THE high-profile €2.5bn Metro North project is set to be shelved in favour of a 20-year-old plan to build an extension of the DART line to Dublin Airport, the Irish Independent has learned.
The Government has ordered Iarnrod Eireann to update the 1991 plan to build a 6.5km spur just after Clongriffin DART Station to the airport.
It is estimated the overground rail project would cost just €300m and provide a high-speed link-up to the city centre at a fraction of the cost of the underground Metro plan.
The move comes amid major concerns about funding the €2.5bn Metro North light-rail system, which was due to run from St Stephen's Green to Swords via the airport.
The DART extension was first mooted in 1991 by Iarnrod Eireann and Aer Rianta.
It was later suggested in 2005 as part of the Government's ambitious Transport 21 programme, but rejected at the time in favour of Metro North.
However, the Government has now ordered the rail company to revisit the plan because it is an affordable solution to providing Dublin Airport with a rail link to the city centre.
Under the revised plan, DART trains would run from Dublin Airport every 15 minutes from 5am to 1am, reaching Pearse or Connolly stations in just over 20 minutes.
The airport DART station would be built next to the airport terminals and would enable travellers from as far away as Greystones, Co Wicklow, to travel direct to the airport on trains.
Land costs would be minimal, as much of the land needed is agricultural and undeveloped, and there would be no need to buy extra trains.
Passengers numbers are expected at 10,000 a day and a park-and-ride site could be built nearby, probably close to the M1 motorway, to allow commuters from Swords to use the service to and from the city.
This and the airport terminus would be the only new stations on the line.
Total construction costs are estimated at €300m, including the cost of purchasing land, and the project could be completed in just three years. Up to 3,000 jobs would be created.
"There's a lot of detailed design and a planning application needed," an Iarnrod Eireann spokesman said.
Transport Minister Leo Varadkar last week said just one of three major capital investment projects would go ahead from DART Underground (€2bn), Metro North (€2.5bn) or the link-up of the two Luas lines, called BXD.
But he also added a fourth project into the decision process -- the DART airport link.
"It is not a new proposal and has been raised before. . . However, if we cannot proceed with Metro North on the basis of cost, it may be a viable alternative," Mr Varadkar told the Irish Independent last night.
"Cost will be a very important consideration when deciding on future investments. We must ensure that any new project is affordable."
Both DART Underground and Metro North are due to be financed under Public Private Partnerships (PPP), where the private sector builds the lines and the State repays the cost over time. But sourcing funding is difficult because of the economic situation.
Mr Varadkar added: "In the absence of available PPPs, upcoming projects will have to be on a smaller scale, with costs running to hundreds of millions of euros rather than billions."
The Government has ordered a review of the capital spending programme which will be completed in the autumn, but it is understood a decision on the airport link could be made before the summer.