The real scandal of Dublin’s MetroLink — continuous delays and drawn-out timelines

Comment & Analysis: We shouldn’t be just building MetroLink, but we should also be already planning the next line, for example, an orbital metro. A metro line in Dublin would have been cheaper if it was built as planned. The original Dart network would have been even cheaper.

The cheapest time to build large-scale projects is nearly always decades before you do. Inflation and other cost pressures ensure that this is generally true. Delays and prolonged timelines mean extra costs.

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It’s healthy, to a degree, to have armchair transport planners. We should have an extensive debate around building multi-billion euro projects and if they are right. The problem comes when those armchair transport planners and others start questioning the basics of rail transport when those questions have been answered over and over since the 1970s or at least since MetroNorth was proposed.

Or, for example, question the need for a rail line when the actual professional transport planning for the project is sound and you haven’t read enough to know that it isn’t.

I’m no stranger to armchair transport planning — I still think one of my best ideas was replacing MetroLink with a combined intercity and Dart service. But once a project develops to a firm stage of planning, the amateurs need to give it a break.

I don’t think anybody should blame individuals for this. Our national ability to discuss large-scale rail projects has been hampered by decades of bad-faith arguments by those against public transport investment (the type of people who question if we should build rail projects at all), and a national media all too willing to allow disinformation to flourish and act as a bystander when challenged. The public well of ideas has been poisoned.

If the opponents of rail projects really cared about taxpayers’ money, they would have advocated for the projects to be built quicker. For the record: I think it is more than ok to mention that spending large sums of money would be a waste on X project if you think that project is not worthwhile, but is a bad faith argument to centre arguments on cost and for that to feed into delay which actually costs millions per year.

But it has not just been opposition which has poisoned the well of ideas, media reporting on the issue of rail has been atrocious.

Take for example today when the Committee of Public Accounts (PAC) released a report outlining how it is concerned about cost and delay issues associated with Metrolink.

The bulk of the media online (including print and radio media) mangled this story. Most watered-down the delay factor element and most shockingly make out that costs relating to three projects (1) MetroLink, (2) the abandoned Metro North and (3) the abandoned Metro West project are all belonging to MetroLink.

And confusing clarifications deep within articles really are not enough. Some news articles don’t even have that details. The media could be hammering the Government for such a long drawn-out timeline for MetroLink, instead, it’s getting the story wrong to the point of mainly just making things up.

These errors then seep into radio show discussions (where the discussion is led by presenters who have show sponsorships or personal deals with car companies… or presenters who want to keep the door open to such deals).

Both online and in the media, the same things are mentioned again and again — population density, that there are other ways of serving the airport, that some other project could be built quicker etc.

The facts counter these: Despite the myth that refuses to die, Dublin actually has a similar population density to most other EU cities who similar populations but which have built metro systems and other underground railways (and these projects also allow for greater density); MetroLink — like MetroNorth before it — is not about just serving the airport; the largest population in Dublin is still within the M50; and the prolonging of project delivery is not only an issue for MetroLink, it’s also suffered by the relatively simple 3.9km Finglas Luas that will mainly run along parkland and it’s also a problem for Dart+ which mostly includes upgrading existing railways.

There are maybe some questions to be asked about our planning system being fit for climate action. But we’re really not there yet. The vast bulk of delay is at the political and civil service level, aided by people who oppose public transport investment and the media who (with some notable exceptions) have allowed bad-faith arguments to keep surfacing.

We really need to get beyond rehashing old debates and focus on the delays and lack of delivery on MetroLink, Dart+, Luas projects and other much-needed public transport projects.

5 comments

  1. I recall buying my home and thinking only 3 stops on the metrolink to work, cant wait! I looked forward to getting rid of one car. That was 22yrs ago! Less than that til retirement, not expecting to see its fruition before then

    Reply
  2. It’s funny to think that if cie had have been allowed do it’s job we would have had a dart to tallaght via inchicore a proper central bus exchange and a metro system all up and running in the late 80s . Successive government changes and developers stopped it all

    Reply
    • But also Temple Bar would have been flattened, which, while it has it’s issues, is still a good addition to the city.

      Reply
  3. While you are correct that the focus should be on implementing what has been agreed, there is surely room for discussion of potential interim measures given the huge delays such as a rail line branching off somewhere between Clongriffin and Portmarnock heading about 4km across green belt land to the airport. CPO the land and it could be done in 5 years. Not perfect but a big improvement, much like reopening the old Phoenix Park tunnel improved western commuter rail services considerably.

    Reply

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