RAIL expansion projects in Dublin and across the country form the backbone of the €34·4bn Transport 21 investment package unveiled by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Transport Minister Martin Cullen at Dublin Castle on November 1.

Bringing together many existing proposals into a 10-year package, Transport 21 is expected to make a substantial impact on chronic traffic congestion in the Irish capital, boosting the number of public transport trips from 200 million to 375 million per year. The rail elements are expected to cost around €16bn. Most of the funding will come from the public sector, but €6bn is to be raised through public-private partnerships. Cullen said a new Transport Authority would be set up in the next few months to manage the delivery of the major projects.

The plan calls for Dublin's two Luas light rail lines to be linked in the city centre by 2008, with the Red Line to be extended from Connolly to the docks and a branch built from Tallaght to Citywest. The Green Line will be extended from Sandyford to Cherrywood by 2010 and to Bray by 2015, with the cross-city link subsequently extended to Broadstone and Grangegorman. A third line running west from Dublin to Lucan is expected to open by 2013 (MR 05 p41).

The DART commuter electrification will be extended north from Malahide to Balbriggan, and the Dublin - Kildare line will be wired as far as Hazelhatch. The Maynooth line will also be electrified, and the Clonsilla - Dunboyne - Navan line will be reopened, with the first phase to be ready by 2009. The 5·2 km interconnector tunnel between Heuston, Pearse and Connolly stations is to be completed by 2015, serving a major interchange with the light rail and metro networks at St Stephen's Green.

Two metro lines are envisaged. Metro North will run from St Stephen's Green through the northern suburbs to Dublin Airport and Swords. The orbital Metro West will link Tallaght, Clondalkin and Blanchardstown to an interchange with Metro North at Ballymun.

Outside Dublin, the Cork - Midleton line will reopen in 2008, as the first stage of a Cork commuter network, which will also see three new stations built on the line to Mallow. The mothballed Western Rail Corridor from Limerick to Sligo will be reopened on a phased basis over the next 10 years, starting with Ennis - Athenry in 2008. A Galway - Athenry commuter service is scheduled to start by 2009. A feasibility study will also be commissioned for a rail link from Limerick to Shannon Airport.