DUBLIN, Ireland — When the Celtic Tiger was still roaring some years ago, Irish planners invested 300 million euros ($412 million) in an extension of a city tramline into the countryside south of Dublin. It was designed specifically to link planned new supermarkets, shopping malls and apartment blocks for a growing population.
The new five-mile stretch of the park-and-ride line opened last week to great fanfare. However, the trams that glide every few minutes along the new line pass through green fields to a deserted rural terminus. The proposed developments it was meant to serve never got off the ground because of the property crash that has bankrupted most of Ireland’s developers.
Of the 10 new stops, two are ghost stations: They have ticket machines and electronic timetables but the trams do not stop because there are no people to use them. One of these ghost stations, Brennanstown, is stranded in fields without even a road nearby.
Worse still, for a public frustrated by a chronic lack of joined-up thinking in Irish planning, the extension, designed as park and ride service, has no parking lots. Hundreds of commuters who had hoped to use the service rather than drive into Dublin were met with signs threatening that their cars would be booted and they would be fined 120 euros ($165) if they dared park on the narrow country roads or in the near-empty lot of a science and technology park near the end of the line.
There are hundreds of acres of empty ground surrounding the new stops but no one can use them because the property has been taken over from bankrupt developers by the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA), which must try to sell them on.
The Irish Minister for Planning, Ciaran Cuffe, defended opening the park-and-ride line without parking, saying, “We have the horse ready and waiting before the cart for a change.”
Dublin’s tram system, known as the Luas, has often been singled out as an example of a deficit in forward thinking in infrastructure planning since it was opened six years ago. Its two lines, the southern green line and western red line, end a mile apart in the city center. Proposals to link them underground with the construction of a new line called Metro North, partly funded by the European Investment Bank, have ignited a furious debate among planners and environmentalists.“
The construction of Metro North would have a devastating impact on the city center,” said Frank McDonald, environment editor of The Irish Times. “The northwest quadrant of St. Stephen’s Green would be turned into a huge hole in the ground and all the statues and fine monuments on O’Connell Street would be taken down.”
McDonald also said that — just as with the Luas extension in the south — “one of the key assumptions underpinning the project is that there would be enormous levels of development and population growth along the corridor Metro North would serve, but this is also unlikely to be realized any time soon.”
Cuffe, a Green Party minister in the coalition government, argues that Metro North will provide a light rail link from Dublin airport for the first time and “will benefit the city of Dublin and its inhabitants for generations to come.”
While the people of Dublin may have to face major disruption if Metro North goes ahead, the French-made trams on the Luas have proved efficient and are popular with Dubliners. The wide new motorways that link the capital with the major cities of Cork, Limerick and Galway, and Belfast in Northern Ireland, are also welcome legacies of the boom years. In addition, November will see a new state-of-the-art terminal, Terminal 2, opened at Dublin airport, where the old Terminal 1 is cramped and down at heel.
Designed by an international consortium led by Ove Arup, which is responsible for some of the world’s most iconic structures such as the Sydney Opera House, the new 600 million-euro terminal will not only showcase Ireland but will provide transatlantic passengers with U.S. customs clearance before boarding, a facility unique to Ireland outside North America.
However, with the country almost bankrupted by the financial crisis, the population declining, and fewer people traveling, the airport authorities can only hope that Terminal 2 will not become a ghost terminal, like the unused stations on the Luas line.