previously?

Professor Austin Smyth

We were invited to conduct a review of Transport 21 in 2006. The institute was far-sighted enough to recommend the scheme at that stage and it is now being considered.

I apologise for my late arrival. I am also a member of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Sport, Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs which was dealing with an issue in which I am involved. Like Deputy Sargent, metro north is close to my heart. The four lines to Howth Junction are fine but what does one do with the rest of the route? There is a huge population to the north west of that line in the housing estates have been built in the areas around Balgriffin, Portmarnock, Malahide and Swords. Having represented the area as a county councillor, I am very familiar with it. The land that would be needed for the project is no longer available and it would be difficult and expensive to start making connections to the airport.

Professor Smyth suggested a four line connection between Howth and Connolly in 2006. Metro north has been on the table since before then. If one was to have a discussion on his proposal, it should have started before the latter became the blueprint for transport policy.

In the context of the traffic problems that arose recently because of snow, with buses and taxis off the roads and people walking home to Santry and Swords, the DART line from Connolly to Malahide was like a cattle truck. I received a number of complaints from elderly people who either could not get on trains or were squashed on board like sardines in a tin. If metro north was up and running, people would not have been discommoded when going to work or shopping and the entire business community would have benefited from an alternative rail route between the city centre and the airport and Swords.

I certainly reject the institute's views on the matter. I recently read in a report that the institute believes metro north does not stand up to a cost benefit analysis. An analysis carried out several years ago indicated a ratio of 1.2:1 and the ratio has probably since increased substantially owing to the falling costs of construction. If one takes account of the economic side-effects, the ratio is at least 2:1 if not higher.

Professor Austin Smyth

Unfortunately, Deputy Kennedy was not here for our earlier conversation.

Professor Austin Smyth

We identified a confirmed benefit-cost ratio for the DART underground of 4:1. The best one can hope from metro north, with the most optimistic assumptions about development patterns in north Dublin and keeping construction costs down, is 2:1.

Does Professor Smyth not accept that the DART only facilitates commuters along the east coast? Those who live inland do not have access to such infrastructure.

Professor Austin Smyth

One will have a DART system which will effectively serve the Portarlington and Sligo lines. A complete network can be brought into operation as a result of the scheme.

But one does not accommodate the transport needs of all of north-west Dublin. Anything west of Malahide will not be served. South County Meath and County Louth also lack decent public transport infrastructure. Fingal County Council and counties Meath and Louth are the fastest growing parts of the country for residential building and population.

Professor Smyth explained earlier that the DART underground would open considerable capacity elsewhere.

It connects the rest of Ireland but it does not resolve the problem for north Dublin.

What alternative would Professor Smyth suggest for metro north? The three north Dublin Deputies are fully in support of that project.

Professor Austin Smyth

Sometimes one faces a situation in which one has to cut one's cloth. We are in that position in respect of the economy. From the perspective of securing maximum value for taxpayers' money, it does not perform as well as the DART underground or the other projects mentioned by Deputy Costello. It is based on a world that does not exist at present. We do not know how long it will take for the economy to recover. We are all aware that the decision to award planning permission for metro north depended on a shortened line due to an absence of development, either proven or anticipated, at the outer end of the route. We are dealing with circumstances which, unfortunately, mean that the scheme is less viable than it may have been two years ago, irrespective of cost savings. In an environment of 75% reductions in capital funding, we need to prioritise.

Surely Professor Smyth must suggest an alternative, such as a bus route through the tunnel to the airport and Swords, if metro north is to be delayed or abandoned.

Professor Austin Smyth

We have not suggested that metro north should be abandoned. We have stated that in the country's present financial circumstances there is a need to prioritise projects to obtain maximum value for money out of the limited funds available to us. On that basis, the obvious conclusion is to proceed with the example of DART underground over metro north.

Given that DART underground will not service north Dublin and the airport, Professor Smyth surely should offer an alternative. I interpret his comments to mean a delay of at least ten years for metro north. What should come in its place?

Professor Austin Smyth

If one considers the airport on its own-----

We are not, however. Metro north would never have been viable going to the airport. It would not have had the numbers. The reason it is going to Swords is because the population of Swords and its environs, as well as south Meath and Louth, would be serviced.

Professor Austin Smyth

I fully appreciate that. Taking it one point at a time, the Deputy asked about an alternative. With regard to the airport element of the package, we have identified a scheme which can be implemented for approximately a fifth of the cost of metro north.

What is that?

Professor Austin Smyth

It is the direct access from the main line to the airport. That scheme is already worked up and is being considered now by the National Transport Authority, NTA.

This comes from the Dublin to Belfast line. It is a spur.

Professor Austin Smyth


Would that involve the four tracks-----

Professor Austin Smyth

That is a separate project. That would also address the problem referred to by the Deputy regarding the overloading of DART trains. It would radically change the capacity on the route and enable a much higher frequency of service to Malahide as well as Howth.

Is there a figure for that?

With due respect, Malahide has a single line in either direction. There would be four lines to Howth Junction but from there to Malahide and further north there is a line in either direction. There is no capacity. One of the biggest complaints I would have is that when the Belfast express train is running, the DART and northern suburban trains must pull off the line to facilitate it. When the northern line runs the DART does not. There is a suggestion that a spur from the Belfast main line to the airport will solve the problem but it will not as people north of Howth Junction will not be served with decent capacities. Land is no longer available, as has been confirmed by Fingal County Council.

Professor Austin Smyth

Perhaps there is a need to go back to Irish Rail and the NTA. A scheme has been identified to enable that to go ahead and I have been advised of the existence of that plan. It has been costed by various sources, ranging from Irish Rail to the NTA, in the region of €500 million.

