A DECISION on whether the planned Metro North for Dublin will go ahead is unlikely to be made until early next year, it emerged last night.
The Government has indicated it would not approve the light-rail system until the final cost of building the 17km line was known, despite the Railway Procurement Agency (RPA) having already spent €33m on the project.
The company which wins the contract to design, build and operate the system will not be announced until November, after which it will negotiate with the RPA over a final price. This process could run into early 2009, sources said last night.
And any delay to the project could have serious knock-on effects. The Ballymun Regeneration Scheme, expansion of Dublin Airport, development of a new town of 100,000 people in Swords and retail outlets, like Ikea, are all relying on the train route, and if it is put on the long finger it could have a "damaging impact on Ireland Inc", industry sources said last night.
Yesterday, Taoiseach Brian Cowen refused to say if the project, announced with great fanfare in 2006 under the Government's Transport 21 programme, would go ahead.
Speaking in Tullamore, he said that major projects had to be "considered and approved at the relevant time on the basis of the fullest possible information available", adding: "There's no suggestion that we made a decision not to proceed with the Metro North."
Metro North will run from St Stephen's Green to Lissenhall, north of Swords, via Dublin Airport, and is expected to cost at least €3bn. Planning permission will be sought in September, and work is due to begin in 2009 with a four-year timetable.
The Department of Transport confirmed at least two cost-benefit analyses had been carried out, one by the RPA and a second by the Department of Finance.
The RPA said it had spent €33m on design, ground investigations, utility mapping and preparing an Environmental Impact Statement, and that the economic case for Metro "greatly exceeded" its costs.
Last night, opposition parties called on the Government to "come clean" on the future of the Metro project, with Fine Gael Transport spokesman Fergus O'Dowd saying there was a "lack of co-ordination" between the departments of finance and transport.
"Up until yesterday, it was assumed Metro North was going ahead, as indicated repeatedly by the transport minister. But now the finance minister is throwing doubt over a number of major infrastructural projects by saying they will only go ahead if it can be proved they will deliver value for money.
"Thousands of commuters and new jobs depend on the planned Metro project and they need clarification on whether or not it will go ahead," he said.