Navan Rail Line-Will it ever get back on track?

“It is clear that a direct rail service would have a significant impact on the toll revenues of the M3 operator as it would offer a faster, cheaper, safer and more environmentally friendly alternative to commuters.” (Rails to Navan, Platform 11 Dublin Rail Projects Committee, 15 September 2005)

The town of Navan in County Meath, located along the old Dublin road and straddling the River Boyne, is like many commuter towns all over Ireland. Just like those other towns, it saw an influx of house buyers during the Celtic Tiger who flocked there from Dublin as houses were cheaper.  Many of those people who bought houses in Navan work in Dublin and commute to the city each day, a round trip of approximately 94 kilometres.  Most of them commute by car and bus which on a good day, with little traffic, can be done within 45 to 50 minutes. At peak times, however, the journey takes much longer, often up to two hours, depending on congestion. Anyone commuting by car and driving along the M3 motorway will also have to pay a toll twice when making that journey.  Pity the poor individual who having purchased a home in Navan at the height of the boom and now in negative equity, now has to spend four hours a day stuck in congestion getting to and from work to pay for that overpriced investment! The irony is that in theory, according to Mark Gleeson of Rail Users Ireland, a voluntary pressure group, you could go by rail from Navan to Dublin in approximately 50 minutes. Navan does actually have a functioning railway line which was constructed between 1847 and 1850. At present the railway line is only used for transporting freight for Tara Mines.  

That must be poor consolation for the 33,000 of local TD Shane Cassell’s constituents who commute to Dublin every day, “the vast majority” by car. The 2016 Census figures showed that Meath was one of the fastest growing counties in Ireland with its population expected to grow by 5.9% to 195,044. With such a large (and growing) population and given the fact that the town of Navan itself is the fifth largest in the country, it would seem that reopening an existing railway line would be a no-brainer, particularly given the congestion on our roads and the pressing need to lower our Greenhouse gases and carbon emissions.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report calls for “urgent and unprecedented” changes in order to avoid exceeding 1.5 degrees of global warming.  That alone should be a clarion call to the government that something needs to be done and fast. It would also be the  perfect opportunity to  demonstrate that they are serious about the issue of climate change and commit to real investment in public transport . So what’s the problem? Why can’t the existing rail line simply be put back into operation?

Dr Mark Gleeson of Rail Users Ireland(previously known as ‘Platform 11’), a pressure group which has conducted extensive research and carried out a costing and feasibility study of  reopening both the Navan to Dublin rail line and the Drogheda to Navan rail line , states that “the Navan thing is a bit of an enigma”. Prior to the economic crash in 2008, a plan to re-open the existing line had been approved and construction had started. At the same time, in 2007, Eurolink Motorway Operations (M3) Ltd was awarded the contract to design, finance, build, operate and maintain the M3 Clonee to North of Kells motorway. Then the economic crash occurred in 2008 and the plan for the railway line was shelved, although the construction of the M3 went ahead. It was completed in 2010 and cost €521 million to build, design and operate, according to a report published by the Parliamentary Budget Office “Overview of Public Private Partnerships in Ireland”. The final payment on that contract will not be made until 2052 and the agreement on the contract was that the company would get paid even if no-one used the motorway. Even for those driving as far as Dunboyne where there is a park and ride facility, they would still have to pass through the M3 toll before doing so. Mark believes that “huge questions” have to be asked about the awarding of the contract and the construction of the motorway and says that while he’s not suggesting anything illegal occurred, the process “might not be as transparent as people think”.

 In contrast, the total cost of upgrading and improving the Navan- Dublin rail line, according to the Rail Users Ireland report in 2005 would be €400 to €450 million and could be done within two years.

As recently as October of this year, the Public Accounts Committee met with the National Transport Authority to discuss their 2018 financial statements and TD Shane Cassells stated  that he had been “relentlessly” pursuing the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport since his election to the Dail on the requirement for the Navan train line. Despite this “relentless” pursuit and despite being told by the Minister that he would visit Navan to discuss the possibility of a review of the project, Cassells and “more importantly, the people of Meath are still waiting for that glorious visit to occur.”  Whether or not the visit would achieve anything obviously remains to be seen.

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