A NEW €1.3bn tunnel vision for Dublin being unveiled today might raise more than a few sceptical eyebrows and even hearty laughs from stressed-out commuters.
It involves an underground DART running 5.3km in a giant tunnel under the River Liffey between Heuston Station and the Docklands, with stops along the way.
Commuters would be able to take the DART underground through the heart of Dublin city to Christchurch Cathedral.
Throw in DART extensions to Maynooth and Dunboyne and, hey presto, 100 million commuter journeys will have been made by trains instead of cars.
But will it be that simple?
The track record for major infrastructure projects here has not been good. We have two Luas lines that don't meet and massive cost over-runs and delays that clobbered the Luas and Port Tunnel projects, while chronic overcrowding on trains drives commuters round the twist at peak times.
An official project being unveiled today by Iarnrod Eireann and due to go before Bord Pleanala for approval may appear to many to be yet another pipedream.
Like the buses and trains, we wait ages for one, and then along come two or three. We have a raft of plans for Metros and new Luas lines - and now an underground DART through the heart of the city centre under the River Liffey.
Commuters will be waiting anxiously to see if there is light at the end of the tunnel vision for 2015.
However, rail bosses are adamant that the biggest infrastructural project since the Port Tunnel will actually happen, possibly even sooner than the target completion date of 2015.
And the track record of Iarnrod Eireann in delivering new infrastructure and expanding rail services has been very good of late.
The money is there and the underground DART tunnel under the Liffey between Heuston and the Docklands goes out to public consultation today.
Iarnrod Eireann will lodge a formal planning application with Bord Pleanala and start building it in 2010 after the usual Irish-style planning wrangles and compensation claims are sorted.
The underground DART will run from Heuston Station to Christchurch, on to St Stephen's Green, through Pearse Station, under the Liffey before linking up with the new Docklands station beside Connolly.
The line involves:
* Northern line DART services from Balbriggan and Howth, which will branch off the existing line after Clontarf Road.
* It goes underground at Docklands Station where it connects with the Luas line from Tallaght.
* It continues to Pearse, connecting with what will be the Maynooth to Bray DART line.
* It moves on to St Stephen's Green where it connects with the Luas line from Sandyford and the Metro to the airport.
* The line continues underground to Christchurch and Heuston, linking again with the Tallaght Luas, and intercity and commuter rail services before moving above ground to Hazelhatch in Kildare.
The line will quadruple city rail capacity from the present 25 million passenger journeys annually to over 100 million.
Funding for the ambitious project has been committed by the Government in the Transport 21 programme.
The new line will dramatically increase frequency and capacity for commuters on DART Northern, Maynooth and Kildare lines.
The plan includes the extension of the DART to Maynooth, Hazelhatch and Dunboyne.
Rail chiefs are gambling that it will be the single most important piece of infrastructure to convince people to move from their cars to public transport.
Crucially, the new city centre DART underground will link DART, commuter rail, Intercity, Luas and Metro to form an integrated network.
Iarnrod Eireann have yet to decide whether to locate the station directly beneath the River Liffey at the Docklands, with station entrances from both the north and south quays.
Plans for the DART Underground - to be called Dublin's Interconnector - are going on display to allow the public to view station options and routes.
Open days are being held at Dublin City Council's civic offices at Wood Quay on July 3 and 4.
Barry Kenny, Iarnrod Eireann spokesman, said yesterday that the tunnel from Docklands to Heuston Station would complete the transformation of the Greater Dublin area's rail-service capacity.
The Dart station for Christchurch will be located on the High Street area, with three alternative sites on view for the public.
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