Brennan should act on Luas capacity now

I CAN’T say that I’ve been Seamus Brennan’s biggest fan since he became Minister for Transport but I will say this about him – he is decisive.

And I’ve always believed that you are better off with someone who’s decisive and sometimes wrong than with someone who can’t make a decision at all.

The Minister for Transport is probably the most important person in public life to the people of Dublin at this time.

You could probably mention homelessness, drugs or crime as bigger, more important issues, but for sheer daily impact on most people’s lives there is no bigger issue than traffic. And Seamus has his hands on the levers of power where traffic is concerned.

There is a very important decision that Seamus could take that would improve the lot of many thousands of Dubliners and improve the transport situation overall.

That decision? Double the capacity of the Luas before the system is opened up.

The current plans for the Luas envisage the use of one-car trams. These cars will come in two sizes. The basic model will be 30 meters long and will carry 235 passengers. The extended tram will be 40 meters long and carry 310 passengers (my estimate).

(I should say that these are theoretical passenger capacities and are never reached in practice. The Dart never reaches its theoretical capacity during rush hour even though it is packed to the gills.)

But let’s be generous and say that the big tram can carry 300 people during rush hour. The service frequency is put at a 5 minute interval at peak times. This gives an hourly capacity of 3,600 passengers, of which just 900 will have a seat.

This is just half the capacity of the Dart, which has half its catchment area in the sea. It is obviously completely inadequate and will ruin the reputation of the Luas before it gets going at all.

The solution is obvious and practical. The Luas should run two 30 metre cars from the outset instead of just one. The main change involved here would be to build bigger stations (which the Luas people quaintly call ‘stops’).

Currently the stops are designed to be 50 metres long with two five metre ramps and a 40 metre platform. If the platforms were extended to 70 metres in total the capacity problems would be largely overcome.

The reason that a decision should be made now is that none of the stops have actually been built and that the bigger platforms will have to be built in the near future anyway.

A critical consideration is also the effect Luas will have on other forms of traffic. Remember that the Luas will cut across every north-south route in the city. This means a tram crossing these junctions every two and a half minutes at peak times.

Running two-car trams would significantly reduce the impact and the length of time the five-minute service would have to run.

The time to go for the two-car tram option is now.

As well as that…

Joining up the lines

The second big contribution Seamus Brennan could make to the Luas system would be to order that the Sandyford line be extended to O’Connell Street.

This was the original plan but as part of a sop to those of us advocating an underground option, the government decided to put the Sandyford to Airport line in a tunnel in the city centre.

Very good, but let’s be honest. It’s not going to happen until 2010 at the earliest.

That leaves us with two separate Luas lines when Dublin is crying out for an integrated transport system.

The solution is to complete the line from St Stephen’s Green to O’Connell Street, a distance of less than 1,000 metres, and have both lines terminate at Connolly Station. Over to you, Seamus.

Luas referee quits at half-time

The Light Rail Advisory and Action Group (LRAAG) was set up to report on the progress being made to deliver the Luas. They were the only independent means of monitoring the building of the Luas system.

Their final report – I said final – was in February 2002. The reason why they were wound up is that they were working to a Luas implementation timetable from 1998.

You couldn’t make this up. The group set up to oversee the building of the Luas quits 18 months before the building is finished.

You might not have heard of this group but their six-monthly reports filtered through the media and were an important source of reliable information about the whole project.

And now they’re gone. Because of an out-of-date timetable. It doesn’t augur well, does it?