Time to get Inter-City off our rails?

I LIKE to think of myself as a 32-county man. A man with a broader outlook. Who sees the bigger picture. Not one to dwell around the parish pump.

So it pains me to muse upon a policy which could damage a national institution and replace it with a narrower Dublin interest.

I’m talking about the railways. The situation is that we have a national railway system and we have a Dublin railway system. The time has come when both of these may not be compatible.

The problem is that there are four heavy rail lines into Dublin city centre and both national and local trains have to share them. Over the past 10 years as Dublin has sunk deeper into a transport crisis these four lines have become incredibly valuable. And getting more valuable by the day.

For example, the Government is determined to build a metro linking Dublin Airport to the city centre. The price tag for this is €4.5 billion. I don’t believe for a second that a tunnel could cost that much and international comparisons make a nonsense of the figure. Nevertheless the price is likely to be big.

Meanwhile, a railway runs within five km of the airport and all that lies between it and the airport is practically green fields. We could build a link for a couple of hundred million euro.

All that is stopping such a plan is capacity. The Inter-City trains to and from Belfast use the line and because of the headway needed to run these trains a commuter line to the airport is not possible.

But what if the Belfast train didn’t run on this line? (Cue sharp intake of breath). The answer is that we could run a four-minute service at peak times and that the Dart system would be hugely improved. And, of course, we would have saved ourselves €4 billion.

Last year, the entire number of passenger numbers for the nationwide Inter-City service came to 11.3 million. The number carried on the Dublin commuter services, including Dart, came to 24.3 million. So we can see who is making greater use of the lines.

This year, up to 80 new suburban carriages will enter service in the Dublin area and next year a further 40 Dart cars will be delivered. So the Dublin rail system is set to expand hugely.

The question must be asked: are the rail lines into Dublin simply too valuable to allow Inter-City trains to disrupt commuter services which must stop at every local station?

Should we not just build Inter-City stations on the outskirts of Dublin and allow Inter-City passengers to continue their journeys by Dart and Arrow trains? Remember that many of these passengers are not destined for the city centre anyway and that a changeover to an integrated citywide rail network would suit a great many of them.

The concept of citywide rail tunnels is fundamentally flawed anyway. Tunnels are only needed in the city centre. Trams can be used in the suburbs and each year less and less road space will be allocated to the private car.

So people in Dublin are going to need the existing rails more and more. Dublin trains are going to need a clear run.

End the West Link tolls now

The London road pricing scheme works by taking a picture of car number plates as they pass a certain point. If it works well (there will be flaws), then it should be applied to the WestLink toll bridge ASAP.

The WestLink is a standing scandal where a private company was given a concession where the motorists of Dublin will end up paying over a billion euro for a bridge that cost less than e30m.

That’s bad enough. But every year millions more euro is wasted as people are stopped in the middle of the highway in order to hand over a few coins. It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so bloodymindedly stupid.

These toll gates should be lifted immediately and shadow tolls installed (like London’s).