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‘Serious errors’ in EY analysis of WRC viabilty

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Dr John Bradley’s appraisal of the Western Rail Corridor is extremely critical of a prior report

Edwin McGreal

Dr John Bradley’s extensive appraisal of the Western Rail Corridor was called into being ‘by the extremely negative and damning conclusions and policy recommendations reached in the EY Report’.
“Examination of the EY methodology and assumptions strongly suggested that the EY policy conclusions were flawed and the basis upon which their conclusions rested needed to be challenged,” wrote Bradley.
The initial cost benefit analysis was prepared jointly by EY and Mott McDonald, at the behest of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and Iarnród Éireann, into examining the viability of restoring the railway from Athenry to Claremorris.
In criticising the report, Dr Bradley said it contained ‘an unusually high level of typographical errors and data corruption in key tables’. He added that several ‘key inputs’ were not supported by ‘substantial evidence’.
He went on to say that the ‘EY report exhibited a want of detail regarding the methods, data and calculations relied upon, rendering its results impossible to replicate or review for accuracy’.
“The errors and omissions in the EY analysis are of an extremely serious nature and if left unchallenged would risk depriving the west of Ireland of significant monetised and non-monetised benefits of a new communication infrastructure that could be of transformative magnitude for the region,” he wrote.
The most significant gulf was with regard to capital costs, 60 percent higher per kilometre than in Bradley’s report (see main piece).
“The fact that EY’s cost estimate for rehabilitating Phases 2 and 3 of the WRC is 2.3 times (230 percent) higher than the cost of Phase 1 must be highly scrutinised,” said Bradley, who went onto describe their capital cost estimate as ‘unreliable’.

Journey times
Dr Bradley adds that after capital costs, the second largest difference between his report and EY’s relates to the time savings benefits of reopening the line – that is the time people will save by using the reopened line compared to other modes of transportation.
Dr Bradley points out that the EY report, when calculating length of trips, incorrectly applied a 20 minute ‘interchange penalty’ at Athenry for any flows from Tuam/Claremorris to Galway. However, Dr Bradley points out that Claremorris to Galway would be a direct route, and no change of train/interchange would be required at Athenry.
In effect, this ‘interchange penalty’ meant train journeys would be slower than car journeys, whereas Dr Bradley’s report has the opposite conclusion. He said this incorrectly applied ‘interchange penalty’ had the result of ‘depressed rail passenger demand and revenue’ in the EY cost benefit analysis, factors which have a ‘significant negative impact on the cost benefit analysis’.
Bradley posits that journey times from Claremorris to Galway would be 58 minutes, whereas the EY report had this journey time as being 80 minutes.  

‘No justification’
Bradley’s report found that when it came to operational costs, ‘no justification is provided for the costs rising by 3.4 times (340 percent) over the analysis period, over and above the normal rate of inflation’.
For instance, the costs are set at €1.2 million per annum in 2026 rising to €4.1 million per annum in 2051 and beyond.
He said EY using 2012 as the base year for journey frequency projections, the lowest point of the global recession, produced ‘depressed rail passenger demand’, especially when the National Transport Authority’s base year for such calculations is 2016.
The Bradley report details issues in trying to obtain ‘vital data’ not present in the EY report. An initial email to Iarnród Éireann saw them reply that it was a matter for the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. The Department responded to a second email that it was a matter for Iarnród Éireann. A third inquiry to Iarnród Éireann went unanswered.
Dr Bradley points out particular trips used in the EY report, known as Origin/Destination pairings (O/D). These pairings are used to estimate likely passenger traffic.
EY used O/D pairings between Balla Railway Station, long since closed, and Claremorris; and between Kiltimagh (not on Phase 2 or 3 of the WRC) and Claremorris. They also used an O/D for Craughwell-Galway, even though Craughwell is on the existing Phase 1 Galway to Limerick line, not on Phase 2.
However, nowhere in the EY report did they pair any Mayo railway station with Galway City.
He feels that one of the major limitations of the EY report is its failure to see the restoration of the line to Claremorris as one which can have an impact far beyond the areas on that railway line from Athenry to Claremorris.
“A more relevant perspective within which to evaluate the WRC is a regional development context where the rail line serves a transformational role in linking the towns of north Galway, Mayo and Sligo/Leitrim/Roscommon on a north-south axis. Consequently, the EY report’s focus mainly on a narrow geographical area close to the Athenry-Claremorris alignment is almost certainly resulting in a significant under-estimate of the true potential of the WRC.”
Dr Bradley says his report demonstrates there are ‘significant monetised benefits to the WRC restoration that were either understated or ignored in the EY analysis. In addition, there were potential disbenefits that were wildly overstated’.

 

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