We’ve been unable to discover if it’s an urban myth or not, but one thing you often hear in Dublin’s drinking holes is that had Irish independence been put off for a few years, the British would have built an underground system for us to rival that of London or Paris. Of course, a cynic would point out that had we an underground system dating back to that time, it would now be so under funded that it would be at the point of collapse, literally. Considering the one tunnel we do have in the city barely gets used, and Irish Rail don’t even like people knowing it exists, it’s unlikely that the underground would be in a good state today.
So what’s on the cards for the future? Faced with a figure of €4.8bn, and a completion date of 2016, from the Rail Procurement Agency (RPA) (the ‘geniuses’ behind the delayed and clipped LUAS project) the Oireachtas Joint Transport Committee has been hearing presentations from various interested parties. We thought we’d cast an eye over them and see what’s on offer, and what might actually make it from the drawing board and into real life. The Madrid Experience
If there’s the name of one European city on the lips of every metro advocate in Dublin, it’s Madrid. Professor Manuel Maynar Melis, the man behind Madrid’s metro system, addressed the committee saying that it would be simple to build such a system here. He said it could be done cheaply, and in a short space of time to boot. Melis doesn’t think much of the Irish way of doing things though [for the record, neither do we]. For one thing, he told the committee, there are 500% more people than necessary working on major infrastructure projects in Ireland.
Melis also had no time for the habit of the State wasting cash on “consultants who consultant with consultants and advisers who advise advisers”, something that has dogged the metro project here from day one. His timeline for consultation and construction is nice and short too, the plans for digging and building could be ready by Feb 2004, with a two to three month consultation period following that, with appropriate changes as a result of consultation being finalised during the following fortnight. After a couple of months of tendering the work, tunnelling could begin, and by November of next year the carriages could be ordered. Stick to that schedule and by the end of 2006 we would have a functioning underground rail system.
“Most consultants will tell you (that) you need years to design a metro but this is not the case. Any more than a year and it costs more money and more time. When they built the channel tunnel it took them two years to design the carriages, that was why it was such a financial disaster. In the next three years you could have a metro. But it would be tunnelling 24 hours a day, 365 days a week, no holidays. But as engineers this is our life. If you want to build a metro it is a serious business,” Professor Melis told the assembled TDs and Senators.
“In Paris at the beginning of the century they built the metro from foundations to opening in 20 months. They had no plant and machinery. Why do consultants tell us that now, 100 years later, it should take five or six years?”
The 24 hours a day, 365 days a week comment strikes a chord. Walk down Abbey Street some evening or weekend afternoon and bask in the sound of silence, because you won’t see any construction going on, ditto the M50, ditto the Port Tunnel. The powers that be go to great lengths to put these projects out to tender, and yet we still allow them to take huge lengths of time, because the work only goes on 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. This is ridiculous, and for one of the projects vital to the economic well being of our first city it simply shouldn’t happen.
Melis also told the committee that there were several other ways for them to keep the costs down. It’s legally problematic for the State to dig under peoples homes without permission, even if they are digging twenty metres underneath. So why spend years in court, simply change the law, and then buy the land for an affordable price. His ideas on keeping health and safety cost low were interesting too, use two tracks in a single tunnel, to allow for a safety train in the event of an accident, operate at speeds of less than 80kph to reduce the risk of deaths in a crash and, finally, make sure the health and safety folks are involved from day one, not brought in later on as an afterthought.
The Dublin Metro Group
The Dublin Metro Group (DMG) said that they could build a metro for Dublin at a cost of €600M, using the expertise of their partners behind the Madrid project, with the project being completed by 2007. Their version of Dublin’s metro would involve small tunnels and simple stations, with lines servicing Dublin Airport and places like Templeogue. They would also like to construct an orbital line which would link up the current (and proposed) Luas/Irish Rail lines at Bray, Howth, Blanchardstown and Sandyford.
“Madrid proves that in the normal world, metros get built quickly for reasonable cost,” said Cormac Rabbitt, DMG spokesman.
The condition of their being allowed to construct it: they’d like to run it for 30 years.
“The metro should be approached as a business opportunity which requires a State grant to get off the ground, and not just as provision of infrastructure by the State,” continued Mr Rabbitt.
The presentations by DMG and Professor Melis greatly impressed the committee, and a written recommendation is being made so that the group can present their plans to the Cabinet infrastructure subcommittee.
Committee chairman Eoin Ryan said that the committee would really like the ideas to be possible. He praised the Spanish system, although he cast his doubts as to whether current Irish law is up to the job of planning the endeavour.
