All aboard the anti-MetroLink tram: Michael McDowell and The Irish Times just cannot help spread disinformation

Comment & Analysis: The Fingal / North Dublin Transport Study was published in June 2015 it was a fresh look at the different options — bus, Luas, Metro, Dart etc — for serving the Dublin City Centre to Swords route before the MetroLink project replaced the previously cancelled Metro North.

The study was hardly the first look at options — previous transport studies for the city also looked at the options and the wider transport network for the city.

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But that didn’t stop former government minister Michael McDowell from claiming otherwise and it didn’t stop The Irish Times from publishing yet more disinformation about transport projects.

When McDowell wrote: “Before the Metrolink juggernaut becomes an irreversible money pit, should we not spend 12 weeks considering the alternatives for the first time?” was he outright lying or is he that ill-informed about a project he has campaigned against and written so many articles about?

Regardless of which one of those it is, it amounts to not just misinformation but disinformation. McDowell has a record on transport to use whatever he can to argue against what he doesn’t want to happen.

But it’s amazing how much disinformation on transport issues has come from the comment pages of The Irish Times. People should be entitled to their own views and be able to express than, but nobody is entitled to their own facts. Newspaper editors not accepting this has a toxic effect on all sorts of issues.

McDowell’s article was published this morning with the headline “Before Metrolink juggernaut becomes a money pit, let’s look at alternatives” and the standfirst asked: “What is it about the State that causes massive delays and overspends for nearly every big infrastructure project?”

So, you might expect even a tiny bit of substantive analysis on one or two of these issues.

McDowell has accused others of being populist over the years but he’s more than happy to engage in populism when it suits him. He uses most of the article ranting about the costs of different projects with no real analysis of what causes massive delays and overspends when the State gets involved in large projects. No insight of his experience

Just as he has previously used populist tag lines to campaign against the upgrading of the Luas Green Line to metro standard — “Time to STOP the Metrolink madness” — or how he has been reported as calling MetroLink a “monster”.

McDowell is surface-thin stuff dressed up as being informed when he’s so willing to trot out nonsense.

In the article today, he wrote: “We should now pause for a brief three months and ask a simple question. Would surface Luas-type service lines not provide an earlier, cheaper service for Swords and the airport? Yes, it might involve using compulsory purchase and demolition of some suburban homes and buildings to clear a tramway.”

This is quite bonkers stuff. After leading, or at least cheerleading, the campaign against the MetroLink upgrade of the Luas line which was firmly entwined with NIMBYism. Even if McDowell claims he wasn’t engaged as a NIMBY, it was the driving force that blocked the Luas upgrade.

Now McDowell is suggesting, in a housing crisis, the demolition of houses for a tramway? His hate of MetroLink isn’t strong enough to suggest the more practical alternative to bulldozing homes — building Luas lines by removing space and priority from cars.

This should be done. But it’s not really an alternative to MetroLink. The best cities of Dublin’s size build metros and make their surface transport suitable and streets safe and liveable.

McDowell couldn’t even leave it at that. With the little in the article he wrote about MetroLink, he had to come out with even stronger nonsense. He said: “…the new, very light rail technology developed since the existing Luas lines were built could give us a dramatically different transport system for Dublin for the same cost as the Metrolink.”

Any mention of very light rail trams should be treated with scepticism but replacing a high-capacity, frequency automated metro line with very light rail is the stuff of fantasy. It’s clearly coming from someone who hasn’t researched much before they wrote up their column or somebody who is flinging any muck they can in the hope that some sticks and it derails the project.

Very light rail trams are mostly fiction. It is an idea which was developed to appease people who don’t want to invest in public transport. So, it’s not a surprise that it attracts the former minister.

McDowell has repeated over the years that he is pro-pubic transport and pro-rail, but it seems the reality is that he’ll say anything to sound reasonable when arguing one thing and his position will change when it suits him.

Now he’s saying build Luas routes everywhere instead of a metro line, but back when Luas was being debated in the Dail he called for an underground system instead of Luas routes.

In 1996 he said Luas was an “expensive toy train set that will damage the city rather than improve it and will make it more ugly than it is at present, leaving the 90 per cent of those who will not live on the Luas corridors more frustrated and angry.”

McDowell also claimed in the same speech the Dail that “The user rates predicted for the Luas scheme are grossly exaggerated. Given that it is a partial scheme which will only go to certain places, and looking at the experience in a city like Sheffield, it is clear Luas will be of no benefit to the majority of Dubliners.”

The reality is Luas surpassed all expectations for passenger numbers. The passenger estimates provided were highly conservative.

In his speech, he added: “I support the principle of a rail-based public transport system for Dublin. It would have been possible, with decent planning, to have had a system which would have been placed underground — I still believe it is possible.”

It could be claimed that he changed his mind along the way but be it bus, tram, Dart or Metro, McDowell’s contributions look more like he is fitting his arguments to disagree with whatever substantial public transport project is being proposed.

When the national rail review is the subject he says rail is only suitable between certain cities and within urban areas, when Luas was proposed the underground option was better and then when an underground line is proposed he is all for a network of Luas routes. While some of these arguments will align with different readers’ views, McDowell’s arguments will shift to suit what he’s fighting against.

“Must we all sign a blank cheque which is what we are being asked to do?” said McDowell in 1996. It’s a theme with the anti-rail project people — focus on the cost of rail but not on the cost of road projects. When he was challenged in the Dail that the “unified” underground system which he was suggesting as an alternative to the Luas would cost too much he blankly claimed that no such system was being proposed.

McDowell’s record of singing the praises of mass car use and motorway building, getting into knots when people suggest reducing cars or car use, dismissing buses, fighting against rail, and focusing on the cost of public transport but not mass road building should leave nobody is doubt that whatever he wants to label himself, he is the kind of person who has happily flung spanners in the works of progressing sustainable transport in Ireland.

If MetroLink doesn’t go ahead, you can put a lot of blame on the current Government and the previous governments which prioritised road building and then cancelled Metro North at the cheapest time to build such a project — in a recession. But a fair share of the blame will go to people campaigning against it, like McDowell, and newspapers such as The Irish Times which are happy to allow disinformation to be printed over and over again.

1 comments

  1. Thankfully metro will happen but while we wait 2 projects could be started in 2024 and finished within 2 years .First is luas finglas which could be extended to the airport serving new stops at meakstown. Ikea and the airport with little issues regarding route as its mostly greenspace. Secondly if money is provided irish rail could place a line from clongriffan Station to the airport which would link with the enterprise and commuter services and the line track bed is there as its all green field

    Reply

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