IARNROD Eireann is to order almost €900m worth of new DART carriages as part of the biggest expansion of the company's fleet in its history.
The rail operator is to seek suppliers for 432 DART carriages to deliver increased capacity as part of its 'Transport 21' programme which will see new services, extensions to existing lines and higher capacity for commuters delivered over the coming years.
A list of suppliers has been prepared as part of a tender process to seek the new carriages which represent, by far, the largest carriage order ever made by the company.
Previous tenders for carriages have worked out at €2m each -- meaning the bill for this order could hit €864m.
The tender reflects the expansion of the electrified network planned under 'Transport 21' with DART extensions expected for Maynooth, the northern commuter line and Hazelhatch on the Kildare line.
The DART Underground (interconnector) from Dublin Docklands to Heuston -- a 5.2km underground second DART line through the heart of the city centre -- will integrate all rail lines into one network, and will allow passengers to travel from Belfast to Cork without leaving Iarnrod Eireann property.
The company has already seen significant expansion of the DART fleet, which has doubled in size from 2000 to 2004 from 80 carriages to 154.
But with the network set to grow, and frequency improvements planned, the fleet size is now set to multiply.
In the Greater Dublin area alone, a range of projects are proposed which will see DART and commuter passenger numbers increase from over 33 million in 2006 to over 100 million by 2015.
The company plans to select a supplier in 2009, and it is envisaged that the 400-carriage order will be placed in two phases -- with the first phase to be delivered in 2011-12.
"One of the major benefits of a funding framework like 'Transport 21' is that we can align fleet orders to the development of the network," a company spokesman said.
"We can deliver capacity improvements to commuters, and optimise value for money for taxpayers in our investment programme. In addition, the extension of electrification across a wider Greater Dublin network will lead to considerable environmental benefits, as well as the economic gain from developing a high frequency, integrated network."
The company stresses that the money will be available for the carriages, despite the economic downturn.
Meanwhile, Bus Eireann is to use double-deck coaches on busy commuter routes, paving the way for more people to be carried on individual vehicles.
Within weeks, the company will take delivery of 90 buses, worth nearly €30m, which are earmarked for use on city and commuter services in Cork, Dublin, Sligo and Dundalk.
A total of 32 of the double-deck buses will be used in Leinster for medium to longer distance commuting routes in and out of Dublin. Another 10 will be used in Dublin and Cork for medium and longer distance commuter routes. And 48 single-deck buses will be earmarked for use in Cork city, Sligo and Dundalk.
The double-deck commuter coaches are likely to be used on the 109 Dublin-Cavan route serving Navan, Kells and Virginia and the 111 Granard- Dublin route serving Athboy and Trim.
Most will enter service early next year.