LAST OCTOBER AND NOVEMBER Irish Rail passengers suffered service disruptions as work started on a major project to improve signaling on Dublin rail lines.
The € 120million city center resigning project replaced old equipment that had worked for decades with newer technology to improve the safety and speed of trains running in the greater Dublin area.
At the time, Irish Rail Managing Director Jim Meade apologized to customers for the disruption but said the upgrades “would provide us with a modern system that improves customer safety.”
Earlier that year, Transport Minister Eamon Ryan announced € 8.8 million in funding for the design phase of the Kildare railway line improvement. The upgrade is part of the planned expansion of the Dart and, when completed, will significantly increase the capacity of the Irish rail network.
Ryan said the project “would facilitate a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and a shift towards a climate resilient society.”
The € 8.8 million in funding, and part of the € 120 million for re-signaling work, came from the EU, via the Connecting Europe Mechanism (CEF).
Both projects are examples of European Union money being used to improve public transport in Ireland, as part of broader initiatives to increase connectivity between countries on the continent.
Traveling through the 27 EU countries, from one end to the other, involves crossing many different countries. While the free movement of people across borders is a fundamental principle of the European Union (at least in times of non-Covid), there remain many obstacles to smooth movement.
These can range from unconnected rail systems from country to country, different restrictions and local signals for driving, or varying quality of roads and ports, among others.
The trans-European transport network (TEN) is an EU-wide policy aimed at solving these problems. The aim is to create a European-wide network of rail lines, roads, inland waterways, seaways, ports, airports and rail terminals.
“The ultimate goal is to fill the gaps, remove bottlenecks and technical barriers, as well as strengthen social, economic and territorial cohesion in the EU,” according to the website of the European Commission.
The ten-T policy dates back decades to the 1993 Maastricht Treaty, the founding treaty of the European Union. Major and minor infrastructure projects have progressed in spurts since then, sometimes languishing and shifting in focus as national and international priorities shifted.
The core network of transport improvements is expected to be completed by 2030, with a larger and more comprehensive network in place by 2050.
The core network is made up of nine corridors that stretch across Europe, crisscross all EU countries and connect to each other at strategic nodes.
“These are massive transport networks and corridors that often involve building a transport route that goes from one end of Europe to the other,” said Ciarán Cuffe, Green Party MEP and member of the European Parliament’s Transport Committee, which oversees Ten-T. Implementation.
“Ten-T networks generally involve not only road and rail, but they may involve improvements to ports or inland waterways, canals or marine improvements.”
In addition to transport, policies are in place for trans-European energy networks and digital networks aimed at connecting the EU.
“It can be pipelines for gas or water, it can be digital networks, and clearly if you build a route from A to B and put more than one thing in the mix, you can save money. of scale, ”Cuffe said.
The reason Ireland was able to secure funding for its Dart expansion is that Kildare is on the North Sea-Mediterranean Corridor, which begins with the Port of Foynes in Limerick, goes through Cork and Dublin, and then into France. , Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
Until this year, the UK and Northern Ireland were also part of the corridor, with the Dublin-Belfast route ensuring significant investment. Ireland was connected to mainland Europe via the United Kingdom.
However, since the UK officially left the EU earlier this year, Ireland is now linked to the port of Le Havre in France.
Following Brexit, Ireland was also added this year to the Atlantic Corridor, which stretches across countries on the EU’s Atlantic coast, connecting Ireland to the port of Saint-Nazaire in France.
Projects in Ireland
Two years ago at a public event in Mayo, then Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, answered questions about the reinstatement of the Irish Western Arc – a route from Cork to Belfast via the west coast – as part of the country’s Ten-T network.
“Some people seem to think Ten-T is a big pot of money, that we can take money out for roads and railways,” Varadkar told Mayo News.
“There is no longer a pot of European money to invest in Irish roads and railways. Those days are over.
Varadkar was referring to earlier transport projects funded by the EU Cohesion Fund, which dramatically improved Irish motorways and roads in the 1990s and 2000s. In the 1980s and 1990s Ireland had roads of the poorest quality among the 12 EU countries at the time, and received billions of euros in funding to improve its road network.
In recent years, funding for transport to Ireland from the EU has declined as the country has become more prosperous. The remaining funding is intended for measures designed to improve trans-European connectivity.
Road construction is still financed on a smaller scale, as are improvements to ports, air connectivity and rail infrastructure.
As part of the Ten-T policy, the EU also helps coordinate infrastructure projects, which Ciarán Cuffe says is an important part of its contribution.
“This is what Europe wants to do and is good. How to bring added value by working on a project at European Union level?
“In Ireland the debate has shifted from how we can get a lot of money from Europe, to how can we work with Europe to deliver A and B?
The main upcoming and ongoing projects partly funded by the EU under the Connecting Europe Facility include major upgrades to the ports of Dublin, Cork and Foynes and the development of CNG (compressed natural gas) networks. across Ireland.
Fund new projects
The Dart expansion and the city center re-signage project are two examples of CEF funding used to improve the provision of public transport in Ireland.
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Dart’s expansion grant is part of a € 2.2 billion investment in 140 transport projects across the EU. This is part of a shift towards supporting more climate-friendly, low-emission forms of transport as countries strive to meet their emission reduction targets under the Paris Agreement.
“We are moving in the right direction, but not fast enough,” says Cuffe.
“The current European Parliament and European Commission are much greener than their predecessors, but we need to do a lot more. But there are still many who want a massive expansion of aviation and the road network in Europe.
“From a green perspective, we say we should really prioritize public transport. “
One of the obstacles Cuffe sees to increasing investment in public transport is the fact that TEN policy and funding “tend to focus on infrastructure”.
“In other words, concrete and tarmac. It was difficult to direct Ten-T funds to the actual purchase of vehicles, whether trains or buses.
“Part of what the Green Group is trying to do is push for direct funding from the European Union for these low carbon means of travel.”
Building the future
Earlier this month, the European Parliament voted to adopt a renewed CEF program. MEPs voted to ensure 60% of funds will go to projects that help meet the EU’s climate goals.
Ciarán Cuffe said that it is difficult to attribute this change to “particular projects”, but that it represents a step in the right direction.
“When you talk about 20 billion euros or 30 billion euros, if you can cut low carbon financing from 50% to 60%, you have suddenly moved 3 or 4 billion euros of a type of transport to another. ” he said.
“And it’s a good day at work.”
In a statement to The newspaper, Péter Balázs, European coordinator for the North Sea-Mediterranean corridor said that the EU is committed to making Europe “the first climate neutral content in the world by 2050”.
“Transport is the backbone of our economy and a driver of territorial integration and social cohesion within the EU. But it is also the source of about 29% of all greenhouse gas emissions, ”he said.
“The ambitious and coordinated development of infrastructures is indeed an essential pillar of our strategy to build the sustainable transport system of tomorrow.
“I see a real opportunity for Ireland to modernize its transport network in a sustainable way, while improving its connectivity and taking into account its specific territorial features.”
This work is co-funded by Journal Media and a grant program from the European Parliament. All opinions or conclusions expressed in this work are those of the author. The European Parliament has no involvement or responsibility for the editorial content published by the project. For more information, see here.