[WATCH] Three-line Metro system proposed for national discussion

Project estimated to cost around €6.25 billion and would span over 15-20 years • Gozo would not be connected to the metro line under the current proposal

File Photo
File Photo

Prime Minister Robert Abela and Transport Minister Ian Borg have presented the results of a study on the feasibility of a mass transport system in Malta.

In a presentation by Transport Malta chairman Joseph Bugeja, the study proposes a three-line underground transport system with 25 stops. It is estimated to cost around €6.25 billion and would be spanned over a period of 15-20 years.

The three lines would distributed as follows; the red Nothern line connecting Naxxar with Pembroke, the green Central line connecting Birkirkara with Marsa and Valletta, and the blue Southern line connecting Mater Dei Hospital with the airport and Cospicua. The main stations will be in Sliema, Gzira, Valletta, Birkirkara and Cospicua.

The first phase of the project that would see the construction of the entire northern line, that would cost around €3.9 billion and would take between five and eight years to be completed.

Joseph Bugeja announced that ARUP group was commissioned by the Government. He said that the studies were initiated in 2017, in order to find the most suitable rapid mass transport system and reach the aspirations of future generations. 

“A number of systems were considered, however the one that is most appropriate, affordable and feasible was chosen.” 

Bugeja did acknowledge that a metro system does present various geo-physical challenges. The metro line would be underground, with only a small route at level ground. The aim, he said is also to regenerate the urban centre and improve the quality of life of the residents.

The eventual system, if implemented, would be accompanied by a reformed bus network, which would interchange with the respective underground stations, with smaller buses and added frequency and outreach.

The three line metro system proposed
The three line metro system proposed

“The launch of the findings of this study is just the beginning of a long process, not least a national discussion on what is being proposed and where we want to go in the future.

“Once the network is defined and agreed upon and additional studies are completed, including geo-technical studies and an evnironmental impact assessment, a fully-fledged public consultation process would be carried out. In the meantime, additional economic and financial cost models need to evaluate the best financial model to be used to finance such a project and operate such a network in the eventuality that Government decides to continue with the proposed network,” Bugeja said.

William McDade from ARUP Group said that they studied various alternatives but the underground light metro was found to be the most feasible option, although it does come with a higher cost and longer delivery time.

McDade said that although Malta has recently overhauled the road infrastructure system, the capacity of the road network is not sufficient to cater for the rate of growth.

McDade remarked that such a project would present a challenge of disposing the excavated rock and said that a number of locations have been assessed for land reclamation.

Robert Abela says the Government has the credibility to see the project through

Prime Minister Robert Abela said that a realist discussion should now be held after the best mass transport solution for such a small country was identified by experts.

“A project like this cost billions, but it is a reality that such a project would occur over four legislatures”.

Abela remarked that the labour government has credibility, after embarking on the largest infrastructure project in Malta’s history. He added that land reclamation is an opportunity to turn the generated waste into an opportunity.

“In the present it does not make sense for Gozo to be connected, as for it to be fiscally feasible, it would require 50,000 more people […] Through the fast ferry we have sent a strong message that Gozo should not remain at the periphery,” said Abela.

Ian Borg calls for a mature discussion

Transport Minister Ian Borg said that after a lot of perseverance, the time has come to provide the Maltese with an opportunity to discuss the matter maturely.

Borg sounded caution and said that this is “a dose of reality of what it means for the country to invest in a mass transport system [...] justifying such a large expense”.

He added that a number of questions will arise on the proposal, including the elevated cost and whether better or cheaper alternatives exist.

Long time coming

The talks on a mass transport system were adopted by the PL government, with former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat confirming in 2019 that a number of studies were underway.

Originally the proposal was mooted in the Nationalist Party electoral manifesto of 2017, which had proposed a metro system, estimated at €2.3 billion, with a first train planned within five years.

In 2019, Transport Malta applied to trademark the name ‘Metro Malta’ with the European Union Intellectual Property Office.

Last September, during a PL rally, PM Robert Abela had put forward the question of whether the country is ready for such a huge project, and a shift in mentality with regards to transport.

Following the 2017 election victory, the Labour government embarked on a €700 million infrastracture project to rebuild all national roads.

More details are found on the Metro website.