Investing in transport

Over recent months I have tended to be highly nervous every time it was suggested that we would have an announcement on capital expenditure. The reason? Well, DCU has a very direct interest in one of the most expensive projects for investment right now: the planned ‘Metro North‘, the under- and overground train system that will ferry passengers between Dublin’s city centre, the airport and Swords (just North of Dublin). If built this will run directly past DCU’s campus, and moreover will connect DCU’s main campus with some of its linked colleges. The plans for this venture have already had a profound impact on the university, and dropping Metro North now would have a very debilitating effectb on the university.

Of course there are other reasons – other than DCU’s good fortune – why the government might want to proceed with Metro North. It has been argued by some that the Metro project is too expensive, and that transporting visitors and businesspeople to the airport quickly can be done by other, imaginative, ways. What this argument fails to grasp, however, that this project has the potential to produce massive economic regeneration; in fact, while transporting people is a very important objective of the Metro, it is arguable that it is not the most important one; economic development along this rail corridor is more significant still.

I’m not sure whether, as a country, we have a clearly focused transport strategy. We’re building roads and motorways as if there were no tomorrow, but our rail projects are slow to develop. It is arguable that the railways must once again be at the heart of new economic development, and it is important therefore that we get it right.

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19 Comments on “Investing in transport”

  1. Vincent Says:

    Could we not buy your people cars, it would be cheaper in the long run. A university with its own underground might be going a tad far.

  2. Vincent Says:

    I sorry but I disagree with you on the regeneration. For beyond a point where the people are boxed in with the accommodation. What they need more that outside imposition of big notions but the small business making a family wage and a half and lots of them. If the designers of these areas were hamstrung in the 60’s where there was not a shop or a pub for bloody miles they were also hamstrung in the 90’s with Swedish notions. And to arrive at the point where there is a plethora of such business, they need cheap credit. If a quarter of this money was made available as a credit pot the place would hum within a few years.
    Further, you do not want people leaving an area and they wont if they can work, shop and entertain within walking distance.
    And anyway just how many of your people have you that life in a strip 500yards of the line anyway.

  3. Kevin O'Brien Says:

    Metro North is a great idea.

    “And anyway just how many of your people have you that life in a strip 500yards of the line anyway.”

    That is inconequential. What matters is how many people WILL have DCU within 500 metres. Too many commentators are making pseudo mathematical arguments that ignore the fact that the improved infrastructure will drastically alter the population density.

  4. kevin denny Says:

    I am not convinced by the economic generation argument. At the very least, it needs to be fleshed out more. What sort of regeneration do you mean, industrial, retail, or something else? And what part of the corridor, all of it, the bit south of the airport or north? It would be hard to see if industrial development will be spurred by Metro since the inputs and outputs will not be transported by this system. Okay, workers could get there more easily but there are vastly cheaper solutions: put on a few more buses. Since the demand for public transport has fallen there are probably surplus buses and maybe drivers too. So this could be done immediately, for peanuts.
    While to some people anywhere north of the Liffey is impossibly remote,it needs to be remembered that Ballymun or even Swords is not Timbuktu and there are already transport and other links. So do we know for sure that it is lack of transport that is holding it back? Do we know that there are not better ways of achieving the same end if that is the problem?
    In general one should be very wary of justifying investment in one activity because it has the potential to achieve something else: “So lets invest in space travel because it might provide a cure for cancer” etc. At the very least, one has to investigate investing directly in whatever one is interested in.
    One thing to be borne in mind is that rail services are very expensive to create and continue. Colm McCarthy gave a nice example below recently. Don’t forget that we will be paying through the nose to finance this.
    “The new railway line connecting Limerick to Galway cost €106m. It offers five services per day, with average journey time of about two hours, and was opened with great speechifying a couple of months back. But the existing Citylink bus service between Limerick and Galway offers six frequencies per day, and a journey time of 90 minutes! So the National Development Plan has delivered, for €106 million, a slower and less frequent public transport option than was already available from Citylink, at no cost to the taxpayer.This is not investment in infrastructure, this is waste pure and simple. The Department of Finance opposed the Western Rail project, on the grounds that it had negative economic value, but were ignored. Finance do get the odd thing right, believe it or not.”

  5. Perry Share Says:

    Has there been a proper economic assessment of the impact of the Luas lines? I love the (Red) Luas, as it a) is very handy and b) provides constant mobile theatre. But I don’t see Drimnagh experiencing an economic renaissance just yet.

  6. Mark Dowling Says:

    I hope that Metro North is not going to be allowed by plagued by the antisocial behaviour current on the Red Line, especially around ticket machines.

    I would give free travel on the Metro, DART and LUAS to members of the Defence Forces and the Gardai if they travel in uniform – even without arrest powers hopefully the former can have a deterring effect on your generic Dublin gurrier, while the sooner the latter forms a dedicated transport police the better. As it is Broombridge station is continually wrecked by vandals.

    A thriving and safe transit system in Dublin is better for the future of our transport system than putative railway stations in Fiddown (per Phil Hogan TD) or Ballyglunin (Jim Higgins MEP).

