Media reporting on Dublin’s planned MetroLink is, at best, lacking context

Comment & Analysis: It’s perfectly possible to report residents’ concerns and also outline the context of those issues and overall of a major project like MetroLink, the planned high-capacity railway between Swords in north County Dublin and the southern edge of Dublin City Centre.

But the media has largely failed to do this in a string of stories that have emerged from the Railway Order oral hearing being held in Dublin as well as the wider debate around it on radio shows.

Let’s set the record straight: Metro routes are a normal part of the public transport mix for cities the size and density as Dublin, nobody really signs off on mega projects such as this or Crossrail in London etc because of a cost-benefit report but rather because politicians see the value in it for the next 100 years, and there will be disruption to people’s lives caused by the construction.

There’s no doubt that the construction of underground railway stations is going to be disruptive. There’s no way around not having some level of disruption. The goal should be to build it in a way that prioritises safety, especially for those outside of cars, and minimises disruption for residents, especially in their homes.

“Are we in Amsterdam here?

A prime example in terms of cycling and media coverage is comments reported from Paul Cusack, who is listed in documentation as representing residents of Ballymun Road (various media have different names for a named association/s which he represents). Anyway, Cusack was reported by The Irish Times as saying: “Are we in Amsterdam here? Who is going to use 370 bike spaces?”

The Irish Times reported that he said: “We believe that that is a ridiculous number of bicycle parking spaces. It’s tempting to say this is the green agenda gone slightly overboard.”

The MetroLink planning reports, however, outline how the 370 spaces represent only 37% of the predicted demand for cycling to the station. The station’s location beside Collins Avenue makes it ideal for cycling — for example, it’s about a 25-minute walk to Omni Park Shopping Centre, but it’s only a 7-minute cycle, or over a 30-minute walk to Finglas Village but just a 9-minute cycle there.

As far as I can tell, is the only publication that has reported that MetroLink stations are planned to have bicycle parking for just 28% of the predicted demand. This fact is in publicly available documents and was highlighted by the Dublin Cycling Campaign.

But not only does most of the media not report that Transport Infrastructure Ireland, the lead transport body on the project, is going against its own predictions on cycle parking demand, but we also have some usual anti-cycling nonsense reported without that context.

Cusack was quoted as saying that replacing car parking with bicycle spaces is unfair because those spaces are needed by elderly people going to church and parents with young children going somewhere (maybe to the school across the road?), none of whom can cycle, according to him.

The thing is, bicycle parking is not what replaces all of the parking spots — it’s also trees and improved public space in front of the church.

And the scattered layout of bicycle racks (seen in the below drawing as lines in batches) isn’t the best approach for bicycle parking at a train station, it’s better to be centrally cluster parking and mainly in a building with secure access. The problem here goes back to TII and the NTA being unwilling to do a decent job at providing bicycle parking.

For me, the most disappointing intervention into MetroLink wasn’t from residents or politicians but from environmentalist Duncan Stewart. Last year, when Stewart was awarded the Freedom of Dublin City, it was reported that he promised to “embarrass politicians who act against the environment.”

As far as I can tell, Stewart hasn’t used his profile to shine a light on any politician acting against the environment. Instead, he went on Newstalk last week and repeated the myth that project, which has 15 stations, is “primarily” about Dublin Airport”.

This is a basic myth about the project, which covers 14 stations away from the airport, including three stations in Ireland’s third-largest town, stations in Ballymun which have been promised a rail connection for so long, some of the highest density areas of the city centre, connections to buses in a number of locations, connections to the two separate Dart+ lines at a new Glasnevin interchange station beside the Royal Canal, and connections to Dart an Luas in the city centre.

While Stewart, an architect and former host of the brilliant and sadly discontinued EcoEye programme on RTE, might not be expected to know about the financing of MetroLink or similar projects, he seems very focused on cost.

It’s one thing to discuss which public transport project should be built first at the earlier stages, but pitting the sustainable transport projects against each other should be seen as a red card offence. It’s nearly Tory’s recent approach to High Speed 2, which was supported by some environmental groups, but the reality is far more complicated, including a large percentage of the “reallocation” going to roads.

There are a number of options for funding mega projects like this, but they haven’t been discussed because far too many people want to debate whether the project is worthwhile at all. Again: Metros are normal parts of the transport systems for cities around the same size and population density as Dublin.

Those who make public pronouncements claiming otherwise have no credibility when it comes to rail-based public transport.

That includes Colm McCarthy, who has a history of opposing rail projects such as Luas and Dart. He was given time to talk at the MetroLink oral hearing by Senator Michael McDowell, who shared his time. When it comes to rail, McDowell has nearly as poor of a record as McCarthy.

McCarthy also has pushed the idea that the project is mainly about Dublin Airport, which it clearly isn’t.

McDowell and Fianna Fáil TD Jim O’Callaghan have also strongly argued for the removal of the Charlemont station. While it’s mentioned in some articles that TII has an “ulterior motive” to extend the line into the Luas Green Line.

Any article I could find did not provide the context that the line was stopped from joining the green line because of campaigning or interventions by many local politicians. The reason why there’s a slightly unusual end point is because the very people now saying to cut the route even shorter.

In the future, a route extension could link with the green line, but there’s also there’s nothing to say that an extension could not be routed from Charlemont to other locations, such as towards UCD. But removing the station now would cut the usefulness of the main project even further and significant cause delay and further risk to it.

It’s worth saying that not having the project spec pinned down is seen as one of the major factors in the National Children’s Hospital price tag way over the starting estimated price. Anybody who really cares about the cost should be looking to minimise major changes at this point.

