Adjournment Debate. - Rail Network.

Tuesday, 9 November 1999

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 510 No. 3

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Mr. Browne: Information on John Browne  Zoom on John Browne  (Carlow-Kilkenny): I am grateful to you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, for allowing me to raise this matter. I wish to share my time with Deputy Wall.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Browne: Information on John Browne  Zoom on John Browne  (Carlow-Kilkenny): It is important that the public continues to use the train service. I have spent 20 years travelling from Carlow to Dublin, but it is now a chore to do so because of the increased volume of traffic. The rail track from Dublin to Carlow has continuous welded rail and the new electrified signalling system, which is in operation as far as Athy, will soon be extended to Carlow.

Carlow town is expanding and there has been a huge growth in housing. People come from Dublin to buy houses there. It is important that a fast train service is provided so that people can get to their destination as quickly as possible. I ask the Minister to ensure that the Arrow service is extended to Carlow to help people to get to and from Dublin more quickly and to encourage them to stay off the roads so that accidents do not happen.

Mr. Wall: Information on Jack Wall  Zoom on Jack Wall  I thank you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, and Deputy Browne for giving me the opportunity to discuss this important matter. The [549] need for the extension of the Arrow service to include Carlow and Athy cannot be over-emphasised. One has only to travel on the N9 or N7 any day of the week to see the frightening increase in traffic which has led to many accidents.

Athy is expanding and is an obvious place for young couples to purchase their homes. House prices are still reasonable and offer excellent value to the purchaser. However, this obvious advantage will be negated if linkages with the capital's road network cannot be negotiated in a reasonable time. South Kildare must not be isolated. Every effort must be made to include, rather than exclude, this area along the Carlow inter-rail network.

In a recent speech to the Clondalkin Chamber of Commerce, the Minister of State at the Department of Public Enterprise stated that the Heuston to Portlaoise line will be considered for inclusion in the national development plan. I ask the Minister of State to extend this proposal to include the line from Heuston to Kildare, Athy and Carlow. This would have major implications for the south Kildare and Carlow areas. It would ensure that the Kildare development plan, which advocates developing south Kildare, and the Athy development plan, which complements the ideals of that plan, would reach their goals.

Athy has a high level of unemployment. The extension of the Arrow service on this line would help to solve this problem. The Minister of State's proposals for a four line arrangement between Hazelhatch and Sallins is a first step towards achieving our ambitions for a proposed extension. However, I ask the Minister not to bypass Athy and Carlow when final decisions are made based on the consultants review of the Dublin suburban rail network which, as the Minister of State said, may have implications for the proposals on the Kildare line.

This proposal will have a major impact if it is achieved. It will permit the towns and their catchment areas to develop both residentially and industrially to match other areas within the capital's catchment area. It will also reduce the number of vehicles on the N9 and N7, thus clearing the many problems traffic is creating for those motorways and the towns on them. I ask the Minister of State to ensure that the extension of the Arrow service to Carlow and Athy is one of the strategic review's top priorities.

Minister of State at the Department of Public Enterprise (Mr. Jacob): Information on Joe Jacob  Zoom on Joe Jacob  I thank Deputy Browne and Deputy Wall for raising this important matter.

This Government fully appreciates the social and economic importance of public transport services and is committed to creating the conditions for the provision of the best possible public transport services throughout the country. Substantial funding for railway renewal has been provided [550] under the Operational Programme for Transport 1994-1999, assisted by EU Structural and Cohesion Funds and, from this year, by the Exchequer.

Earlier this year the Government approved the implementation of a £430 million railway safety programme for 1999 to 2003. The Dublin to Waterford line is benefiting significantly from this investment. The rail track from Dublin to Kilkenny has been renewed with continuous welded rail, with the assistance of Cohesion and Structural Funds. Additional EU and Exchequer resources were provided as part of the Luas reallocation to complete this work. I assure the House that this commitment by the Government to investment in our railway services will be continued under the forthcoming national development plan. This plan will set out a comprehensive strategy and investment programme for public transport in 2000 to 2006.

In addition to developing the mainline services, the need to improve and extend the outer suburban services has been identified. This was clearly recognised in the strategic planning guidelines for the greater Dublin area which were launched earlier this year by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey. These guidelines made it clear that the greater Dublin area comprises not only Dublin city but also extends to the adjoining counties. Addressing future public transport needs requires us to take account of the evolving journey to work patterns in this wider area. The guidelines stressed that the future spatial development of the greater Dublin area must be based around public transport.

This extended outlook is reflected in the changed emphasis within the work of the Dublin Transportation Office. While the original DTI strategy focused on the city centre, the DTO Dublin Transportation Blueprint 2000-2006 recognises that there is now a need to focus as well on the needs of other urban centres. Their development proposals include the hinterland area development centres identified in the guidelines, including the town of Athy.

This broader scope is also being taken into account by Iarnród Éireann which, on the instructions of the Minister for Public Enterprise, Deputy O'Rourke, has commissioned the consultants, Ove Arup, to undertake a strategic review of the development of the Dublin suburban rail network in the longer term. The consultants have been asked to look at all possible options for the development of the suburban rail network in the greater Dublin area up to 2020. These options include the provision or enhancement of rail services to the development centres identified by the strategic planning guidelines. The feasibility and costing work should be completed by the end of 1999.

[551] As regards improvements on the Arrow line, the DTO's Dublin Transportation Blueprint 2000-2006 includes proposals to increase track capacity on this route. This proposal involves doubling the existing two track line between Hazelhatch and Sallins and providing associated signalling. In addition, it proposes bringing the Heuston to Connolly line, via the Phoenix Park tunnel, into operation. The estimated cost is £28 million, comprising £18 million for the Kildare line works and £10 million for the Heuston to Connolly section. The final details of this project will take account of the findings of the Ove Arup study.

The DTO's Dublin Transportation Blueprint 2000-2006 also identified the need for additional rolling stock to meet increased passenger demand and recommended the phased purchase of 58 additional diesel railcars. A proportion of these will be allocated to the Arrow service and will help to increase capacity. While good progress is being made in improving the railways, these improvements need to be continuously built on so that the best possible rail service can be provided for the travelling public, including the people of Athy and Carlow.

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