Wanted! 250 metres ‘DART’ in the West

De Facto
Wanted! 250 metres of the ‘dart’ in the West

Liamy MacNally

THE Government Capital Investment Programme is aptly named.  It benefits Dublin.  It does little for the west, apart from a few mentions.  It stifles the best and most sensible project that has been laid before the Government in years, namely the Western Rail Corridor.  It is the sole project that ticks all the boxes except one.  It is not in the capital. 
That fault line finds a course through a Cabinet that does not appear to be remotely interested in balanced regional development.  Its practical application is as far removed from the Government aims as the DART and LUAS are from the Western Rail Corridor.  Between now and 2016 over €12 billion will be spent on capital transport projects.  Of that, almost €6 billion will be spent on the Metro North and DART Underground. 
The DART Underground is 7.6km or 4.75 miles long.  At a cost of €2 billion this works out at €421million per mile!  Phases 2 and 3 of the Western Rail Corridor can be completed for the cost of just 250 metres of the Dart Underground, circa €30million!  Ouch!  That would ensure the Western Rail Corridor blooms as far as Claremorris. 
From there it is only one small step for mankind on to Collooney in Sligo and, hey presto, the Western Rail Corridor is reborn!  For the record, Dublin’s Metro North will cost around €4 billion!  That reads €4,000,000,000!  The Western Rail Corridor is only the crumbs from the infrastructural table and even with Green Party Ministers and our own uncrowned king, Dev Óg, approval could not be given for Phase 3 from Tuam to Claremorris.  In fact, Phase 2 from Athenry to Tuam is even long-fingered.  Common sense and Cabinet meetings are not sweet bedfellows.  
West-on-Track campaigners note that: “At a time of high unemployment in construction, the WRC offers a ready to go, labour intensive capital project, requiring no land acquisition, at a cost of less than €2 million per mile.  It is understood that the Ennis-Athenry section of the WRC has come in well under budget at approximately €70million, so the balance of the €106 million allocated for Phase 1 can go a long way towards rebuilding to Tuam and Claremorris and connecting Galway to Ballina, Westport and Castlebar, as committed to in Transport 21.” 
Demand on Phase 1 is more than double expectations.  Last week Transport Minister Noel Dempsey indicated €400million for Phase 2 of the Navan Line and Phase 1 is not even open!  No worries here about demand!
Infrastructure Investment Priorities 2010-2016 - A Financial Framework – the Government’s Capital Programme is worth quoting from: “In addition to reduced demand in a number of areas, improved value for money is now available in the procurement of public infrastructure: tender values are now somewhere in the region of 30 percent lower than those prevailing at the peak of the market.  It is therefore the case that a very substantial level of capital stock can be achieved with a lower level of exchequer resources.  Capital investment can contribute to employment creation – estimates of the labour intensity of investment in infrastructure across sectors are in the range of eight to twelve jobs created per €1 million invested.  Given the pace at which unemployment has risen over the past year, supporting employment must obviously be a key goal of policy.” 
The report goes on: “Among the key trends discernable from the new direction in infrastructure investment are a move away from road transport in favour of public transport, reflecting the fact that the motorway network between Dublin and the main regional centres is substantially complete and a high-level policy shift in favour of public transport…”
The report states in Section 4.2.2 Public Transport Programme: “The strategic objective of investment in public transport is to provide Ireland with an integrated public transport system which supports economic competitiveness, relieves road congestion, promotes environmental sustainability and is integrated with other transport modes.  The economic justification for intervention in public transport is not uniform across the various elements which comprise the programme.  In the case of mainline rail, Metro and Luas, the economic rationale for government intervention derives primarily from the prohibitive start-up costs, which generally cannot be recovered through user charges and therefore act as a barrier to private provision of services.  Associated positive externalities underscore the case for State intervention in some cases.
What are the prohibitive start-up costs for the Western Rail Corridor?  There are none.  Western TDs need to realise what is at stake if the project is long-fingered.  We have voted for people to represent us in Dublin.  They are noticeably silent.  This is about the only project in the state that is a win-win for everybody concerned.  The Western Rail Corridor is THE capital project that ticks all the boxes.