NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION CORRIDORS

Introduction

This paper outlines an alternative method for the distribution of transport infrastructure resources, with major benefits for road and rail users, and a higher ultimate return to the exchequer. It is of great relevance to the Dublin Navan Kells corridor.

Current Situation

Government transport funding is overwhelmingly pitched towards roads, with six times more money spent on this infrastructure than railways and other public transport modes.(1)

In the particular case of Dublin Navan Kells, the current proposed infrastructure spend is weighted in favour of the road mode by a factor of 1000:1.(2)

Road projects, as administered by the National Roads Authority (NRA) under the aegis of the Department of Transport, have recently come in for heavy criticism for what is felt are their unnecessarily elaborate nature, with attendant environmental and other consequences.(3)

Looking at the evidence it could be argued that road development is in fact pursuing a logical course, but only if it were the case that no other forms of transport existed. Much of road-building strategy appears to operate in isolation to other transport systems.(4)

Roads Emphasis

Government policy is largely shaped and influenced by the interests of business and the market, and by the need to satisfy the perceived infrastructural requirements for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).(5) Road transport is seen as not just beneficial for the transport of freight, but also impacts personally on business people and other individuals. It could be said that people have a personal stake in road transport that is not always made apparent with rail. The celebration of individual freedom in driving, the appeal of car advertising and the promotion of a car-based lifestyle is symptomatic of how road dominance is almost unconscious, despite the now well-known drawbacks of untrammelled car and lorry use. Additionally, business and the public has viewed the rail mode in a generally negative way because of a history of under-investment resulting in poor timetabling, unreliability, discomfort and (with exceptions) generally outmoded passenger and freight facilities.

Consequences

The acceptance of the normality of unsustainable car and lorry use, with no realistic alternatives made available, means that over-specified road projects are seen as not only acceptable but highly desirable, always with the promise of relieving congestion and cutting journey times. In fact, it is now well-known that congestion cannot be eased by road-building, and that the cost-benefit of spending millions to save relatively little on journey times - which are often calculated assuming less than full capacity traffic loadings - has been questioned.(6)

Government Approaches

The existence of rail and other modes is acknowledged and supported by the Department of Transport, and this is very positive. The governments enlightened decision to invest in rail in recent years in the national interest is most welcome, and it is sobering to think where the system may or may not be now had the investment programme not been initiated. Rail investment is also timely given the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and by the growing awareness of the critical role that the rail mode has to play in sustainable and balanced regional development.(7)

Nevertheless, an untenable emphasis on road funding at the expense of other modes persists, and the governments position seems logical at first sight, given its strong links to the business community and other groups with an inherent disposition towards road transport as discussed above. Some commentators have also expressed the view that revenues from VRT are reinforcing car- and lorry-friendly policies.(8)

What is in fact clear is that funding decisions are being made on the basis of a circular argument that the public and business need more roads at the expense of rail / bus / other because they largely use the road mode; when in fact they largely use roads precisely because there is less investment in rail, bus and the other modes. NTCs break this cycle.

Moving the Goalposts - National Transportation Corridors

Fortunately, the rail network here remains in public ownership by way of the government and the Minister of Transport, thus creating a safety net. The government is in a position to give due consideration to all transport modes, and is not encumbered by the demands of private ownership (which must satisfy shareholders and not the public at large).(9)

In that regard, government can influence infrastructure funding in a highly positive manner, via suitable legislation, directives, statutory instruments, and so on. Simply put, it can be a balancing force against the power of vested interests, in the wider national good.

Hence one way of doing this is to redefine the scope of transport projects to which the government gives funding. Rather than viewing projects in isolation, and in dualistic terms (roads versus rail, etc.), the overall transport needs of a region or between regions can be considered in their totality. Splitting funding between modes in a defined region or corridor would reduce the need for massive motorway projects, whilst simultaneously enhancing rail along the same routes. This would lead to very positive environmental, social and economic benefits, without reducing the overall effectiveness of transportation along those routes.

