PHASE ONE of the reopening of the Dublin-Navan rail line has been granted planning permission by An Bord Pleanála, making it the first project approved under the new fast-track planning scheme for major infrastructural projects.
Iarnród Éireann applied for permission to reinstate the Clonsilla-Dunboyne section of the disused line last September. The board signed the railway order yesterday, one of the fastest turnaround times achieved for an infrastructural development in the board's history.
Rail, road, waste-management and energy-related applications have in recent decades taken several years to secure planning permission. However, the Strategic Infrastructure Act, which came into force last January, allows such applications to be handled directly by the board, rather than first having to be dealt with by local authorities.
This change significantly cuts the length of time taken to process applications. The fast-track approach to planning has been criticised for removing the local democracy element from the planning process; however, the board maintains that there is still public involvement, with oral hearings and the requirement of local authorities to submit a report, which includes the views of elected representatives, on any development occurring in their area.
The reopening of the Navan line is part of the Government's Transport 21 programme. The 7.5km stretch from Clonsilla to an interchange with the M3 at Pace near Dunboyne, is due to open in 2010, with stations at Hansfield, Dunboyne and Pace. There will also be a park-and-ride facility at the M3 interchange at Pace, with parking for up to 1,200 vehicles, making it the largest public transport park- and-ride facility in the country.
The journey from Pace to Dublin will be 33 minutes, with trains leaving every 15 minutes at peak times.
The remainder of the line to Navan town, a 21km stretch, is due to open in 2015. However, no planning permission has yet been sought for this stage of the development. The journey time to Dublin from Navan would be about one hour.
The Navan rail line closed in 1963, but trains have not stopped in Dunboyne since 1947. Iarnród Éireann chairman Dr John Lynch said yesterday that he was delighted with the decision.
"Together with the current four-tracking of the Kildare route, the recent start of work on the Cork-Midleton line reopening, the ongoing work on phase one of the Western Rail Corridor plans, not to mention Dart underground, we are on the brink of the most significant expansion of our rail network in 100 years."
An Taisce also welcomed the decision but said it was disappointing that the extension of the line to Navan had been put on the "long finger" and that the M3 motorway would be built ahead of the Navan rail link.
While hundreds of applications have been made by State organisations and private companies seeking to have their projects considered for fast-track planning decisions, just six other projects have been deemed eligible for the process and are awaiting decisions by An Bord Pleanála.
These are a natural gas-fired turbine at Toomes, Co Louth; a liquid natural gas plant in Co Kerry; a container terminal in Ringaskiddy, Co Cork; the west Dublin Luas connection from Belgard to Saggart; electricity lines in Galway, and electricity lines in Co Leitrim.
The Irish Times