IRISH PUBLIC Enterprise Minister Mary O'Rourke this week overruled advice from consultant WS Atkins and opted to build the city centre section of Dublin's Luas light rail scheme underground.
The decision saw the cost of the original scheme rocket from £220M to £400M plus, according to ministers. And the delay caused by the rethink means that the project will lose around £114M in European Union funding.
O'Rourke's decision is seen as politically motivated to appease local businesses. It effectively rules out construction of a modern public transport system in Dublin city centre until 2005.
The new proposals will see an enlarged street level system constructed in two or three stages by 2002 but it is expected that funding for the city centre tunnels will take much longer to raise.
The Atkins report was commissioned at the end of last year to review options for the scheme after local pressure forced the government to adjourn a public inquiry into a £220M street running scheme in July 1997. The report was completed last month and cost the Irish government £200,000.
It concluded: 'The surface option is the most appropriate and cost effective in meeting the transport needs of the city and providing capacity to meet the long term passenger demands.'
But in the plan unveiled by O'Rourke last week - only recently put together by government ministers - the 2.5km city centre section will go into tunnel. No precise costings have been made but the Atkins report estimates that tunnelling - through difficult, water laden ground - will nearly double the cost.