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Metrolink plan ‘seriously flawed’, says environmentalist and architect Duncan Stewart

Commuter group representative says more bike parking, toilets and 24-hour service should be part of project

The €9.5 billion Metrolink rail project is exorbitantly expensive, carbon intensive and “seriously flawed”, environmentalist and architect Duncan Stewart has told An Bord Pleanála’s hearing on the line.

Mr Stewart, who presented RTÉ's long-running Eco Eye television programme until its discontinuation last year, said Metrolink is a “stand-alone, inflexible” project which was incompatible with other rail systems.

“We believe Metrolink is incapable of addressing the critical mobility needs for Dublin citizens,” he said, “or enabling long distance commuters to switch from car journeys, commensurate with its huge budget.”

Mr Stewart, who was last year awarded the Freedom of the City of Dublin for his campaigning work in relation to climate change, was not scheduled to address the hearing but was introduced on the second last day of proceedings as part of the Association of Combined Residents Associations (ACRA) group.

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The group is promoting a transport plan put forward by Tom Newton, who has been studying Dublin’s transport network since the 1960s.

Mr Newton’s plan would replace the underground line with a Dart system which would run from Donabate to Glasnevin, serving Swords, Dublin Airport and Ballymun. It would connect with the Belfast line at Donabate as well as the Sligo line, and the rail network from Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford at Cross Guns Bridge in Glasnevin.

Mr Stewart said he supported this solution as an alternative to the underground option, which he said would generate carbon emissions “27 times greater” than a similar rail line running on the surface. He said this was incompatible with Ireland’s commitments to reduce carbon emissions.

“The sheer scale of the Metrolink tunnel will generate massive embodied carbon emissions,” he said.

The gauge of the metro rails was different from the rest of the country’s rail system, he said, which meant it could not integrate fully with the rail network, but he said “the major issue we have is the exorbitant and unprecedent budget required for TII [Transport Infrastructure Ireland] to develop the Metrolink project”.

Dr Ronan Hallissey, representing TII, said the tunnel would have to be “much larger” if it was to be redesigned to accommodate the gauge of the heavy rail network. Also, for operational reasons it would not be feasible to allow trains from Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford to use the tunnel, he said.

Dr Avril Challoner, an environmental specialist engaged by TII, said the Metrolink was a “gold star” project in terms of its commitment to reducing carbon emissions and once operational 100 per cent of its energy use would be form renewable sources.

Public transport and cycling campaigners have called for additional bicycle parking at Metrolink stations.

Kevin Baker of the Dublin Cycling Campaign said the amount of cycling parking being provided is far below TIIs own demand predictions with “no city centre station with more than 50 per cent provision”.

He said he appreciated the space restrictions at some stations, but two-tier cycle parking was only being included at one station, at Griffith Park.

“You could have increased cycle provision at some of these stations to better meet your obligations,” he said. “There isn’t single station in the city centre that actually provides a good quantum of cycle parking.”

Jason Cullen of the Dublin Commuter Coalition said it was “overall strongly supportive” of the Metrolink. However, he highlighted the lack of secure bike parking, which was important with bicycles “highly targeted for theft in Dublin”.

He also called for toilets to be introduced at all stations, and not just interchange stations, and for the Metrolink to be a 24-hour service instead running from 5.30am to 12.30am.

Matthew Foy, a transport and traffic expert for TII, said a co-ordinated cycle parking strategy needed to be considered with other agencies, which could include the use of multistorey car parks or purpose-built garages “instead of Busáras we might have a Rotharáras”, he said.

Dr Hallissey said the hours of operation chosen for Metrolink allowed maintenance to be undertaken at night.

Former Irish Times Environment Editor Frank McDonald told the hearing he did not believe the cost of Metrolink was “a price worth paying for what is, in effect, a single souped-up Luas line”.

If the board did grant permission for the line, he said “it should only be approved in part, as far as O’Connell Street or Tara Street” as this would permit “significant construction to proceed while creating time for a thorough review of where Metrolink should be routed south of the river Liffey – including an alternative to inflicting incalculable damage to St Stephen’s Green”.

Declan McGrath, senior counsel for TII, said various speakers had requested the line be terminated at different points. However, he said if the board was to consent to only part of the project it would inevitably mean it would have to go back to the drawing board.

“Consenting only part of the project is not very far away from refusing consent for the project,” Mr McGrath said.

Gerard Farrell, representing business organisation DublinTown, said Metrolink needed to be developed without any further delay.

“We have discussed the need for metro for 50 years without having actually delivered it. We cannot afford more time for speculation and further discussion,” he said. “Metrolink is absolutely essential to the future development of the city. We don’t really have a realistic alternative.”

Dublin Chamber said it was also “very supportive” of the project.

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