Monday 12 July 2010

Digging up Dublin: six years, two drills, one big traffic jam

Traffic chaos could be on its way back to Dublin with the building of the proposed 18km-long Metro North railway, but its project manager claims the multi-billion-euro plan will cause minimal disruption to those living around – and above– the construction.

A great big bore: the route the proposed Metro North will take through Dublin city and it will pass some famous landmarks such as Trinity College and the Spire

The first step in a process that will bring traffic chaos back to Dublin's widest thoroughfare will begin next month with the anticipated granting of a railway order for Metro North, the largest ever civil-engineering project in Ireland.

The project will involve the removal of historic statues, the tearing up of St Stephen's Green and the partial draining of its lake, the demolition of buildings, tunnelling under homes, the revision of bus routes, the spending of billions and the employment of thousands .

Twin boring engines will rattle their way under the surface of the capital, crawling at 15 metres per day for around two years until their epic underground voyage reaches its 11km-long conclusion.

"It's a very significant undertaking. It's 18km long and there wil be a lot of complex work in the city centre," project manager Rob Leech told the Sunday Tribune.

"It compares very well with [a project in] Vancouver which is just opened. It's uncannily similar in terms of length and numbers of stations and they have the same sort of constraints [in the city] that we have here."

While those behind the project are awaiting the final order and permission from the government, things are already underway.

Two tender 'packages' for works have already been released, one in relation to St Stephen's Green and the other for a heritage contractor to take care of statues and monuments.

The enabling works, which will kick in at the beginning of next year, are essentially those carried out to lay the groundwork for the mammoth build – utilities like gas and water pipes, electrical and communication lines, all scattered and winding their way around the underground caverns of the capital, have to be moved to allow for the tunnel.

Soon, work will be carried out on Westmoreland Street and O'Connell Street as well as at Parnell Square and on the Mater Hospital campus.

There will be significant utilities works between Albert College Park and Santry Avenue, over a stretch of about 2.3km, and minor works are required at St Patrick's teacher training college, all along the route of the train line that will bring passengers from the city to Swords in less than half an hour.

Digging on O'Connell Street will be carried out in a piecemeal fashion over 12 to 15 months in order to stick to the ethos of the project: minimal disruption to the public.

"What we have committed to is keeping two lanes of traffic open at all times so that even when there is work going on the lanes will still be there," said Leech. "All access will be kept open to retail outlets and car parks. While there is construction, and it will involve certain disruption, there are key objectives that we have held onto."

The main contract for the stations and the drilling of the tunnel will be awarded towards the end of 2011 with most of the heavy works beginning in 2012. The target date for completion is 2016. This will be followed by a period of trial runs with passengers anticipated by early 2017.

Metro North will feature 17 stations, nine underground and eight at surface level, with a 3km stretch of a six-metre high viaduct at the northern end of the line.

"The [trains] will travel at at least 70kmph but there is nothing to stop them running faster than that," said Leech. He explained that the capacity could rise to as much as one train every two minutes, in line with the London Underground.

The project manager is keen to allay the fears of residents who are concerned about giant mole-like machines boring through the rock beneath their homes. North Dublin residents had similar fears during the construction of the Port Tunnel.

"We have had extensive consultation with the public and home owners and have introduced a property protection scheme," said Leech.

"We can never say never. Tunnelling by its very nature does cause vibration which does cause minor cracking [but] if it is demonstrative of cracking we will pay to have it rectified."

Sunday Tribune

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