THE latest rail report by the National Transport Authority is reminiscent of ‘silly season’ talk. Iarnród Éireann will require an extra €100 million per annum for the next five years to stay afloat. From these figures Irish Rail looks like a basket case, which is a picture a lot of people like to paint.
Too many rail naysayers forget that state subvention in 2007 was €195 million. Last year it was half that! And that is not making any allowance for inflation. In real terms, it means the Government is not investing adequately in its own company. The knock-on effect is that a properly serviced and sustainable transport infrastructure is unable to support business and leisure passengers. In effect, it is a strangulation of services by stealth.
One of the duties and responsibilities of a sovereign state is to provide satisfactory infrastructural supports from rail and road networks to telecommunications and health. That is why taxes are collected, to pay for these services. An inadequate passenger rail infrastructure means more cars on the roads. This means higher carbon dioxide emissions, longer travel times and frustrated commuters. Inadequate rail freight services also add to the road and emissions problems.
Less than ten percent of commuters use rail in Dublin, with one percent in Cork, Limerick and Waterford. Galway commuter rail use is minimal, the report claimed. Regular commuter rail use has certain requirements - train times, journey times and capacity, not forgetting the cost of rail travel. These are issues that may be forgotten when providing a service. Sometimes, it seems that the customers’ needs are the last thing taken into consideration after officials have ticked the ‘service provided’ box.
Barry Kenny, Corporate Communications Manager with Irish Rail said recently: “If the view of the wider public and political powers is that ‘the amount of money you have right now is all you’re getting’, then to deliver an effective service a lot of lines have to be closed…if you have limited resources, as we have had for a number of years, are you going to put money into the route where three million people are travelling, like Dublin to Cork, or the route where 23,000 people are travelling?”
The Ballybrophy-Limerick line in former Minister Alan Kelly’s constituency is under threat. “The idea that only profitable public transport routes should be maintained would lead to the withdrawal of public transport from whole swathes of both urban and rural Ireland,” said Mr Kelly.
Parts of the Western Rail Corridor are also at risk but Minister of State, Seán Canney, used figures from a recent study to defend the route, as reported in this paper recently: “Mr Kealan Flynn, Cicero Communications, Galway said research conducted by his company for West on Track, with the co-operation of Iarnród Éireann, found that passenger numbers far exceeded projections and that traffic on the Galway-Limerick route is growing at a faster rate than on any other route in the country. Mr Flynn pointed out that the new Athenry to Ennis section (Phase One) of the Western Rail Corridor carried 102,000 passengers in 2015, which is more than double the numbers carried in 2014 and far exceeding Iarnród Éireann forecasts in the original business case for the re-opening of the Galway to Limerick passenger train service.
Overall, the Galway to Limerick route carried more than 300,000 passengers in 2015. The Cicero findings are further confirmed in the recent publication of the National Rail Census by the National Transport Authority which found 1,147 journeys took place on the Galway-Limerick rail service on Rail Census Day 2015.”
Rail makes sense, especially when the country could face penalties because of the level of our carbon dioxide emissions. Passenger rail and rail freight are the two simplest boxes to tick, even after all the studies have been done; yet there is a reluctance to do so.
At the launch of the Cicero/Western Rail Corridor report Minister Michael Ring said: “Like everybody else in the west of Ireland I believe we have enough reports. We now need to put infrastructure of all kinds into the west.” He is right, as is Minister Canney. Convincing their Government colleagues might be a more difficult task.