Rail Network: Presentation.

Wednesday, 12 November 2003

Joint Committee on Transport Debate

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Acting Chairman (Mr. Ellis): Information on John Ellis Zoom on John Ellis I welcome Fr. Micheál MacGréil, Mr. Colmán Ó Raghallaigh, Councillor Michael McGreal and Mr. Martin Cunniffe of West-on-Track.

I draw to the attention of the delegation to the fact that members have absolute privilege but those making submissions do not have privilege. I do not believe there will be any questions in that regard.

I ask Fr. MacGréil to commence his presentation. He has approximately five minutes to do so which will be followed by a ten minute question and answer session. We are restricted to time because Deputies Naughten and Shortall, who are party spokespersons on this subject, will have to go to the Dáil for the Order of Business, or earlier if possible.

Fr. Micheál MacGréil: On behalf of West-on-Track, I thank the committee for welcoming us here and it is important for us to be here. It has been a long haul over the past 24 years for us to try to preserve an essential infrastructure, the bimodal overland structure. We have documentation for each member. I will introduce Mr. Colmán Ó Raghallaigh who will present our case.

Mr. Colmán Ó Raghallaigh: We have a short powerpoint presentation. There are more slides than I intend to refer to. I did not understand there was such a time limitation. I will skip through the presentation quickly and I hope all the points will be clear. We will be happy to answer any questions afterwards.

The first slide deals with the definition of the western rail corridor because there is some confusion about it. The western rail corridor is the railway that links Sligo to Limerick. Two sections of it are already open, the Sligo to Collooney section and the Ennis to Limerick section, which has just been upgraded.

The map on display shows the western rail corridor running as a spine down through the west and through the mid-west from Sligo to Ennis. On the right, there is a legend that carries all the towns between Sligo and Limerick that would benefit from the re-opening of the western rail corridor. There would also be a spur line into Galway city through Oranmore that would serve commuters from north and south Galway.

There are three critical elements to the campaign - local government, statutory bodies and the community, whom we are representing. We have brought with us 100,000 signatures from people in the west.

West-On-Track is a community based campaign which was set up to support local elected representatives and the Minister for Transport in his stated ambition to see the Western rail corridor re-opened. We are trying to co-ordinate community support. We work in co-operation with statutory agencies. We organised a petition and received 100,000 signatures. Many thousands of postcards have been sent to the Department. We have produced car stickers and a calendar that members will receive later. Our organisation commissioned a site survey of the line from Collooney to Ennis. We have carried out a photographic survey of the line and prepared draft timetables, an example of which members shall see later. Our work was recognised recently by An Taisce, which presented us with one of its national awards.

We are seeking a commitment to re-open the entire Western rail corridor from Sligo to Limerick within a specific time frame; a commitment to specify the incremental phases against a specific time frame - in other words, it should be opened section by section. An instruction should be issued to Iarnród Éireann to programme the work within the current national development plan, and to establish a framework for local participation in overseeing the operating of services on the corridor.

I wish to deal with the economic arguments. What are likely to be the running costs of trains on a line like this? In that context, there will be one-person stations, automated ticketing and one-person trains. There is also the fact that a new railway would be less costly to maintain, the existing signal operators could control all train movements and rolling stock maintenance would be a fraction of the maintenance programme of the national fleet. In the case of the services we describe in the documentation presented, the regional rail cars would fit seamlessly into that proposal.

The new Charlestown service would cost less to operate than the current empty Manulla-Claremorris service which runs three times daily. This is because: the Charlestown service would be operated by one person while the Manulla service requires two people; the Charlestown railcar would do four miles to the gallon, whereas the Manulla engine does one mile to the gallon and Charlestown would have automatic crossings, while Manulla has four manual crossings. This is an example of the difference between what we are seeking and what is already available in County Mayo. Members can read what we have to say about the “Mayo ghost train” in their own time. We have provided pictures of the train which runs empty, three times a day from Manulla to Claremorris when it could provide a commuter service through Castlebar and on to Westport and back.

Our next slide shows the national distribution of commuter trains in Ireland. As members can see, there are 148 DART trains and 144 Arrow trains in the Dublin area while there is nothing in the west. We are seeking 158 DART trains and 144 Arrow trains for Dublin and 15 trains to operate in the western rail corridor. We contend that this is not an excessive demand.

On comparative construction costs, the Dublin metro would cost €100 million per mile and for the Luas €50 million per mile is being paid, while the western rail corridor, all-in, would cost a total of €2 million per mile. We have also provided a detailed document on the costs involved, using figures from Iarnród Éireann and Booz-Allen Hamilton. We estimate that it will cost €215 million to reopen the western rail corridor and have trains running on it. Spending €15 million for double tracking from Athenry to Galway would make it a grand total of €230 million. Explanatory notes are provided in respect of these figures.

