Sunday, April 21, 2024

A €27bn rail upgrade would be lovely…all we need now is to believe the gates will be open in Mullingar

Trust, but verify: that was the advice of the late US President Ronald Reagan.

We’re also advised that trust is not the same thing as faith – in a religious sense, faith is a belief in something that cannot be proven, it’s just a knowing that it’s true.

Last week, the State delivered another bulky (and probably expensive) review document on us, this time about travel entitled ‘All-Island Strategic Rail Review’, or AISRR).

It was published by the Department of Transport and the Department of Infrastructure (Northern Ireland) – the latter, of course, does not have a minister and hasn’t had for some time.

It is the first All-Island Rail Review, setting out 30 recommendations for developing a rail network that would signif­icantly benefit commuters, communities, businesses, the environment and economies, both north and south.

If the recommendations are implemented in full it “could transform the rail system in the coming decades with electrification, faster speeds and greatly improved frequency, opening a number of new routes particularly across the West and North of the island, and widening accessibility and connectivity across the island”, the report suggests.

The review was launched by Green Party leader and present Minister for Transport, Éamon Ryan, in April 2021.

There are any number of improvements in rail suggested. Suffice to say that it would make an environmentalist salivate just to read parts of it to them. It’s truly aspirational, wonderful, necessary, obvious and expensive.

If everything in the rail review was delivered, it would cost in excess of €27,000,000,000 (or €27bn if you like it that way ­– we prefer lots of zeros). Spread over 25 years (why?), it would cost more than €1,000,000,000 (€1bn) a year; that’s a lot of money but, we’re told in the report, that’s the kind of money we, the tax payers, were ploughing into motorway construction, presumably when the Celtic Tiger was alive and well.

That’s probably why more than a decade later, we’re still paying to use the M50 and the M4. But we digress; this is a detailed report and you can check it out for yourself online.

The question is this: do you trust government to deliver on this review – not just the current Government, but any Irish government? Do you trust the Irish political system to come up an authority that can see this review as being important, get building it, finding the cash to pay for it, and bringing it in on budget, albeit with inflationary increases?
Well, how can you?

Our political system has come up with a Government that can’t even deliver the new National Children’s Hospital on budget – the anticipated €500,000,000 cost has soared to four times that figure. The system has led to such planning confusion that Dublin Bus has 100 new electric buses sitting, for more than a year, in a Dublin depot because the company can’t get planning permission for recharging facilites there.

It’s the system that has led to it ignoring the problems and needs of our national broadcaster, RTÉ, so that more and more people are refusing to buy a TV licence to help fund the station, because of Tubridygate, or whatever it’s called.

So we welcome the rail review as a brilliant strategy…it’s just that history has shown us that our political elite are incapable of getting much smaller projects done properly.

Trust? No. Faith? yes, but not in the Oireachtas, surely?

We can’t even trust Irish Rail to leave the gates unlocked at Mullingar Railway Station.

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