AS ANYONE WHO commutes into and around Dublin will have noticed, we are experiencing a return to levels of traffic gridlock last seen over a decade ago.

The cross-city Luas has added to the congested centre around College Green. Travellers on suburban rail lines must endure rush-hour journeys uncomfortably crammed into carriages. Even the Taoiseach is finding that his commute, presumably by car, from his Castleknock home to Leinster House is taking longer than usual.

There is no one magic bullet to solve our capital city’s transport issues, particularly in the face of market-led unplanned development which has seen the populations of peripheral counties swell massively in the past twenty years – the combined population of Kildare, Meath and Wicklow now exceeds that of the Dublin city area.

But there is one notable public transport project already on the drawing board, planned and costed, that would revolutionise transport for the whole metropolitan area.

This is the Dart Underground, previously known as the Interconnector.

Originally conceived of in the 1972 Transportation in Dublin plan, this project would build a twin-line railway tunnel, up to eighty feet beneath the surface of the city centre, for 7.6 kilometres.

Two separate electrified Dart lines 

The new tunnel would connect an electrified stretch of rail track starting at Hazelhatch in north Kildare, to the existing northside Dart lines running out to Balbriggan and Howth.

In the city centre, Heuston Station would be linked to new underground stations across Dublin, at Pearse Street, the Docklands and St Stephen’s Green.

The existing southside Dart lines, meanwhile, would link up at Connolly Station with the commuter line that currently runs through the north west of the city out to Maynooth.

The result would be two separate electrified Dart lines intertwined at the middle.

One line would begin at Greystones and run continuously to Maynooth. The other would run from Balbriggan to Hazelhatch, but could eventually be extended further to Kildare town and Newbridge in one direction, and Drogheda in the other.

Passengers wishing to travel from Balbriggan, say, to Greystones, would change from one line to the other at Pearse Station.

Missing piece 

The Dart Underground is the missing piece that would, for the first time, give Ireland’s capital city the joined-up network of commuter rail and light rail that it so badly needs.

No longer would mainline rail dump passengers in Connolly or Heuston or Pearse Street and expect them to find their way, by one means or another, across a busy city centre to the next link in a broken chain.

Tourists and occasional visitors unfamiliar with the city would be particular beneficiaries of a new, simplified transport map. Those coming from Cork for a football match, for instance, could take the train to Heuston, change to the new Dart line, change again at Pearse Street and get off at Drumcondra Station, only a few hundred meters from Croke Park.

A Mullingar resident working in Dundrum Shopping Centre could drive to a park and ride at Maynooth, travel on the new Dart Interconnector all the way to Pearse Street, transfer to the other Dart line, go one stop west to St Stephen’s Green and take the Luas to work from there.

’10 years of EU fines would cost more than Dart Underground’

The major objection to the Dart Underground project is cost, currently estimated at €4 billion.

Yet here we are looking at an opportunity not only to boost our economy through much-needed infrastructural spending, but also to improve our environment, our health and our work-life balance.

Ireland has made commitments under the Paris Accords and other climate change agreements to reduce its carbon and greenhouse gas emissions to a certain level by 2020. As things stand, those targets will not be met, and the EU will start levying annual fines until they are.

Questioned by me at a recent meeting of the Public Accounts Committee, a Department of Finance official said that Ireland’s fines for non-compliance with our environmental targets will be of the order of €600 million a year from 2021.

In other words, ten years of these fines would cost us one and a half times as much as building Dart Underground, with absolutely zero secondary benefit to the state.

Project still under consideration

Conversely, we can borrow now at historically low interest rates to build Dart Underground.

It is the single major infrastructure project which can be launched at short notice to make a clear and sure difference to our climate change objectives, to housing and planning, and to the lives of tens of thousands of people every day.

At present, the project is still under consideration by the National Transport Authority, which is to make its plans known in the coming weeks with the publication of the National Infrastructure Investment plan.

If there is one sure fire way to inhibit a recovery, it’s not to invest in it. For the good of the whole country, and not just Dublin, the Dart Underground should go ahead.

Catherine Murphy is the co-leader of the Social Democrats and a TD for Kildare North.

This piece was originally published in .

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