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NTA defends planned use of Phoenix Park tunnel following Irish Rail concerns

Irish Rail says the plan to open the 136-year-old tunnel would be no substitute for the shelved DART Underground scheme in terms of capacity and connectivity.

Image: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

Updated at 5.33pm

THE NATIONAL TRANSPORT Authority has defended its plan to make use of the rail link under the Phoenix Park as one of several possible short-term solutions to Dublin city’s transport problems.

The body suggested earlier this month in its ‘Integrated Implementation Plan 2013 – 2018′ that the existing connector tunnel – which is currently used to transfer out-of-service trains – could also be used for regularly scheduled passenger services.

Irish Rail has been critical of the move, with spokesman Barry Kenny telling the Irish Times that the option could not be considered an acceptable substitute for the DART Underground. The planned expansion of the DART suburban rail system, which would have provided a number of new stations in the city as well as connecting Heuston Station with Pearse, was shelved in November 2011 as a result of capital spending cuts brought in following the downturn.

Irish Rail says the NTA’s plan to make use of the existing tunnel would not provide enough capacity or connectivity, compared to the DART Underground.

In a statement released this afternoon, the National Transport Authority responds to the criticisms laid out by Irish Rail in today’s article,  saying its plan presents the opening of the Phoenix Park tunnel as “an opportunity in the short term, at modest cost, to bring commuters from the west and south west to the city centre and the business district in the south of the city”.

It says the opportunity for developing the Dart Underground “is to be protected for the future”:

Regarding the article in the Irish Times published today, the Authority wishes to note that the Draft Implementation Plan clearly identifies that the opportunity for delivering the DART Underground is to be protected for the future. In current economic circumstances, however, this project could not proceed during the period of the Plan, given that the overall cost of the full DART Underground programme would exceed €4 billion, although incorporating a significant quotient of private financing.

Around €50 million has already been invested in signalling and turn-back facilities in the Dublin city centre area, to accommodate a further 8 train paths per direction per hour (moving from 12 to 20), and the NTA says that new services should be developed through Connolly Station to gain as much benefit as possible from that investment.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie this evening, Irish Rail’s Barry Kenny insisted that neither the company nor the NTA were proposing the line be used as an alternative to Dart Underground. He said Irish Rail would work with the Transport Authority to do a full cost-benefit analysis of the plan. “We need to assess whether there’s a demand among customers, so I think the full study needs to be done”.

Completed in 1877, the rail connection between Heuston and Connolly crosses over the Liffey and passses under the the Phoenix Park in a 692-metre long tunnel. It then continues northwards through Cabra, and runs under the Royal Canal and around the north side of Glasnevin cemetery to Glasnevin junction, where the Maynooth line joins it. The line then continues eastwards through Drumcondra Station and onwards to Connolly Station or towards North Wall via North Strand junction.

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Under the NTA’s implementation plan published last week, the rail path would be used for “the running of through services from the Kildare line to Connolly and through to Grand Canal Dock”. Under the plan, commuter services could begin using the Phoenix Park tunnel in “late 2015 or early 2016″.  The estimated cost of necessary works in the tunnel is around €12 million, according to the NTA.

(Youtube: Metro Vick)

An earlier version of this article was published at 3.21pm

Read: The Phoenix Park is 350 years old: Here are 20 things to know about it >

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Daragh Brophy

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