No timeline for delivery of Dublin Metrolink

No timeline for delivery of Dublin Metrolink

A graphic image dating to 2010 of the proposed Dart underground link at Heuston Station. The proposed 7.6km underground has yet to see the light of day. Picture: Irish Rail/PA

The head of the Department of Transport has said it is not possible to give a timeline for the delivery of the Dublin Metrolink project due to the State’s previous “bad experiences” with infrastructure projects.

Secretary General Ken Spratt told the Public Accounts Committee that the revised public spending code, which was overhauled in December 2019 and requires that specific ‘gateways’ have to be passed before projects can commence, means the only timeline that can be given is for the next phase of the code, as opposed to construction and go-live operation.

Metrolink has been discussed in different guises for more than 20 years. Its most recent iteration was proposed in 2018 with a suggested start of construction in 2022. Over €70m has been spent on the project to date, although it is now not expected to finish construction before 2030.

“It is really important when spending billions of taxpayers' money that we get the decisions right,” Mr Spratt said. He said the public spending code “really does guard against cost escalation”.

“It has a really strong focus on governance and delivery, and then we’re able to get the cost estimations right,” he said.

He stressed Metrolink is “still at an early stage”, with a preliminary business case still under review, which when completed will see the business case sent to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for approval. That is not expected to happen before the end of 2021, the committee meeting heard.

“In order to avoid the bad things that can happen to big projects, we can only move through the decision gates one at a time,” Mr Spratt said. 

Metrolink has yet to pass through decision gate one.

It’s only when we pass through decision gate three that we will have sight of when we’re likely to go to construction.

Fianna Fáil’s Paul McAuliffe responded that he could not understand why it was acceptable to give timelines in 2018, but not now, and called for the National Transport Authority to come before the PAC to delve into the matter further.

“There is not lot more that we can say,” Mr Spratt said. 

We’re frustrated with the regulations we have to comply with, but we will comply with them. We’re going as fast as our little legs will carry us with the NTA.

"Is there anything more that the Oireachtas could do to help us? I’m not sure that there is. It would be great if planning could be expedited, but it is the law of the land.” 

He objected to the suggestion that infrastructure projects, such as Dart Underground, have been cancelled.

“It is not true to say projects have been cancelled, we just have to go through the public spending code,” he said.

The secretary general confirmed Metrolink does not form part of proposals to meet Ireland’s carbon reduction targets for 2030, but it will be “really important” for the 2050 targets, a fact which prompted Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy to state “the level of ambition is a real concern”.

With regard to issues with procurement in the department, particularly in relation to the Coast Guard, Mr Spratt said that “I'm very very focused on that as a relatively new secretary general", adding his department is enhancing its corporate governance and is reviewing all procurement at present.

The Department of Transport has come in for recent criticism from the Comptroller and Auditor General for expenditure on Coast Guard vehicles and night vision capability for the search and rescue helicopter service which did not represent value for money.

“We’re looking at every procurement with a view that we will find lessons from every one. I expect we will find some things when we do the review, but we will be cleaner when that review is done than we are now,” Mr Spratt said.

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