PLANS BY the Railway Procurement Agency (RPA) for an extensive network of Luas light rail lines in Dublin – as put forward in late 2004 – would cost about €3 billion to implement, according to official documents.
The documents were only released by the Department of Transport this year after an Irish Times Freedom of Information Act request in November 2005, along with an appeal to Ombudsman and Information Commissioner Emily O’Reilly.
Although many figures in the documents were blacked out, it is clear that the Department of Finance was sceptical about the RPA’s assumption that 24-hour tunnelling could be used to cut the cost of its Metro North project – estimated at €4.58 billion.
The department queried Iarnród Éireann’s cost estimate for its “Dart Underground” project – a link between Heuston Station and Spencer Dock – saying it was based on a cheaper single-bore tunnel, “unlikely to proceed” for safety reasons.
In addition to the proposed 18km metro line between Swords and St Stephen’s Green, the RPA’s Light Rail Investment Strategy 2004-2014 envisaged 13 new Luas lines, of which only one (Connolly Station to The Point) has been completed so far.
The list included an extension of the Sandyford Luas line to Cherrywood, now under construction, and joining the two existing lines serving Tallaght and Sandyford in the city centre.
Other lines were: O’Connell Street-Sillogue (Ballymun), Sillogue-Swords, Cookstown-Citywest, Lucan-city centre, Cherrywood-Bray, Whitehall-Howth Junction, Red Cow-Clondalkin, Clondalkin-Lucan, Lucan-Blanchardstown and Blanchardstown-Ballymun.
The combined route length given in the strategy is 83.6km. Based on the disclosed capital cost of €260 million for the 7.5km Sandyford-Cherrywood line and €130 million for Cookstown-Citywest (4km), the overall cost would work out at €2.926 billion.
Cost estimates were based on an average of €35 million per kilometre, sufficient to include “significant structures” such as bridges as well as the diversion of utilities such as electricity, gas and water lines from the track-bed.
The Docklands extension was more expensive, at €65.05 million, mainly due to the need to protect sensitive underground cables. At 1.57km, including a bridge over Spencer Dock, this works out at €41.4 million per kilometre.
The RPA’s business case for the Docklands extension assumed the city link between the two existing Luas lines and the Sandyford line extension “are in place and that trams operate on the network from The Point to Bride’s Glen”.
Although the 2004 Light Rail Investment Strategy said development of a permanent link between the Sandyford and Tallaght lines “should now be considered as a matter of urgency”, no application for a railway order has been made.
In making its case for the city centre link via Dawson Street, College Green and Westmoreland Street, the RPA’s “strong view” was that this would involve no duplication with the proposed metro, saying they would have “distinctly differing” roles.
Another document dealing with funding options for the Sandyford- Cherrywood line noted that more than 50 per cent of the capital cost would be covered by the private sector, in the form of development levies, as well as the provision of land free of charge. Given the virtual collapse of development activity along this corridor, it is uncertain how much of the capital cost has been – or can be – recouped from developers.
In late 2004, after the introduction of the Tallaght and Sandyford Luas lines, the RPA proposed that it would carry out feasibility studies for light rail lines in Cork, Galway and Limerick. None of these studies has proceeded.
INFORMATION OFFICER: HER VIEW
THE OFFICE of Information Commissioner Emily O’Reilly is minded to uphold the Department of Transport’s view that the release of estimated costings for major public transport projects such as Metro North in Dublin would not be in the public interest.
After the Department of Transport refused to release information that would show the likely cost of any of the projects, an appeal was made to the Information Commissioner in March 2006. As a result, some further documentation was subsequently released.
Anne Moran, the investigator dealing with the case, agreed that “there is a public interest in ensuring the accountability of Government for decisions made that involve large sums of public monies, especially where cutbacks have been made in all areas”.
She also said there was “a public interest in ensuring value for money in the improvement of State infrastructure [and] in minimising the risk that more taxpayer money might be spent on the projects than would otherwise have been necessary”.