We wish to draw the committee’s attention to the major imbalance at the halfway stage of the national development plan in terms of expenditure. During the first three years of the plan, the proportional spend on public transport between the south and east region and the BMW region is €1.315 billion against €155 million. The diagram provided shows it clearly and members will see that 90% of the spend has been on 74% of the population, while the other 10% of the spend has been on 26% of the population, namely, that part of it in the BMW region.

What are the plans of Iarnród Éireann? We understand that there is an investment of €2.2 billion being considered, in line with various strategic rail reviews, the NSS, etc. In that regard, we can only see that money going for some of the intercity carriages and the final safety programme, with approximately one third of it to be spent in the west. From a projected commitment of €790 million, the most we can see coming to the west would be €50 million. On the figure of €769 million to which the document refers, all of the projects mentioned in Iarnród Éireann’s plan relate to the Dublin region or Cork. A total of €1.559 billion from the €1.581 billion in the balance of the NDP has already been committed, leaving virtually nothing to redistribute. The BMW region would appear to be due to benefit to the tune of €50 to €100 million from this sum, which is a relatively small percentage.

The last five lines on the slide currently on screen show that projected expenditure for the BMW region for the period 2000 to 2006 will be €477 million, whereas actual expenditure to date has been €155 million. In the period 2003 to 2006, €322 million is due to the BMW region. According to what we can gather, however, estimated for the BMW region is €100 million which leaves a maximum projected figure for it of €255 million. In our view, the €222 million for the western rail corridor could come from the latter. Under the European Regional Development Fund, the European Regional Development Fund, a total of €160 million has been spent under the special category 1 status. Of that figure, €140 million has been spent in Dublin and €20 million on the Border, midlands and west regions.

On Fridays, an adult day-return ticket for a 42 km round trip on the Athrenry-Galway line costs €11.50, while on the Bray-Dublin line it costs €3.50; a 48 km round trip on the Ballymote-Sligo line costs €11, while on the Maynooth-Dublin line it costs €4.50; on the Claremorris-Castlerea line it costs €14, while on the Balbriggan-Dublin line it costs €5.90; and on the Ennis-Limerick line it costs €13 euro, while on the Balbriggan-Dublin line it costs €5.90. We refer to these figures because we believe that if the fares were the same in the west, many more people would travel on trains.

A reply to a parliamentary question tabled by Deputy Daly on 20 March 2002 indicated that it costs €600,000 per mile, all-in, to lay a mile of railway line. This is slightly different to the strategic rail review’s estimate for the western rail corridor of €2.4 million.

I wish to show members some photographs before concluding. The first shows the new railway from Ennis to Limerick at Sixmilebridge - south of Ennis in 2003 and north of Ennis members will see grass growing on the railway line. This is one of the most valuable pieces of infrastructure in Ireland and grass grows on it from Ennis to Collooney. The next photograph shows a pair of railcars similar to those required for the western rail corridor service pictured at Galway, which they were visiting for the weekend, in 2003. The next photograph shows Athenry junction. The link to the left is that to Tuam, which was severed unilaterally at the end of last year. Members can see, on the right, the result of the works that were being done to put signalling in place at Athenry. It was considered an improvement to remove this valuable link. However, Iarnród Éireann informs us that it can be restored and we intend to ensure that it will be.

The next photograph shows the closed down Galway-Mayo railway near Belville. That is within a few hundred metres of the traffic congestion on the N17, on which 23,000 vehicles per day travel between Tuam and Galway. The next photograph shows Tuam, which is a hub town under the National Spatial Strategy. As members can see, the development of the station is well under way as part of the strategy and the grass is growing nicely along the tracks and the platforms. The next photograph shows a three-mile tailback on the N17, which is normal during at least three periods of the day, north of Claregalway. All of the cars pictured are travelling on a one-lane road into Galway city, carrying commuters from as far north as Claremorris and Kiltimagh. The next photograph shows a road north of Claremorris, which was known as the “Burma Road”, on the Claremorris-Sligo line at Murneen, which was closed in 1975. The next photograph shows Kiltimagh station, which is closed but which is a shining example of the desire of people in the west to have their railway back. The station is in mint condition and a train could roll in there tomorrow, but it could not get far beyond the gates.

The next photograph shows Sligo and a gantry which was built in 1994 and which is to be dismantled and sold off. There has been a major downgrading of freight out of Sligo recently and we find this disturbing because we are promoting the concept of freight.

