Dublin Airport – have the NTA missed an opportunity?

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The decision by the National Transport Authority (NTA) not to propose a heavy rail link to Dublin Airport in their Draft Greater Dublin Area Transport Strategy is concerning, not least because the NTA seem to see the transport issues for the Airport entirely in the context of providing transport solutions for the North Dublin area only and not in the national context. This is despite the ongoing development of Dublin Airport, already the busiest airport on the island of Ireland, into a major transatlantic hub.

The Draft Fingal/North Dublin Transport Study proposes a revised and cut down version of the Metro North scheme to serve Swords and the Airport. This option was arrived at by detailed analysis undertaken by Ms. Elaine Brick and Mr. Jonathan Hennessy of consultants AECOM on behalf of the NTA. In this study Ms. Brick and Mr. Hennessy assess several alternative schemes including Iarnród Éireann’s original proposals to build a DART spur from Clongriffin to the Airport that would have cost approximately €300m.

The study ruled out the IÉ proposals at an early stage, on the basis that the DART spur to the Airport does not serve Swords. Instead, the DART spur proposal is placed into a combined proposal – C1 – that joins up one of the Light Rail options – LR7 – from Broombridge to Swords – with a significantly more expensive iteration of the original IÉ DART spur proposal. This revised version was costed by AECOM at in the region of €1 billion. This revised proposal would run underground and finish under the terminal buildings instead of being elevated and finishing outside the terminal buildings. Under these circumstances it is hardly surprising that the revised Benefit/Cost Ratio changed from 8.3 under the original proposals to 0.43 in the revised C1 proposal.

While the Metro North proposals, if they are ever actually implemented, are a vast improvement on current public transport provision to the airport, they do not make ongoing rail travel to elsewhere in Ireland any easier than that offered by the current bus provision. The proposed Metro North line will not connect either Heuston or Connolly stations without the need to change modes of travel. Had a DART spur been proposed it would have been possible to terminate any Dublin bound train at Dublin Airport, similar to what already exists for Bus Éireann and other bus operators at the Airport. Indeed the planned provision of Dart Underground along with the signalling improvements into Connolly station should provide enough capacity to allow the extra trains needed for the Airport service to run.

In the wider context, allowing InterCity and DART trains to stop at Dublin Airport would bring a significant source of passenger traffic to the railway. It makes sense to directly connect the airport into the rail network as this would encourage further modal shift away from Ireland’s roads to public transport. Connecting Ireland’s major towns and cities directly to the principal airport in the State would bring significant economic benefits all round. If the original Iarnród Éireann plan were implemented rather than the expensive NTA plan, for €300m the State would make one of the best value for money investments it could make.  The heavy rail line could also serve the proposed Airport City just outside Dublin Airport. Travellers arriving at Dublin Airport could take a train directly to Belfast, Cork, Galway, Westport, Wexford, Waterford and beyond in much the same way they can take a bus right now. Imagine the difference this could make to the future viability of Iarnród Éireann if they had a presence at the main gateway to Ireland, ready to take passengers anywhere on the national rail network.

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 gdatransportstrategy@nationaltransport.ie before Friday 13th November 2015 at 5pm.

Completely shutting off the Heavy Rail option for Dublin Airport is either a complete oversight by the NTA or a deliberate policy decision. If it is a deliberate policy decision not to bring heavy rail services to the busiest Airport on the Island of Ireland then shouldn’t the NTA and indeed the Department for Transport explain themselves?

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