Lidl’s “proposed” development which isn’t really proposed

Irish Times on March 11th reported, “Metrolink will not support proposed 15-storey tower block in Ballymun, hearing told,” and with a standfirst: “Lidl Ireland said it will be unable to build apartment and supermarket scheme if tunnels not redesigned”.

First paragraph: “Proposals by Lidl Ireland to build a 15-storey tower block in Ballymun must not be stymied by the development of Metrolink, the supermarket giant has told An Bord Pleanála’s hearing on the €9.5 billion rail line.”

Summary of issue with this article: TII has been in talks with Lidl, who owns the site beside the Northwood MetroLink station, for years, but it’s only in the 10th paragraph that the reader learns that there are no actual proposals; it’s fiction which exceeds the development which Lidl has been in discussion with TII. Burying this context near the end of the article is bad enough, but the effect of repeatedly claiming there is a proposal when there’s no such will make it very hard for readers to take in what’s actually said in the 10th paragraph.

The 10th paragraph reads: “Senior counsel for Lidl Eamon Galligan said the fact the proposed development was revealed for the first time at the hearing was ‘of absolutely no relevance’. It was not he said ‘an application which is about to be made or anything like that’ but rather ‘an exercise to present a development which accords with the [Fingal] development plan'”.

This is legal speak for saying we’re acting in bad faith, but we’re claiming otherwise. I don’t know how anybody can claim in good faith that talking to the transport authorities for years about how a site can be developed around a metro station and then springing a whole other design on them at an oral hearing is anything but acting in bad faith.

“Nothing short of a nightmare”

The next day, March 12th, we’re then treated to another Irish Times article headlined: “Metrolink: Residents’ lives will be ‘nothing short of a nightmare’ if Ballymun station plan goes ahead” and a standfirst: “Seven-year construction period would close church and put children ‘in the middle of a building site’, hearing told”.

This is the same article mentioned above regarding bicycle parking.

The Ballymun Road, where the station is to be built, is a six-lane dual-carriageway. If there’s anywhere a station can be built with a smaller-than-normal impact on motorists, it’s here. St Mobhi Rd down the road is a far more confined location.

The main focus is on car parking and motorist delays when the plans include keeping a bus lane and traffic lane open at nearly all times. Nobody seems too worried that the construction plans include a sub-standard-width and non-segregated cycle lane through a building site, including right beside a barrier at one stage, which will cut the effective width even further.

The local resident associations combined have been making circular arguments and other arguments that just don’t add up.

Then we have the arguments about where the Collins Avenue station should be built. We’re told don’t build the station in front of Our Lady of Victories Catholic Church in Glasnevin; and, instead, move it down to the park beside the Ballymun Road entrance to DCU.

Moving the station a few hundred metres down the road will just result in another set of residents being aggrieved more rather than the current set being annoyed. That’s not being flippant, it’s the reality — somebody is going to be impacted by the construction of a metro station unless it’s positioned where it’s of little use to anybody.

It’s quite something that we can get headlines about “TII accused of ‘withholding information’ on MetroLink” on about the emergency access/vent located in the park, which is viewed as too extreme while we’re also being told that a station (which is much larger) should be built in the park.

As a DCU graduate, I’d say the stop closer to the DCU’s Ballymun Road entrance would be better for servicing the university, but, in the grand scheme of things, there’s not a huge amount of difference between the coverage of such a station and a station near the junction with Collins Avenue.

However, having a longer distance to walk or cycle from Collins Avenue to the park would make it a far poorer interchange station, especially for orbital buses but also for people walking and cycling along the road. TII gave a presentation about it yesterday, which can now be found online.

Then there are arguments about the level of construction traffic, such as whether a station at the edge of the park would result in fewer trucks, etc.

This kind of mix of circular and nonsensical arguments has been going on for years. Any journalist covering MetroLink who has done a rudimentary search of previous articles should have found these issues.

One of the main productive things we’re hearing about within some reports is that TII is getting agreement from different people and groups and that means those people are not presenting at the oral hearing. But that doesn’t generate headlines.

Concerns about the project should be aired and addressed, but I’m just not sure “he said, she said” type of reporting when it’s lacking vital context serves anybody well when this isn’t a Court case and won’t have a Court-like outcome.


  1. Thank you for reading this stuff so we don’t have to! The sad truth is, whatever their agenda, the media will breathlessly report the likes of Colm McCarthy and people mentioning ‘the green agenda’ because of their inherent entertainment value. As you indicate in your penultimate paragraph, there are plenty of respondents supporting the project and TII, but it’s hard to get apocalyptic headlines out of pointing out the likely long-term benefits.

  2. I’m all in favour of a Metro for Dublin, but don’t see why massive above ground stations are needed on the tunneled sections. Having just spent a week in Lisbon, which has 4 Metro lines, most of the stations seem to be almost completely underground, with nothing to show that the station is there except signs at the stairs and lifts leading down to them.

    • Except for maybe the large interchange station at Glasnevin, which will also be an Irish Rail station serving two Dart lines, the end result will be the same — most stations won’t have a large footprint at street-level.

      Mostly just the estimators/stairs and the lifts, just like Lisbon etc.

  3. These residents associations are a complete joke. It’s always the same retirees wedded to their cars who are in charge of them. People working and commuting with or without families don’t have time for this nonsense. I’d imagine the vast majority of people in Ballymun/Glasnevin are in favour of Metrolink but they have these self-appointed nimbys misrepresenting them. They’re an utter curse on this country!


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