    • Perry Share Says:

      Generally speaking there is a good security presence (both physical and virtual via CCTV) on the Red Line, but it does feature a social mix that is absent on the Green Line, whose passengers are all so frightfully nice!

      The best way to avoid the ticket machine hassle at Jervis and Heuston is to get a smart card. I don’t know if packing the tram with uniformed police and soldiers would necessarily be of benefit to the bulk of the passengers.

      It might be better to continue to invest in addressing the types of social problems (mainly drug and alcohol related of course) that contribute to the type of behaviour that (not surprisingly) upsets people.

  7. Kevin O'Brien Says:

    The Limerick Galway rail corridor and the Metro North project are completely different. As you correctly point out – The Lk/Gy train is Low frequency, serving two small cities. More importantly it doesn’t match up with the Limerick – Lk Jctn trains, and Irish Rail dont do web offers on the route.

    Neither the Interconnector nor the Metro North, high frequency commuter lines in a major conurbation, have absolutely none of those characteristics.

    The problem with the Lk/Gy line specifically is the way it is run. It can easily be incorporated into a transport system for the the entire south west. (The “Limerick Junction as a South West Hub” idea).

  8. Kevin O'Brien Says:

    “one has to investigate investing directly in whatever one is interested in.”

    I agree in principle, but there is absolutely no way to determine the benefit that would accrue over the life span of the project, which is 100 years at least.
    How can we figure out the Return On Investment in 2118? (answer: We cant!)

  9. Kevin O'Brien Says:

    edit: both comments were for Kevin Denny

    • kevin denny Says:

      Kevin O Brien: so if you can’t estimate the benefit over a one hundred year horizon – and its clearly difficult- where does that leave us? Do we presume that the benefits exceed the cost or the opposite? Since the investment is to a large extent irreversible and the economic environment uncertain – to put it politely -I would be inclined to hold off.
      Remember the benefits & costs are discounted so if your discount rate is 5% (I don’t know what Finance use, something like that) then after 50 years the discount factor is 1/(1.05^50)=.087 so its getting close to zero and by 75 years it is .025 so you really don’t have to worry.
      If one had identified lack of public transport in this putative Metro corridor as being detrimental to development then surely one could achieve the same objective much quicker, much more cheaply and with basically no downside risk with boring old buses?

  10. Kevin O'Brien Says:

    No mathematical methodology is going to be up to the job, so lets not waste time even trying.

    The only valid way to assess whether it will be worth it or not is to go to places like Prague, Bilbao, Copenhagen or Stockholm (cities of Dublin’s size) and appraise their “S-trains” and Metros.
    Again the methodology is ropey, but a massive improvement on 25 – 100 year forecasts.

    Buses just dont not have the ‘throughput’ , unless they are used in massive concentration (Something that should be looked at).

    I accept the point that this is a pretty bad time economically and committing massive amounts of money to the projects should be held off for a while. But we have to get cracking at it some time. The Interconnector should have be built years ago.

    • Vincent Says:

      I sorry but if they wanted to build a line that might be of some use then across from the Cork line at Kildare crossing the Louisa and then dropping to cross under the University to the Airport thence to the Belfast line. Such that the rest of us could ignore Dublin completely, something we will happily do. Then you would have loads of room. For quite honestly why do we go to Dublin these days anyway. And if I could get the National Archive to send outside of Dublin I would never enter the place again.

      • Kevin O'Brien Says:

        Hi Vincent
        That is little different from the Interconnector, (Just taking a northern route instead of a southern).
        The only issue I would have with it is that it doesnt go through two main business districts (Dublin 2 and the IFSC).
        While I caution against making long term predictions, it is a fair bet that they will remain so.

    • kevin denny Says:

      Kevin: The methodology isn’t mathematical though it uses elementary algebra. Pretty much everyone accepts that getting a dollar today is better than getting a dollar in 10 years time. So discounting costs and benefits is essential. Any firm contemplating an investment will do this. And governments do too.
      I am not clear what your preferred method of project evaluation is: by what criteria do you “appraise” S-trains if not their costs and benefits over time?

  11. Kevin O'Brien Says:

    Deterministic cash flow modelling cant and should be used for something of this scale. (DCF features on most maths undergrad courses).

    Essentially a mostly qualitative approach is the only way to go: basically go to Copenhagen etc and ask them how they felt it went.
    – What they would do different etc.
    – Was it worth going to the airport as opposed to a major suburb?

    Therein lies the obvious problem – the outcome is riddled with structural biases.

    Also the different geographies of cities make comparisons hard. Greater Bilbao follows a North South Axis, being build around an estuary hemmed by high hills, so one line was able to do the job. Tough job making relevant comparisons to Dublin.

    An investigation of the funding models from various cities would probably be informative. But it is likely that valid direct comparisons would be tough to determine.

    Just to confirm: I am more interested in getting the Interconnector going than the Metro North. The Metro West should be shelved altogether.

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