Monday 14 March 2011

Further delays to Metro North 'not an option'

FURTHER DELAYS to Metro North in Dublin are “not an option” and could undermine the State’s ability to seek investors for other major infrastructure projects, according to unpublished Government briefing material.

Officials at the Department of Transport say the options facing the Government are to either scrap the proposed 18km rail link from St Stephen’s Green to Swords or proceed quickly with enabling works.

They say the two bidders involved in the procurement process for the planned Metro have invested significant sums of money in keeping their teams mobilised.

“If the project does not proceed based on this competition it is highly unlikely that bidders with the requisite skills would invest the substantial sums required to put another bid together,” the briefing material states.

“This could also have a serious impact on the credibility of the Government as a counter-party for PPP [public-private partnership] deals for other major infrastructure investment projects.”

Fine Gael and Labour’s programme for government does give a firm commitment to funding Metro North, but it pledges to support high-capacity commuter services subject to cost-benefit analysis.

The full extent of the exchequer budget for the project has not been disclosed as officials say the figures are commercially sensitive. Well-placed sources, however, say it would be in the region of €3 billion.

The latest estimates on the business case for the Metro, prepared by the Railway Procurement Agency, estimate it would yield €2 in economic benefits for every €1 spent on its construction.

Officials also estimate that it could create about 4,000 construction jobs, as well as 2,000 other posts linked to the project during the construction period.

Records indicate the State has already spent about €135 million on planning, diverting utilities and works on heritage for Metro North.

A further €45 million is expected to be spent on similar works this year, according to records released under the Freedom of Information Act.

This brings the total spend on Metro North to almost €175 million before the project has received formal Government approval.

While the Fianna Fáil-Green Party coalition agreed an undisclosed budget for the project in January 2008, it will fall to the new Government to confirm whether it intends to proceed with the project.

Last Mayr the board of the European Investment Bank approved a loan of up to €500 million for Metro North.

Two consortiums have been short-listed to build the Metro.

Some commentators have advocated scrapping Metro North and focusing on the proposed Dart Underground scheme on the basis that it would be cheaper, benefit more passengers and yield a greater economic return.

This project involves a tunnel linking the Docklands and Inchicore which would provide underground stations in the city and link existing rail systems such as the Luas and Inter-city trains.

In unpublished records, department officials say a straight comparison between Metro and the Dart Underground are difficult as they have different objectives.

They state, however, that the Metro plans are at a much more advanced stage, while the Dart Underground could take another 12 months for planning approval.

Given the pressure on the public finances, the previous government announced last year that it would not be possible to fund the Dart project in the near future.

Irish Times

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