I propose to take Questions Nos. 54, 66 and 182 to 184, inclusive, together.
As the Deputies are aware and as I mentioned earlier this afternoon, Project Ireland 2040 confirmed the DART Expansion Programme as a key investment priority to deliver a comprehensive public transport network over the next decade.
As part of the DART Expansion Programme, it is intended that a DART service will be provided on the Maynooth line and Kildare line as far westwards as Maynooth and Celbridge respectively.
The continued economic growth and increased employment levels have seen demand increase across the rail network and particularly in the GDA. Currently, with the existing rail fleet fully deployed at peak times, the National Transport Authority (NTA) in conjunction with Irish Rail are examining options in the short, medium and longer term for additional train capacity to meet the increased commuter services demand across the network.
As well as the introduction of 10 minute DART schedules, we have already seen an expansion of services through the Phoenix Park Tunnel and new services on the Maynooth, Kildare and Northern lines.
In the medium term, the challenge is to source additional rolling stock as efficiently and effectively as possible and ensuring value for money for the taxpayer in that regard. Accordingly, the NTA and Irish Rail have been exploring two options:
1 The purchase or lease of second-hand fleet;
2 The purchase of additional carriages for the existing “ICR” commuter fleet.
In relation to second-hand fleet, the NTA recently advertised for expressions of interest and are considering the responses received. Of course there’s an added complication with that option given the different rail gauge we use in Ireland. I expect a decision on which of the two medium term options will be pursued will be made very shortly.
In the longer term, work on developing tender documentation and train specifications for the proposed bi-mode fleet of rail vehicles is progressing. It is expected that the formal fleet acquisition tender process will be initiated in the next few weeks and that the fleet manufacturing contract will be awarded in Quarter 2 of next year.
The enhancements to the heavy rail system provided for in the NTA’s ‘Transport Strategy for the Greater Dublin Area (GDA) 2016-2035’ will create an integrated rail network which will provide the core high-capacity transit system for the region and will deliver a very substantial increase in peak-hour capacity on all lines from Maynooth, Hazelhatch/Celbridge as well as Drogheda and Greystones.
I acknowledge the fact that at certain times of the day, some rail services are currently crowded due to the level of demand. Deputies can be assured that the safe operation of the rail network and services is the overriding priority at all times of both the company and of course the Commission for Railway Regulation which is the independent, statutory body charged with overseeing the safety of our rail network.