Transport for Ireland kills Navan railway link in new strategy

There has been a lot of comment regarding the new Transport for Ireland draft transport strategy for the Greater Dublin Area for 2016-2035, however two major points of the strategy have not been widely commented on – the lack of a heavy rail link to Dublin Airport and the killing off of the Navan Rail line.

I will return to Dublin Airport in a later post, for now I will concentrate on the axing of the proposed Navan line.

A direct heavy rail passenger link from Dublin to Navan has been under consideration for many years. The project itself has been partially delivered in the form of the Clonsilla-Dunboyne-Pace line, but this was always intended to be Phase 1 of the Navan line, with Phase 2, to be delivered at a later stage. The project was surrounded in a lot of controversy; the current terminus, the M3 Parkway station, is situated beyond the Pace toll gates on the M3 which means drivers from Navan intending to use the railway to continue their journey to Dublin must pay a toll first. Parking at M3 Parkway is now free of charge but incredibly a charge was levied at first.

The original justification for the Navan rail link was that Navan was identified as a “Designated Large Growth Town” earmarked for growth and as such the population would increase to the point where a rail service would be needed. The previous Greater Dublin Area Transport Strategy issued in 2011 did make provision for the Navan Line, as does the Meath Navan Transport Plan. Here’s a quote from the Navan Transport Plan:

The Planning Authorities consider that the provision of a heavy rail link to Dublin together with a central and northern rail station is critical for Navan to achieve its objective as a Large Growth Town I in the Regional Planning Guidelines for the Greater Dublin Area 2010-2022. The Navan Integrated Development Framework Plan was developed on the premise of a rail based solution to complement the development of the M3 Motorway and local distributor road network. The masterplan provides for more intensive redevelopment focused around a proposed new central rail station. Meath County Council and Navan Town Council are strongly committed to its delivery. Therefore, a strong policy stance is set out in the Navan Development Plan to ensure that the detailed designed alignment is protected from further development, and that this protection also extends to potential stations and park and ride sites along the route. The Development Plan will ensure, through the designation of a specific zoning objective R1 Rail Corridor which seeks ‘to provide for a strategic rail corridor and associated physical infrastructure’ that the design route of Phase II of the Navan Rail Line (as confirmed by the NTA) will be reserved free from development.

The proposed M3 Parkway-Navan line is also included as part of the European Union’s TEN-T comprehensive rail network. This means that EU funding could be made available to contribute to the construction of the line at a later date.

So with all that in mind, why did Transport for Ireland kill off the railway line?

The detailed study for the Navan commuter corridor was undertaken by Ms. Dieckmann Cogill, an American transport planner based in Ireland on behalf of Jacobs, who in turn were acting for Transport for Ireland. In her report, Ms. Coghill used 2011 population data as her base for forecasting future demand for commuting from Navan. This data was then projected using the Greater Dublin Area Regional Model (GDARM).

The projections used appear to be extraordinarily conservative; there is an assumption that there will be no growth in car use to the City Centre; and that passenger demand will increase modestly by 2035. The conclusion drawn by Ms. Coghill in her report is that the only requirement for additional public transport for the Navan corridor is extra provision of express bus services, up to 4 an hour. The report notes that this requires minimal capital investment, which may well have been the brief that Jacobs and Ms. Coghill were given!

Any potential extension of the rail line to Navan is ruled out at a very early stage; there is no attempt to analyse rail options further in the report and even the possible use of the existing freight line to Tara Mines from Drogheda is also ruled out. Indeed Ms, Coghill does not even put a map up of the route in the report.

The report does not take into account Meath County Council’s development plan for Navan or indeed Navan’s status as a potential future city and makes the assumption that Navan’s growth will remain almost static and simply grow in line with the underpinning assumptions of the GDARM model. Further, it is surprising that a report that is meant to give serious analysis of the future public transport needs for an key Dublin commuter area would totally ignore the future planning assumptions and targets for the area.

The final option presented for the Navan area simply offers additional express bus services to provide Navan with its future needs over the next twenty years. What happens when these buses are gridlocked at Blanchardstown? Why isn’t there a serious attempt to make the most of the M3 Parkway railway connection? Shouldn’t the M3 toll plaza at Pace be moved to give drivers an incentive to park up and take the railway into the Centre of Dublin? None of these questions are adequately addressed in the report.

The wider question therefore needs to be asked of the Transport for Ireland stategy if it has been created with unduly conservative forecasts of passenger demand? We have seen in the heat of the Celtic Tiger years how poor and overly conservative provision for transport resulted in gridlock. We are facing into another twenty years of inadequate provision for the Navan corridor if these proposals are formally implemented by Transport for Ireland.

These and all the other Greater Dublin Area proposals are out for consultation. If you wish to comment on them, please do so by emailling before Friday 13th November 2015 at 5pm.