By Shaun Connolly, Political Correspondent
TRANSPORT Minister Martin Cullen switched on the green light for Dublin’s new Metro system yesterday - but opposition parties predicted a swift derailment for the ambitious plans.
Mr Cullen told Cabinet colleagues public consultations on the underground link between St Stephen’s Green and Swords, via the airport, would get under way next week.
Route and station selections will also begin in earnest, Mr Cullen insisted as he promised to meet the 2012 deadline for the project pledged in the €34 billion Transport 21 plan.
"These developments represent significant staging posts on the delivery of one of Transport 21’s key projects - Metro North. We are now ready to start the physical groundwork on building the Metro service," Mr Cullen said.
But Fine Gael’s transport spokeswoman Olivia Mitchell warned commuters to expect a long journey to completion.
"This was originally promised to be up and running by next year, now 2012 is looking extremely dubious," she said.
"The worst thing is that we still have absolutely no idea how much it will cost. Figures ranging from €1.5bn to €5bn have been bandied about.
"This is very worrying as it means the Government has the same kind of financial grip on this project as it had on others like the Port Tunnel which ran massively over budget. We are still only just beginning the public consultation stage, we still must get through the public inquiry and the tendering process before a shovel hits the ground."
The Department of Transport said no detailed costings could be made public yet due to the competitive nature of the tendering process.
The Metro North link is a key component in the Transport 21 infrastructural agenda and is intended to provide a high speed link between a "Grand Central Station-style" travel hub at St Stephen’s Green in the city centre to the airport.
Labour’s transport spokeswoman Roisin Shorthall was also sceptical about the planned timetable.
"The Rail Procurement Agency are saying that construction will not start until 2009 at best, so I don’t think it’s looking very good for 2012 - three years is not long enough to do it all, and all the while commuters continue to suffer," she said.