13/03/2019 - 12:00
By Jed van de Poll
A privately-funded rapid transport network is being proposed for Dublin. Jed van de Poll, Dublin Metro CEO, explains an alternative to the Government-supported project Metrolink Metro Dublin has a grand vision for the capital city’s public transport. Metro Dublin has a grand vision for the capital city’s public transport.
It is possible to put our network underground forming a ‘backbone’ for mobility in Dublin. Through a desire for a better quality of life and sheer frustration, Dubliners understand the need for a mass transit public transport system.
A European Commission Report in 2016 warned ‘a key weakness in Ireland’s economy is the lack of a Dublin mass transit system… critical for competitiveness, environment, quality of life, housing and mandatory emission reduction targets’.
Well — here are just a few reasons:
This year was scheduled to see the completion of Metro North. The genesis of that noble venture goes back to 1975 when CIÉ’s general manager John Byrne announced the Dublin Rail Rapid Transit System (DRRTS) for the new towns of Ballymun, Blanchardstown, Tallaght and Clondalkin.
In 1990, however, CIÉ dropped the proposal in favour of a tram system. Five years later, the Dublin Transportation Initiative (DTI) approved three tram lines on the basis that they best met the transport needs of the city in terms of capacity, long term passenger demands, and at a bargain basement price of £220m.
Approved by Government, the plan was modified by Mary O’Rourke, then minister of transport in 1998 following submissions from Senators David Norris and Feargal Quinn together with Dr Maurice Roche and the Cormac Rabbitt, who is now chairman of Metro Dublin. Their metro plan, from Sandyford under the city centre to the Airport (Metro South–North), was also passed by the Dáil.
Subsequently, together with a Japanese consortium, Metro Dublin proposed to build the proposed Metro South–North and it was the then taoiseach Bertie Ahern who gave the go-ahead for the Metro North element at a cost estimate in 2002 of €3.8bn.
A year later, it was extended to Swords and, in 2007, procurement began on a slimmed down version costing just €2.74bn. However, the then transport minister Leo Varadkar, cancelled the plans in 2011, stating the need for a cheaper solution.
Last year, the National Transport Authority (NTA) announced a brand new plan, MetroLink from Sandyford under the city centre to the Airport and Swords — sounds familiar — to cost €3bn. As we can see, the cost of Metro North/Link is something of a moveable feast.
A December 2014 article in the Irish Times quoted a figure of €3.7bn for Metro North alone and €4.1bn for a DART underground. We can have confidence in these figures as the NTA assured us at the time that they had been independently evaluated.
Let me borrow the NTA’s own words from the same source — when referring to early costings of ‘Metro Dublin’s’ plans -— when I say that the NTA’s figures for both the cost and completion dates for ‘MetroLink’ are “completely unreal and fantastical”.
Does the taxpayer, and the public, think it is about time someone else had a go? Metro Dublin has a grand vision for Dublin transport. The NTA, on the other hand, has a small vision.
Don’t get me wrong — it’s not that the NTA can’t think as big as anyone, it is just that their vision is limited by the size of the public purse. Exchequer borrowings are maxed out. With Ireland’s national debt standing at €198 billion in August 2018, the European Central Bank will not allow government to further increase the figure.
Public infrastructure projects will have to be funded out of current earnings. Since MetroLink will cost somewhere between €3bn and €9bn, the cost will have to be spread over the next 10 years.
The NTA’s project methodology binds them to the ‘iron law of mega projects’ over budget, over time, over and over again. So the public cannot expect any ribbon cutting on the proposed new transport system before 2030.
In order to build any metro, a ‘Railway Order’ must be secured and the progress of all applications is governed by the NTA. Naturally, being a government body the NTA would like full control over all that happens in transport infrastructure — but this is not their function.
Indeed the NTA establishment Act requires them to actively seek and co-operate with developments such as Metro Dublin which they have, so far, failed to do. At rush hour, Dublin is the ninth most-congested city in the world— and we are on the verge of gridlock.
At any moment, the right sort of incident in the wrong place could bring the city centre to a standstill. We need radical thinking to solve Dublin’s mobility problems — we need a radical approach.
Metro Dublin will build 94 kilometres of Metro (46 km underground), 62 station stops, creating 19 major transport hubs, delivering 250 million passenger journeys per year by 2025.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar may be reminded of his desire to see a less expensive solution and his written comment about Metro Dublin project in 2014: “…if we could build an underground system in Dublin for significantly less than the Metro North/Dart underground proposals, in a much quicker timeframe and without needing significant subvention then I’d support it unequivocally. As I am sure Dublin City Council’s members would as well.”
Metro Dublin won’t cost the Irish taxpayer a red cent and our team whose chairman Mr Rabbitt is one of Ireland’s most experienced transport civil engineers is assisted by Prof Dr Manuel Melis Maynar who has completed a larger project, in less time and with a smaller budget.
Prof Melis is the world’s number one metro builder whose achievements were described by the World Bank as “superb” and “... from which the whole world could learn” from a veritable modern-day Brunel. Metro Dublin has already introduced Prof Melis to Minister of Transport Shane Ross.
Imagine, for a moment, taking 250 million people off Dublin’s roads annually. And we have been deliberately conservative with our figures. Munich with a smaller population than Dublin delivers over 400 million passenger journeys per year with its modern 110-kilometre of metro.
Contrary to what people might think, the efficiency of a mass public transport system lies not in population density but in geography. You have to feed the beast a central underground loop — six radial lines from Ashbourne, Swords, Donaghmede, Rathfarnham, Adamstown and Blanchardstown will converge on the city centre feeding the underground loop line in the heart of the capital.
As so much of the track is underground, no GAA pitch or apartment block or such will be demolished or disrupted in the building of the network. But the real beauty of such a system is the way in which it links Dublin communities together. Swords with Sandyford, Ashbourne with Adamstown, Blanchardstown with Bray.
It is generally agreed that modern public transport infrastructure should not be seen as a social service for the underprivileged and others who don’t have their own transport but rather as an economic stimulant — protective of the environment and one of the necessities of civilised urban living. Dublin is the 20th richest city in Europe — Munich, on the other hand, is number nine on the list due in no small part to its mass public transport network.
The reaction from the authorities to Metro Dublin’s proposals has been, to say the least, tepid. Rather than asking Metro Dublin to explain how we are going to achieve our proposals, we are met with ridicule and dismissal by the very organisations that have presided over a 44-year hiatus in Dublin’s planning for transformative underground transportation.
That level of can’t do, inaction and obstruction are what typifies the establishment response to Dublin’s need for a joined-up mobility infrastructure.
There are others in the political establishment who support Metro Dublin such as former lord mayor Andrew Montague who now chairs the Planning Policy Committee, Cllr Ciarán Cuffe chairman of the Transport Policy Committee and the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport stated that Metro Dublin has “knowledge and many skills that are appropriate for the building of a Metro,” and its “knowledge could be harnessed for the development of the Dublin Metro system”.
In recent weeks, the announcement that the southern section of MetroLink is to be abandoned is just another example of the muddled thinking that has beset this project.
If Dublin is to achieve its stated goal of becoming a ‘smart city’ it needs to row in behind a can-do organisation like Metro Dublin. Dublin city and county will never be ‘smart’ until all of its communities are linked by a mass rapid transit network. We are the only group offering a transformative solution to Dublin’ mobility problems by the mid-2020s, in stark contrast to other sclerotic, incremental and confused proposals slated for 2030!