Specifications for Dublin's Metro North to be released later this month are to concentrate on 90-metre trams as opposed to the higher capacity heavy rail carriages, the Railway Procurement Agency has confirmed. Tim O'Brien reports.
The confirmation comes amid mounting concern over capacity problems on the existing Luas lines as well as fears that Metro North could suffer similar peak-hour capacity problems within a decade of opening.
The Irish Times has learned the RPA was advised by some of the bidders for the Metro North contract that even if it opts for the narrower 2.4 metre tram system, it should build the tunnel wide enough to later convert to 2.8 metre carriages.
The RPA has also been told that comparable capital cities to Dublin, including Prague, Hamburg, Vienna, Berlin, Lisbon, Munich and Madrid all utilise the higher capacity, wider-bodied carriages in their undergrounds.
Munich, which was the subject of a Department of Transport visit in 2005, uses a "low capacity metro" at 2.8 metres wide, and is capable of carrying in excess of 30,000 people per hour in each direction , some 50 per cent more than the 20,000 capacity of the proposed Dublin underground. Dublin's Dart which can be up to 170 metres long has capacity for 36,000 people per hour per direction. The capacity issue comes as RPA planners face criticism over passengers being left on the platform during the morning rush because trams are full. A Dublin City Business Association spokesman, Tom Coffey, said "to be credible the underground has to have a capacity of about 35,000 people per hour in each direction.
"We can't have a metro which is going to reach capacity six years after it opens. There is no going back to widen a tunnel after it is built and this infrastructure should be designed to last 100 years, as it did in London and elsewhere," he maintained.
The issue also comes as a two-day conference on infrastructure heard details of a Dublin Institute of Technology Futures Academy report which predicted population on the island would rise to seven million people by 2020, with about 1.5 million extra people moving into the Dublin Belfast corridor.
A number of commentators including the head of the National Roads Authority Fred Barry said the population increase - similar in size to the existing population of Dublin - would require another large-scale increase in public transport. Mr Barry said the increase would result in demand for much more rail transport as part of "a successor to Transport 21, a Transport 22, if you like".
However, speaking at the conference the chief executive of the RPA, Frank Allen, said he was "absolutely confident" that the capacity of 20,000 people per hour in each direction was sufficient for Metro North.
He remarked that just "isolated parts" of the London and Paris metros were operating above that capacity and it would be very hard to find other examples in cities in Europe. He said he was "very, very confident" of the capacity of the 90-metre carriages operating at a two minute frequency during peak times.
Mr Allen said the population forecast in the Fingal County Development plan was more pertinent than the all-island forecast. Metro North was, he said, "fully integrated with population projections" and "Fingal is absolutely confident that the capacity is more than is required".
The Irish Times