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DART service disrupted until 2005

Iarnród Éireann Finally Agree to Christmas Trains After Intervention From The Taoiseach

Dublin rail commuters face even more stress and disruption, it was revealed this week. If you are one of the many thousands of people who travel on the DART every weekend, you may not be able to do so for eighteen months, or possibly two years. Starting Saturday October 11th the southside DART line between Pearse Station and Greystones will be closed every weekend until June 2004 (at the very earliest). The system north of Pearse will be shut at weekends for a further nine months. It’s great the way they give us notice well in advance isn’t it?

While other countries manage to carry out upgrades to rail and tram systems without having to cancel a single one, here in Ireland it seems we don’t feel real work is being done unless there is maximum disruption, and everybody is forced to sit up and take notice. Shutting down train services every weekend for nearly two years may have been grand in the 1960s, but in 2003 people require a decent transport system seven days a week. Iarnród Éireann (IE) say the upgrades are for various works, including the lengthening of rush hour DARTs from six to eight carriages, and the upgrading of all stations to make them fully accessible. Any improvement to any part of the rail network is to be welcomed, but with the delays in the Luas project meaning it’s delivery won’t be till at least 2005, and various roadworks and bizarre decisions taken by Dublin City Council playing havoc with the bus service, right now this is the worst thing IE could do to the city’s people and it’s economy.

With the prospect of less people shopping in the city at weekends, even the Small Firms Association (SFA) have weighed in against the idea. Traditionally city business groups are generally pro-car but even the firmest advocate of the “pile the car parks high” philosophy can see that no weekend DARTs means less money made by Dublin retailers.

“This decision has been made without any consultation and without any impact analysis on businesses trading along the route and in the city centre. It smacks of bureaucratic elitism where the people who are most affected are the least consulted,” said SFA director Pat Delaney.

“Bureaucratic elitism” is one way of putting it, as it wasn’t just the SFA caught on the hop. Just as they were calling for the plans to be suspended for at least the month of December (it being the year’s busiest shopping month), our good friend the Transport Minister, Seamus “Golden Gate” Brennan, came forward to announce that he too was in the dark about the proposal, and that he would be talking to IE about it immediately.

We think he’s taking his “just like one of the common folk” routine a bit too far this time. Lets make this clear: He is the Minister for Transport and he claims not to have been informed in advance of the plan to close the DART line every weekend till sometime in 2005. Strange stuff, considering at the very least there was a rumour of this doing the rounds in rail circles for weeks, and that IE say they informed the Department of Transport months ago. At this stage we have to wonder who isn’t telling who what, and what kind of grip Brennan actually has on the Transport portfolio

To make matters worse for the minister, faced with demands from him for the DART line to be opened for December weekends, IE refused, drawing attention to the fact that the minister has no power to intervene. As if to highlight Brennan’s impotence, it was the Taoiseach who made the announcement to the Dáil that the chairman of CIE had agreed to suspend the work for the month of December. Rumours of an impending cabinet reshuffle continue to abound.

Rail Lobby group Platform 11 have also weighed in, welcoming the investment in Dublin’s rail infrastructure while pointing out that underfunding of the rest of the rail network has left some of it near collapse, literally. This city/rural divide was put in sharp contrast this week with the collapse of a rail bridge in Tipperary.

“In the early 1990s the main Subway line through Queens, New York went through a massive rebuilding programme. Ironically much of the work involved the replacement of a viaduct several miles in length running along the heavily used Queens Boulevard. Neither normal passenger services, nor weekend trains were affected. The work was done at night and during off-peak hours on a line with traffic numbers which would make the DART look like a rural branch line in Scotland,” says Derek Wheeler of Platform11.

“For 58 weeks, the New York Transit Authority needed to rebuild the line, they still kept the line opened on weekends as unlike Irish Rail, the NYTA realises that we no longer live in a 9-5, five days-a-week world.”

Replacement Servicesdisbanded route 8, or something quite like it, is brought into service. Even in the event of getting a bus, unless you’re a commuter ticket holder, you will be expected to pay for whatever number of buses you use, even if the lack of a DART means you have to catch two or three buses to get to your destination, as many people will inevitably have to do if they wish to get from one station on the DART network to another.

All in all then, it’s a total disaster. It means more justified anger and frustration with public transport for the general public, many of whom will take to their cars and add to the already clogged streets of Dublin. It’s also a public humiliation for the minister, who it seems hadn’t even read whatever paperwork was doing the rounds in his own department regarding the DART upgrades, and needed to be bailed out by Bertie. Well at least with the DARTs running during December Seamus will have no bother at all catching an AerDart to pick up some duty free, surely some comfort there for us all.

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