That is a spur.

We might speak with representatives of Fingal County Council. In the last county development plan, Fingal dismissed Iarnród Éireann's proposal in that respect because the land was unavailable. Driving around the area one can see apartments and houses so the land is not available.

Professor Austin Smyth

I know the line intimately because before my present post I was based in Dublin at the National Institute for Transport and Logistics. I commuted from here to Belfast on a regular basis. To say that intercity services receive priority over suburban services is not true. Most of those trains get heavily delayed because of capacity problems on that line. The issue of increasing capacity on that route would address a range of issues, not just in the Dublin area but also across the Border.

It is interesting to have the discussion. Some €500 million would provide for the spur from Howth Junction to the airport and the witness has indicated a route is possible. Would the procurement agency tie between the NRA and the Railway Procurement Agency facilitate that more effectively than has been the case up to now?

Professor Austin Smyth

It could potentially be done.

What would be the cost of four-tracking from Connolly Station to Howth Junction?

Professor Austin Smyth

There is a figure cited in the document which I must check but it is in the region of €400 million to €600 million.

I suggest the witness does not go near Swords with that view.

Professor Austin Smyth

I am not suggesting that Swords be forgotten about. I acknowledge that we were asked to review Transport 21 and this was a high level piece of work with limited access in time terms. Swords must be addressed as a new issue and dealing with it in the medium term would be a requirement of such an exercise. We are not suggesting that Swords be forgotten about but in the current circumstances - the present economic development and the financial position in the country - it would not be the best use of scarce public funds.

I understand what Deputies Kennedy and Sargent are saying. If we construct a service underground, the integrated service will extend to the south side. It is entirely on the south side other than a bit that crosses over to Spencer Dock and East Wall on the north side. There is no effort to link it with Connolly Station, which would be part of an integrated service. Links with Connolly Station would allow connection to Howth Junction. If there is no link, nothing is being provided for the north side. The witness can say that it is a cheaper and more efficient option, with a better return, but there is nothing for the north side of the city. It is for the south side.

There is also the west of Ireland.

Bringing it to Connolly Station would leave new options. There are limited options otherwise. There is already a line to Heuston Station which serves urban and rural areas, with the DART on the other end of the link between Heuston and Connolly stations, as well as Spencer Dock. What is the point of the interconnector other than it gives a link between Heuston Station, St. Stephen's Green, Westland Row and East Wall? Building the Luas cross-city extension, there would be a link with St. Stephen's Green. There is already a link with Heuston and Connolly stations. An interconnection would be made anyway. The good folk on the north side of Dublin would get a very limited return from the interconnector compared with what they would get from metro north.

I would love to continue this debate with the delegation and perhaps we could meet privately.

Professor Austin Smyth


There are issues that should be considered.

Could we get some more information on the possibility of the link between Connolly Station and a DART interconnector? Will some work be done on the cross-city Luas and potential benefit to the north side of the city in conjunction with links to the south side? What is the cost?

Professor Austin Smyth

The Deputy's point on the cross-city Luas connection makes perfect sense and we are in total agreement on it. It is a smaller scheme and in the timeframe we had the resources were not there to investigate it in detail or complicate it with the metro north position.

The Deputy mentioned a lack of benefits to north Dublin. With the interconnector or underground DART - whatever it is to be called - and the proposed increased capacity from Connolly Station, there would be a significant impact on improving access from a swathe of north Dublin to central Dublin. There would be direct access from there to St. Stephen's Green. A person would not exit a train at Connolly Station.

Where on the north side would see that benefit?

Professor Austin Smyth

From Malahide to the point at which the line splits.

The access already exists to Connolly Station.

Professor Austin Smyth


Spencer Dock is linked to the DART. If the Luas BXD is implemented the service would link to St. Stephen's Green. That is a much cheaper option which provides a link across town as well.

Professor Austin Smyth

We are talking about a route running from north to south, serving axes in four different directions. Not only does it serve the north through the south west and south east-----

There is already a link between Heuston and Connolly stations.

We will have to bring the discussion to a head because we are out of time.

Professor Austin Smyth

In simple terms what we are talking about are direct services without the need for interchange, which is a major improvement.

With the other way the linkages would be provided; that would be far less expensive, go across town and give something to the north side. It is worth considering this, particularly for the Luas, and determining the benefits.

The delegation has given us food for thought, which we appreciate. I have one comment on the issue of PSOs and regional airports. The importance of Galway Airport's PSO is that the airport provides access not to Dublin but out of the country, which is critical. We probably would not agree with the witnesses in that regard. I do agree there is a need for rationalisation of airports in the west, but there is a niche for a regional airport in Galway.

We all agree with that.

I thank the witnesses for their very interesting submission. We would certainly like to have them back. We will not have an election for about six months, so we may bring them back in the spring for a further discussion.

We will send the transcript of this meeting to the Minister and the various other authorities so that the views expressed by the witnesses will be made known to them, although I am sure they are already known. It has been an interesting and useful discussion. I also thank the members for staying on.

Mr. Colm Holmes

I thank the committee for allowing us to make this presentation. I found the comments most interesting. We have taken extensive notes, and we would be happy to take a copy of the transcript; we will use these in our review process. We would be happy to take up the committee's invitation to return early in the new year, by which time our thinking will have advanced.

I wish everyone a happy Christmas.

The joint committee adjourned at 5.30 p.m. until 3.45 p.m. on Wednesday, 12 January 2011.