“I think it is increasingly obvious that we need a common good law whereby some developments, particularly in the case of an underground rail system, can be built without large scale planning delays,” Mr Ryan said.
Other Rail Initiatives
Irish rail would like to spend €1bn on a tunnel linking Connolly, Pearse and Heuston, Joe Meagher Managing Director of Irish Rail says “If you provide this interconnector, then Connolly with Heuston perhaps via Stephen’s Green then you are really penetrating the central area. You are bringing people to where they want to go.
“The DART has shown what the railway can do and I have absolutely no doubt that if the investment that’s in place now continues over the next couple of years, the railway will play an ever increasing role in Dublin and in the GDA.”
Yes the railway is very important, and with the right people running it, it could play a massive role in the economic and social success of Dublin. Having said that, perhaps Joe could tell us why he feels it necessary to spend such a huge amount of money on such a tunnel, when one already exists, with dual tracks, connecting Heuston and Connolly (and therefore, via existing rail links, Tara Street and Pearse)!
Representatives of Platform 11 spoke to the committee on this very subject, referring to the tunnel as “…the best-kept secret in the history of urban rail transport anywhere in Europe.”
Their plan is for existing resources to be used in a system they call the Crosstown Shuttle (with the rail lines referred to as a D-Connector). It could be put in place now, it would be cheap, only requiring some work to get Spencer Dock and Phibsboro stations up and running, and could use existing rolling stock.
The RPA dust off old Luas plans and present them as new.
The statutory body who are meant to be sorting out our Luas and metro systems is the RPA. It seems they are seriously miffed that the general public have realised that they have had the wool pulled over their eyes all this time, and that it really isn’t necessary to spend billions to get Dublin moving again. In response to the above submissions to the Oireachtas, they suddenly produced the new figure of €3.4bn (one must presume that it never occurred to them to tunnel for 24 hours a day before). This was still too high, so they went over their plans with tip-ex and came up with a plan costing €1.5bn.
We hate to break it to everybody, but since no newspaper has noticed we thought we’d share the real facts here. This plan isn’t new, it is, in fact, a stunted version of Luas Line D (Broadstone – Ballymun and Dublin Airport ) and Luas Line E (St. Stephen’s Green – Broadstone ). These plans are over 3 years old!
The RPA say that money will be saved by building functional stations that do not have “elaborate architecture” and tunnelling 24 hours a day. They have also abandoned plans to loop around the city linking rail stations to the metro system, and connecting with the Luas at Stephen’s Green, instead it would take a direct route through the city with stops at O’Connell St and D’Olier St, with an underground moving escalator connecting D’Olier St with Tara Street. So, in essence, to save money on an integrated transport system they are going to cut back on the integration.
The Powers That Be
So where do we stand? The government has yet to make any really firm commitment to any of the current plans, but they have said they will bring forward the suggested “common good” law to make the metro a reality. Also, it looks increasingly likely that the Minister, Seamus Brennan, will throw his weight behind the current RPA proposal. Brennan has also spoken to Professor Melis of the Madrid project and as impressed by what he discovered.
“The Dublin metro is back on the horizon and agenda,” says Seamus Brennan. “The Government will now consider this fresh information and decide how to proceed.”
“The Government asked me to look at the Madrid situation and I was very impressed with what I saw. This won’t be done without some pain and that pain is the loss of the luxury of a consultation period. We want the two and a half years period to be brought down to eight months. Issues of Environmental Impact Studies, Rights of Appeal, Compulsory Purchase Orders, house ownership and 24-hour tunnelling will be addressed in a Dublin Metro Bill,” said Brennan.
Everybody knows that any bill like this will result in massive court proceedings, and will probably require an amendment to the constitution. If it is successfully put on the statute book, and survives court challenges it could mean that future infrastructure projects will be faster and cheaper, something which can only be a good thing.
A Metro By 2006?
With some hard work, and some decisive action, we think that the metro could indeed be open, or at least close to completion, early in the second half of the decade. That may be overly optimistic, but all the project really needs is the will to get it done, as Madrid has shown it needn’t cost an arm and a leg, and if done properly it would contribute greatly to the health of the city.
It is disappointing that integration with existing rail and bus stations looks set to be abandoned, but if done properly the metro system should be expandable beyond phase one. In our opinion, expansion should begin, or have already begun, when the metro opens, linking up with Luas line B, and extending service out to places like the Finglas and Blanchardstown areas.
So lets pull the finger out, stop talking about it, and start building the damn thing.