Such a strategy would paradoxically benefit road users by freeing up space on main routes, thus making driving safer, more reliable and less stressful, and critically, would also free up internal NRA resources which could then be redirected into its secondary and tertiary road improvement programmes. This is preferable to the current situation where such resources are often procured additionally to the existing budget. Of course, reduced demand on road space would also be very beneficial for Bus Éireann and private coach operators.

NTCs in action

An ideal candidate for an initial NTC would be a North-Western Corridor out of Dublin. At present transportation development along this corridor has been defined solely in terms of a €670 million motorway from Clonee to Kells. The enormous impact of this high-cost / low-value project is already being resisted by community groups, environmentalists, etc. Apart from loss of land, community severance, unsustainable increases in vehicular emissions, and light and noise pollution, the current scheme will also severely curtail the areas unique heritage and amenities such as the Hill of Tara, Dalgan Park outside Navan, etc. Yet calls for the reopening of the railway from Clonsilla to Navan, with an extension to Kells, have been resisted due to the excessive costs involved.(10)

Designating this corridor as an NTC would allow the NRA to widen the existing road to say a dual carriageway, or build a two-plus-one scheme(11), much of the projected traffic having been allocated to the railway line, thus reducing the loadings on the road, and thus the width and other design features. A portion of the very significant cost savings arising from this would permit the NRA to concentrate resources on secondary and tertiary roads in the area of the Corridor. Meanwhile IÉ and the RPA would use the balance of the spend in the re-opening of the Clonsilla-Clonee-Navan-Kells rail line. Another feature would be the enhancement of local bus services, cycling routes and pedestrian access within the corridor, and the creation of Local Interchanges integrated road / rail / bus / stations, with freight distribution facilities, in each of the towns along the route. Thus all transportation modes would benefit from the €670 million investment, with the balanced approach yielding high value due to enhanced mobility and competitiveness, greatly reduced environmental costs, increases in the regions attractiveness as a location to live and work, and so on. These gains would translate into a higher return on the outlay in due course. A successful pilot NTC would be used as a model for the rest of the country.

Summary

NTCs remove current inherent transport infrastructure funding imbalances via e.g. a legislative framework. They would devolve from the Dept. of Transport to the NRA, RPA and local councils. They ensure a balanced distribution of transport infrastructure funding across the different modes, freeing up resources within the NRA and also improving conditions for motorists and bus users, thus creating a win-win situation for all parties and providing a higher ultimate return on the investment. The economic, social and environmental benefits of such a concept have been described.

Drafted by B. Guckian M3 Web Version / V5 : 3/5/2004

Acknowledgement : T. Casterton

(NB This paper is an abridged version of a larger document currently in preparation)

References

(1) Eamon Ryan TD; 2003;
(2) Based on proposed road investment of €670 million compared to €670,000 for feasibility study into re-opening Clonsilla to Dunboyne section of Clonsilla Navan - Kells rail link;
(3) Sunday Independent 20/7/2003; Martin Fitzpatrick No economic justification for Waterfords €1.3Bn motorway;
(4) Platform11 Press Release - Jurassic Park : Irelands Primitive Approach to Integrated Transport;
(5) Source : Author;
(6) UK SACTRA (Standing Advisory Committee on Trunk Road Assessment) Report of 1994;
(7) National Spatial Strategy (NSS), 2003;
(8) Source : Author;
(9) Christian Wolmar Broken Rails Aurum Press 2001;
(10) Strategic Rail Review (SRR), Booz Allen Hamilton, 2003;
(11) Two-plus-One is an innovative road design developed by the NRA that features two lanes in one direction and one lane in the other, alternating over several sections of a particular route. This significantly reduces the environmental impact of the road development without sacrificing its effectiveness.

Appendix - Map references

NORTHWEST NTC (NTC3). EXPLANATORY DIAGRAMS, CLONEE – KELLS

Diagram 1 – Current Proposal Diagram 2 – NTC Scheme
Diagram 1 - Current Proposal Diagram 2 - NTC Scheme
(Click on maps to enlarge)