Chairperson and members of the committee, thank you for the invitation to attend. I understand that the Committee wishes to focus upon the recently published National Development Plan. To assist me in dealing with your subsequent questions I am joined by Hugh Creegan, Deputy CEO with the Authority.
National Transport Authority Remit
The remit of the NTA is primarily concerned with the planning, development and funding of sustainable transport modes, that is to say public transport, cycling and walking.
The Authority manages the capital investment programme for public transport, cycling and walking in the Greater Dublin Area and funds the transport operators and local authorities for approved projects. The Authority also manages a similar capital investment programme for the regional cities of Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford on behalf of the Department of Transport and we manage the National Accessibility Programme.
The current National Development Plan (NDP) includes very significant developments such as the BusConnects Programme, MetroLink and the DART+ Programme, as well as other important public transport, walking and cycling projects which will assist in meeting the demand for sustainable transport as well as our obligations to reduce carbon emissions. These projects continue to be relevant to meet the Government’s long-term overarching strategy to make Ireland a better country for all of us.
The Authority has commenced a number of sustainable transport projects to be delivered as part of the current NDP across the five cities of Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford to provide additional sustainable travel options to complement increased capacity and faster higher quality public transport in the cities. These will include traffic management, bus priority and other smarter travel projects along with new urban cycling and walking routes to allow transport infrastructure to function more effectively and relieve congestion.
The key projects set out in the NDP are:
BusConnects will overhaul the current bus system in all five cities by implementing a network of ‘next generation’ bus corridors (including segregated cycling facilities) on the busiest routes to make journeys faster, predictable and reliable. Over the lifetime of this NDP, there will be significant progress made on delivering BusConnects with the construction of Core Bus Corridors expected to be substantially complete in all five cities by 2030.
BusConnects will enhance the capacity and potential of the public transport system by increasing and replacing the bus fleets with low emission vehicles and introducing a new system of ticketing known as Next Generation Ticketing and cashless payments. Investment in the regional and commuter bus fleet will continue with the purchase of up to 400 new vehicles. These new vehicles are low emission EUROVI vehicles and comprise low floor single deck coaches and low floor double deck coaches. Under the NDP, by 2025 it is expected that over 50% of the urban PSO bus fleet will be converted from diesel to low and zero emission vehicles, with 30% of the bus fleet being zero emission.
Investment in bus stops including upgraded poles and live timetable information and provision of wheelchair accessible bus stops, including on interurban routes, will continue to improve the accessibility of the bus network for all users, and especially for persons with disabilities, reduced mobility and older people.
The Cork Commuter Rail Programme, running from Mallow to Midleton and Cobh, targets a 10-minute all-day frequency on electrified rail services in the Cork metropolitan area.
Funding provided over the next ten years will also support the further development of commuter rail in Galway and Limerick, with significant track and station works proposed for Oranmore and Athenry as well as the development of a Limerick commuter rail network.
Over the lifetime of this NDP upgrade works will take place at the three of the four major regional rail termini – Ceannt Station (Galway), Colbert Station (Limerick) and in Waterford a new train station and transport hub will be built as part of the North Quays redevelopment project which will replace Plunkett station. These projects will be funded through both the NDP and also the Urban Regeneration and Development Fund.
Public consultation has already taken place in relation to DART+ West and DART+ South West, while the procurement process has been completed in respect of DART+ Fleet and a preferred bidder identified. Government approval of the Preliminary Business Case for the programme will allow DART+ West move into the statutory planning process (known as a Railway Order application) and also allow for finalisation of the fleet contract.
A review of the Transport Strategy for the Greater Dublin Area is underway, and allocations provided under this NDP will allow for the commencement of planning and design of further projects that might emerge from that review. In rail, funding is being provided to conduct an all-island Strategic Rail Review which will specifically consider the potential for enhanced inter-urban and inter-regional rail connectivity over the period to 2040, including the opportunities for higher speeds on the network. In the interim funding will be provided to support a range of interventions across the network to improve journey times and service reliability, as well as maintaining the optimal levels of maintenance and renewal of the existing network.
Luas Finglas is the most advanced of the additional light rail lines planned for Dublin and the NDP will permit the project continue to progress in the coming years, with work already underway in relation to developing its Preliminary Business Case. Appraisal and planning will continue in relation to Luas Lucan and Luas Poolbeg.
In Cork, the Cork Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy proposes a new east-west transport corridor to be served by light rail and this NDP will fund the continued development and design of that proposal, while the feasibility of light rail in Galway will be considered.
A Preliminary Business Case has been submitted to the Department of Transport for review and will be submitted shortly to Government for its approval as required under the Public Spending Code. Since 2018 the project has undergone two extensive non-statutory public consultation processes, during which thousands of submissions were received and considered. Development of the Preferred Route is now being readied for submission next year to An Bord Pleanála for statutory planning approval.
Connecting Ireland is the NTA’s programme to improve mobility in rural areas by providing better connections between villages and towns and by linking these areas with an enhanced regional network connecting cities and regional centres nationwide. The delivery of Connecting Ireland will require additional current PSO funding to cover the operating costs of the new and enhanced services. Separately this NDP will fund the capital expenditure requirements associated with the delivery of additional bus stops and vehicles to support the rollout of the overall Plan.
The investment proposed in the NDP for the major urban centres over the next 5 years will target over 700km of improved walking and cycling infrastructure delivered across the five cities. To support delivery of this improved infrastructure, additional staff will be funded in the metropolitan area local authorities to increase their capacity to roll out these infrastructure projects.
The NDP investment will help support the delivery of significant levels of new and improved walking and cycling infrastructure by 2025 outside the metropolitan areas, as well as additional investment in Greenways. It will also fund the deployment of almost 250 additional staff resources in Local Authorities and National Roads Offices around the country to increase the capacity of these organisations to roll-out these active travel infrastructure projects.
That concludes my introductory statement. I trust that I can answer any queries that arise.