Time to stop playing with toy trains

2nd June 2000

IT’s got to the stage in this country that any kind of paid-for advice is better than common sense. So it is that all the professionals in the field hail the Luas as our saviour while those with common sense know that it’s going to be a disaster.

The real hero in all this is Garret Fitzgerald and the villain is Frank McDonald of The Irish Times.

Up to now Frank’s grand vision of a modern metropolis with trams to put manners on us has held sway. Not only were trams to carry us about but they would also be a moving barrier to cars. Once stuck in the resulting gridlock, we’d soon mend our ways and get out of our cars.

But as Garret valiantly pointed out, once we’d got out of our cars we’d have nothing else to get into because the Luas will be absolutely jammers from day one.

The Luas, as planned, can’t hold the capacity estimated in the early nineties, never mind 10 years and an economic and population explosion later.

Contingency includes having us standing at eight people per square metre “for short distances”.

I invite you to open up a page of this paper, put it on the floor and get the stranger next to you to come close enough so you both can stand on it. That’s roughly eight people per square meter.

Now consider that this won’t apply to people in the seats. So move a little closer. Nor will the distribution be even throughout the carriage. A little closer please.

And it’s likely to be worse at peak hours. Now you’re practically making love.

This is how it will be on the first morning and extra capacity will not be added for years. If you think I’m exaggerating just look at the Dart. Officially it operates at around 75% capacity at peak hours but people end up fainting in the crush.

That’s what the experts have planned for you.

The Luas was dreamt up in the ‘80s when we were flat broke. Now the coffers are bursting and the ambition hasn’t moved on one iota.

We need an underground Dart system throughout the city. Something than can deliver 20,000+ per hour with room to spare. Not something that can get in 6,000 per hour if everyone holds their breath.

It’s not only that Luas won’t do the job set for it but that it will hinder every other form of transport in the city. The Tallaght to Connolly Station route will cross every north-south route in the city bar the East-Link.

With trams passing every three to four minutes in both directions at peak hours, we can only imagine the interference with pedestrians, buses and cars. Perversely, this is the route that the Government decided to leave overground while deciding to bury the Sandyford line from Stephen’s Green into town – arguably the line with the lesser consequences for the city’s traffic.

Mary O’Rourke, to her credit, has been sceptical. She was wary enough of the plans to call in experts. Hence the Atkins study.

Furthermore, she was bright enough to resort to common sense when the conclusion reached didn’t tally with the analysis.

Unfortunately, she then formed an unholy cabal with Messers (literally) Ahern, Harney and McCreevey to patch the various plans together.

The dog’s dinner they came up with would have been binned as a script for Thomas The Tank Engine. Now Dublin is getting an east-west line going everywhere it shouldn’t and a North-South line trying to avoid the busy bits.

The straws in the wind say there is a serious rethink on and that the Luas is now under critical scrutiny.

The Airport-Sandyford line should be changed immediately to Dart technology and the Dart itself should be extended to Maynooth as a matter of urgency. The Tallaght Luas line should be put underground from the canal in to provide capacity for extra lines in the suburbs. And the city centre should be left to pedestrians.


As well as that…

Streets of shame

Anyone who travels the streets of Dublin on two wheels, whether machine or human powered, will have noticed the deplorable state of the road surface.

If anything the Celtic Tiger has made the situation worse and where once three utilities were responsible, the number of road diggers seems to have expanded faster than the economy.

What is so annoying is that there is obviously no standards whatsoever when it comes to workmanship. Companies can go off in the evening and leave six inch cliffs in the road. Apart from the annoyance, I wonder how many people are killed and injured as a result.

A case of processions

Dublin’s Lord Mayor Mary Freehill has been trying to get funerals moved to evenings or nights or whenever they won’t cause so much gridlock.

I just witnessed a one mile tailback around midday near one of Dublin’s big cemeteries. It might seem a little heartless but the time has come to ban funeral processions in the city altogether.

I wish Mary more success in her struggle with processions.