Varadkar confirms Dart Underground “likely to be priority”

This comes from a press briefing pack from the Department of Transport:

Monday 16th December 2013

Check against delivery

Speech by Minister for Transport, Tourism & Sport Leo Varadkar at the Shift2Rail briefing in Dublin, Monday December 16th

I welcome you all to the Shift2Rail event and in particular extend a warm welcome to Philippe Citroen and his team who have travelled from Brussels. Philippe is Director General of UNIFE the Association of the European Rail Industry. As we near the end of the year and look forward to the coming year I think it appropriate that we are discussing Horizons and how we can ensure the economic wellbeing of Ireland and Europe into the future.

The Horizon 2020 plan – launched in Dublin last week – highlights the need for investment in research innovation and science if Europe and Ireland are to maintain jobs and create employment opportunities. Ireland has a good story to tell in terms of its involvement in the EU research innovation and science programmes. Under the existing EU Research and Technological Framework Programme organisations from Ireland have managed to draw down €572 million in funding. This funding has proved most valuable and has enabled the development of our economy during a difficult period in the country.

Ireland can benefit even further from the Horizon 2020 plan in the years 2014 to 2020 and secure at €1 billion of the available funding. To achieve this there needs to be a greater level of involvement by 3rd level colleges and companies in the private sector. In particular third level colleges could benefit greatly from closer collaboration in framing Horizon 2020 consortia applications.

Enterprise Ireland provides a professional advisory service that can help those wishing to access funding under the Horizon 2020 plan.

In terms of rail transport the SHIFT2RAIL initiative aims to enhance the capacity of the European rail system by increasing the reliability of the next generation of rail products and reducing the life cycle costs of rail rolling stock and infrastructure. It is hoped that the initiative will increase the capacity of the European rail system and enable it to meet the increased demand for rail services. It is also to be hoped that the Initiative will help the industry be more competitive in face of competition from emerging Asian competition.

Ireland welcomes the SHIFT2RAIL initiative and sees it as providing opportunities for Irish academic and business interests to participate in research projects as well as opportunities for our rail sector to avail of technical and financial assistance in developing innovative solutions for our rail network. As Ireland continues to move towards a knowledge-based economy, the latest KPMG “Innovation Monitor” reports that Irish businesses think we have become more innovative as a result of the recession. So I believe we certainly have the capacity in our research institutions and in our SME sector to apply our expertise and entrepreneurial spirit to the transport sector not just in Ireland but also abroad. However, if we are to maximise our potential, our technical expertise and innovation must be supported by financial assistance and by opportunities for collaboration with appropriate international partners. In that context, we need to ensure that European-wide initiatives such as Shift2Rail takes account of the scale of research, business and development activities in smaller member States such as Ireland. Opportunities must be made available to firms in the small and medium sector for example. It is also important that the needs of countries with relatively small rail networks are taken into consideration. And there must be potential for our research institutions to form clusters of activity, within Ireland and with other European partners, in order to avail of support mechanisms.

The legislative framework for the Shift2Rail initiative has now been published by the European Commission and I want to assure all the stakeholders here today that Ireland will be active during the upcoming negotiations on this framework in order to ensure, as far as possible, that the initiative is worthwhile for us. Today’s discussions should help to inform our position for those negotiations, so your views are important and I hope you will make them known.

Before I finish I would like to highlight some of the current developments in the rail sector in Ireland. It’s not every day that I have the chance to speak to a dedicated audience of transport-related researchers, so I hope this will be of interest and prompt you to think about how research can contribute to the developments planned or underway.

The Government’s policy in relation to the funding of capital projects to 2016 is set out in the “Infrastructure and Capital Investment 2012-16: Medium Term Exchequer Framework”. Due to the overall reduction in funding for transport infrastructure the priority to 2016 is to protect investment made to date and to maintain safety standards. The limited funding available over and above this priority will only be provided for projects which are affordable, meet overall transport objectives and deliver the best return in terms of economic recovery and job creation.

Despite the above, it’s not all doom and gloom and there are still projects underway. For example, two new train stations were opened this year, at Oranmore and Hansfield respectively. In addition, Phases 1 & 2 of the City Centre Re-signalling project are almost completed and preliminary studies are underway in respect of the next Phase. Automated ticketing machines are being installed around the rail network, and level crossings are being upgraded, including Reilly’s Crossing on the Maynooth line.

€1.6 billion has been spent under the Railway Safety Programme (RSP) 1999-2013. The RSP helped to revive the railways in Ireland. When it commenced we had, as a legacy of decades of under-investment, inadequate and unsafe railway lines and poor quality life expired rolling stock. Since then the railway has been virtually rebuilt and has been saved from decline and extinction.

There are challenges ahead including the significant funding requirements to maintain the existing network. We are looking at the renewals and maintenance programmes for the rail network for the next five years as required under EU regulations.

Another challenge is having fast and efficient inter-urban rail services which can compete with our modern motorway network. Similarly, efficient and modern commuter rail services serving urban areas are necessary to support the development of enterprises, jobs and economic growth. All of this investment requires that we look carefully at how to best respond to emerging transport needs while having regard to scarce Exchequer funding and commercial realities. In fact, these realities require us to be innovative about how we optimise the use of existing infrastructure from the operational perspective, and how we can enhance the quality of services for passengers. Information technology can play a key role here, for example through the provision of traffic and service information.

Of course, the Luas Cross City project is the key public transport project prioritised by the Government on the basis that it will be affordable and will create a Luas network by linking the two existing Luas Red and Green lines in the City Centre and will connect Cabra (at Broombridge rail station) to the existing Luas at St Stephen’s Green. The project is progressing well and the essential advance works are underway.

Work on the main contract is expected to commence in early 2015 and to be completed by the end of 2016. Following testing, commissioning and trial runs the line is currently targeted to open in Q4 2017. The EIB has recently provisionally approved a loan of €163m for the project.

My Department has commenced work on a “Strategic Investment Framework for Land Transport” as a foundation document to inform the next Capital plan. The priorities for rail investment will be a major part of the Framework and I expect that the deficiencies which the Dart Underground was to address will be highlighted.

I recently met with officials from the EU Commission and the Ten-T Executive Agency in Brussels who confirmed their positive views towards the Dart Underground. The EIB had also indicated a keen interest in supporting DU and this interest was confirmed to me at a meeting with the EIB Management Board on 29 April last. The Dart Underground has been included in the new Ten-T Core Network and is part of one of the nine Core Corridors. Dart Underground is likely to be a priority in the context of the next capital plan subject to an appropriate funding package being developed.

The railway modernisation programme is still underway in Ireland therefore, and I would finally like to remind you that innovations at the European level should also help us in that process. The Shift2Rail initiative should be an opportunity for us to avail of the latest thinking in Europe and, indeed, to participate in the anticipated dialogue on technical rail issues at the European level, making sure that problems specific to our network and our circumstances are also included in that dialogue.