Why all must get on board over Luas upgrade

At the St Stephen’s Green Luas Stop: Minister Varadkar with Werner Hoyer, President of the European Investment Bank.

 

My decision to proceed with Luas Cross City was a no-brainer in my opinion. It’s the missing link in Greater Dublin’s rail transport network. It will connect the two Luas lines at long last and connect the Luas network to the Sligo/Maynooth line.

This fantastic €368 million project will transform public transport across the city centre. People from all over the Greater Dublin region will benefit, as well as those travelling to the capital from across Ireland.

When I was appointed Minister, one of my top priorities was to decide which one of four major rail projects should go ahead. All four projects have merits, but resources are so limited that we can only afford one project at this time.

In terms of the benefits for passengers, and the project costs, Luas Cross City was a clear winner. Metro North and Dart Underground are also good projects, but just too expensive at this time. Luas Cross City is close to one tenth of the cost of Metro North or Dart Underground.

Another alternative – providing an airport spur from the northbound Dart line – would limit the potential for future services to Belfast, Louth and north County Dublin, and services to Howth would have to be downgraded.

We also looked at a new form of bus transport – Bus Rapid Transport – effectively a tram service using buses. But it’s too early to proceed with BRT just yet because it still requires a lot of planning and design.

All sorts of new journeys will become possible by rail for the first time with Luas Cross City. Passengers will switch easily between the red and green Luas lines in the city centre and from mainline rail to Luas at Heuston, Connolly and Broombridge. New journeys like Dundrum to Leixlip, from the 02 to Cabra, or from Tallaght to Trinity College will suddenly be possible by rail.

Luas Cross City will run through the city centre from St Stephen’s Green to Broombridge, near Cabra. One section will run in a loop up O’Connell Street, and back across a brand new bridge on Marlborough Street. The other will continue as a spur to Broombridge where it will connect with the Maynooth rail line. The old station at Broadstone and the new DIT campus at Grangegorman will be on the new line.

It has the potential to reduce car journeys through the city, and bring 10 million more passenger journeys to Luas.

Luas is a real public transport success story. It will carry more passengers than the entire Irish rail network when Luas Cross City is completed, and more passengers than all the airports in the country combined. It has operated largely without a subvention and will return to profit shortly.

As for Luas Cross City – it has a great business case, and the potential to create direct and indirect employment for 800 people during construction.

Preliminary work starts on Luas in just a few weeks’ time. There will inevitably be some city centre disruption, but we want to work closely with local traders and have set up a forum which meets regularly. The National Transport Authority is also setting up a website and information office to provide information and regular updates for businesses, residents and commuters.

For the future, the very nature of light rail means it can easily be extended by bolting on new lines and spurs. The docklands extension has been operating well, and in 2011 we opened another new line to City West. I want to see more lines and spurs being added at a later stage, such as a line to Lucan and a spur to Finglas.

There was more good news last week when the European Investment Bank expressed an interest in investing in Luas Cross City. We already have full funding for this project, but an EIB investment would provide cheaper funding, and mean savings for taxpayers.

Luas has been a great success for Dublin, and the Railway Procurement Agency which built Luas is now selling its skills in other European countries. The new Cross City line will transform public transport in the city. Let’s all get on board.

This article was first published in the Irish Independent.