Irish media has in recent weeks been awash with expressions of anger and disappointment following the National Transport Authority’s (NTA) recent announcement that construction of Dublin’s underground rail line MetroLink (along with a raft of other transport infrastructure improvements) would be delayed until at least 2031. This is both unsurprising and understandable, given that this delay forces those living and working in Dublin to commute by road in one of the world’s most congested cities, also making a mockery of Ireland’s climate commitments.
“Dublin is in dire need of non-road public transport options; this delay demonstrates just how damaging poor government planning can be.”
MetroLink’s delay is also symptomatic of a government incapable of adhering to its own commitments. Dublin is in dire need of non-road public transport options; this delay demonstrates just how damaging poor government planning can be.
Why does Dublin need an underground rail service in the first place? While it is true that people living and commuting in Dublin have so far managed to travel around the county without a metro system, there are numerous reasons why one is now necessary. Dublin is currently one of the world’s most congested cities (this will come as no surprise to anyone who has spent time on the quays at rush hour) and with the city’s population rising rapidly in coming decades, congestion problems will only worsen unless people are incentivised to use public transport. Yet in a city where most people don’t live in the vicinity of a DART station and the only bus service is notoriously unreliable, travel by private car is often the only option and congestion remains a fact of daily life. The introduction of a metro system could however allow Dublin to free itself of traffic problems, as it could incentivise more people to substitute this new form of public transport for driving by private vehicle – thereby lowering transport times for bus routes and for those who still choose to drive.
“How could emissions possibly be reduced across the country, when those living in and around its primary city are essentially forced into unsustainable commuting habits?”
Providing Dublin with a metro system could also go some way in helping the state to achieve its current climate commitment to reduce emissions in the country by 51% between 2018 and 2030. While most people will appreciate that travelling by foot, bicycle or public transport is more environmentally sound than travelling by private car, Dublin’s aforementioned lack of public transit options leaves too many people unable to commute any other way than by car. As well as this, associated congestion makes cycling and walking far more dangerous than if roads were not so constantly crammed. Indeed, the delaying of MetroLink and the associated DART and Luas extensions makes an utter mockery of the state’s climate commitments – how could emissions possibly be reduced across the country, when those living in and around its primary city are essentially forced into unsustainable commuting habits?
It goes without saying that this is not the first time Dublin has seen plans for an underground rail line delayed. First proposed in 1972 in the form of an underground line connecting Connolly and Heuston stations, and developed over the following decades into plans for a European-style metro system, the people of Dublin are no strangers to over-promised and under-delivered public transportation plans – despite multiple rail plans over multiple decades the city still contains nothing beyond the DART and Luas (both of which are still less developed than first envisaged). The history of the current MetroLink project is itself a damning indictment of government planning given the almost impressive list of delays it has seen since becoming government policy in 2005. This involves the granting of planning permission in 2011 only to be deferred by then Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar in the same year, the plan’s reduction from three interconnected lines to one that excludes even Dublin Airport and a cost spiralling from €3 billion in 2018 to a €25 billion package only three years later. Given the importance of a metro system for Dublin on account of the myriad aforementioned issues, one question is unavoidable here: why has its implementation been such a mess?
“Consecutive Irish governments have for decades proven themselves utterly incapable of planning and implementing anything that stretches beyond one Dáil term.”
The answer seems to lie in the fact that consecutive Irish governments have for decades proven themselves utterly incapable of planning and implementing anything that stretches beyond one Dáil term. Whether it be horrendous delays to the rollout of rural broadband (with only 60,000 homes expected to be connected out of a target of 115,000 by February, 2022), the almost comical cost increases from €650 million to €1.73 billion associated with building the National Children’s Hospital, or the current failure to deliver transportation infrastructure, various Irish governments have for decades spent exorbitant amounts of public revenue on controversy-dogged projects that often fail to ever even materialise – a point particularly prescient given that senior members of the present government have played a role in all of the spectacularly drawn-out failures mentioned above.
This need not be the case however, and past Irish governments have demonstrated the huge benefits of successfully implemented projects. One need look no further than the Shannon Hydroelectric scheme of the 1920s, which saw an impoverished state build the world’s then largest (and still operational) hydroelectric power station less than a decade after the end of two devastating wars. This scheme’s positive effects were immense and a Dublin metro system could offer similarly long-lasting benefits to millions. Given the course of events surrounding MetroLink however, it seems that the current government is either incapable of understanding its own planning system and budget or deliberately exaggerates the timelines of projects in the hope that the short-term political benefits thereof will win elections.
It has become increasingly clear for decades that Dublin is suffering heavily from a severe lack of public transport options. In light of this, the government’s failure to deliver MetroLink on the time-scale promised is inexcusable. Implementing an underground rail system for Dublin has the potential to significantly improve the lives of all those living or working in the city, and could inspire similar projects in other major cities if successful. Yet given the clear faults at the heart of government when it comes to planning long-term infrastructural projects, it may be the case that, without fundamental change in government, MetroLink will remain forever a dream