DUBLIN'S Luas light rail network is running seriously behind schedule, and the cost is spiralling out of control. When preliminary design began in 1994, the project was to have been completed in 2001 at a cost of €279m. The bill is now put at €800m, and there are suggestions that the final figure for the 25 km initial network could top €1bn.

The 14 km Line A runs from Tallaght in west Dublin via Heuston station and the city centre to Abbey Street, from where the 1 km Line C continues to Connolly station. Line B will run 9 km from Sandyford industrial estate in south Dublin to St Stephen's Green. The original plan had been for Line B to continue through the city centre to meet Line A, but opposition from traders forced this plan to be abandoned.

The Railway Procurement Agency now says that Line A will not be completed until March 2004, followed by three months of testing, meaning that the first fare-paying passengers will not be carried until June 2004. Opening of Line B will follow in August 2004.

Serious concerns remain about the effects of recent budget cuts. In west Dublin, a lack of funds means that Line A trams will have to cross the Naas Road - the main western artery - on the level using traffic lights rather than on a flyover. Traffic chaos is also expected in the city centre, where Line A trams will cross O'Connell Street every 21/2min.

RPA is hoping to get the go-ahead later this year for a 6·7 km extension to Line B, as far as Cherrywood, which would open in 2008. It is also planning a 1·6 km Line C1 from Connolly to The Point Depot, to open by 2007, and a 7·3 km extension of Line A to the fast-growing town of Lucan, west of Dublin.

Meanwhile, the government is due to decide this month whether to proceed with a planned metro line to Dublin airport. Construction is estimated at €1·7bn, but land acquisition and other costs could push the total to €4·8bn.