The next slide shows a map of the National Spatial Strategy and if members look carefully they will see a line from Sligo to Limerick through Ennis. There are two gateways and four hubs that would be served by the western rail corridor. This was an economic argument that was ignored in the strategic rail review. The next photograph, happily, shows timber being carried on the line after three years. That should be travelling directly down the western rail corridor to Waterford, but it must travel via Dublin.

The next slide shows a couple of examples of the timetables we have drawn up for Sligo station, Charlestown, Swinford, Kiltimagh, Claremorris, Tuam and all the way down the line. We have a timetable for every area.

The final slide shows that there is a balance of €322 million due to the BMW region between 2003 and 2006. Thanks to the Indecon mid-term review, we now find where the resources are to fund the western rail corridor. On the right of the slide, members will see, in red and green, the balance due to the west. The western rail corridor will cost €215 million, listed in red, and there will be €107 million for visits to the committee and various other similar bodies.

Acting Chairman: Information on John Ellis Zoom on John Ellis I hope trips to appear before the committee are not that expensive. We have a difficulty in that time limits are causing us problems. The presentation ran somewhat over time. If Councillor McGreal wishes to make a contribution lasting no more than one minute, I am prepared to facilitate him.

Councillor Michael McGreal: I thank the Chairman. As has been mentioned, I am a member of the BMW regional assembly. I represent the latter on the national monitoring committee dealing with infrastructural development.

There has been a severe underspend in two areas, one of which is public transport. At the mid-term period, less than 50% of the money that should have been spent has been spent. At a monitoring committee meeting on 31 October, a number of proposals were made. The Department of Transport was directed by the chairman to bring forward a shopping list of proposals to spend the €322 million within the lifetime of the national development plan. The representatives of the European Commission who were present at the meeting confirmed that they would be insisting that the money which was to be spent in the BMW region would be spent during the lifetime of the plan. We ask, therefore, for the support of the committee in recommending that the Department of Transport include a section of the western rail corridor in the list it is to present to the next meeting of the monitoring committee. This would be part of a welcome infrastructural investment and it would have the support of the national monitoring committee.

Deputy Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten I welcome the representatives of West-on-Track and thank them for their presentation.

On the State subvention, it is evident that there is discrimination in terms of the subventions provided for rail transport in Dublin and those provided in the west. Our guests stated that they want the western rail corridor to be opened section by section rather than all in one go. Will they elaborate further on that? They also stated that the rolling stock maintenance would be a fraction of the maintenance of the national fleet. Why would rolling stock on the western rail corridor be cheaper to maintain than the rest of the fleet?

On the shortfall in spending in the BMW region, is it not the case that the EU has been critical of the Department of Transport for not prioritising the funding for the BMW region and not ensuring that it is ring-fenced? In light of this, the proposals in respect of the motorway of the sea and the fact that the EU is going to fund the development of the Cork-Belfast line, should further funding not be prioritised and released for the western rail corridor?

Deputy Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall I welcome the delegation and congratulate its members on their presentation, which I look forward to reading in detail. It is unfortunate that they had to rush through the presentation, which seems to offer an extraordinarily detailed analysis of the case. I also congratulate them on the work they have done to date on this matter.

The difficulty is that Iarnród Éireann and the Government are seeking to chase demand in the eastern region without ever seeking to influence demand by putting in place infrastructure in the first instance. If this policy continues, the demand in the east will never be met and, in the meantime, the infrastructure in the west will run down. If anyone is serious about balanced regional development, there is a need to commit to transport infrastructure and links and demand will follow from this. If we want to ensure that people continue to live in the west and encourage others to move there, it is critical that the necessary transport infrastructure is put in place in the first instance.

I wish to inquire about some of the detail of the presentation. A great deal of information on costs is provided and a good case is made in that regard. What information does West-on-Track possess about existing passenger demand? Has it been able to carry out an analysis in that regard? We would all like to believe that people would switch from using cars to taking the train and that demand exists, but has such a demand been quantified and is there information available in respect of it?

The other area in which I am interested is the demand for freight services. Has West-on-Track contacted industrial interests in the west in this regard and what level of the potential demand exists in respect of rail freight services?

I understand that West-on-Track is proposing that the Government should commit to and initiate a pilot phase. What section of the western rail corridor would this involve and has a costing been carried out?

Deputy P. Power: Information on Peter Power Zoom on Peter Power I join Deputy Shortall in congratulating the delegation on the quality of its presentation, which will be of great assistance to us. It is a pity we did not have sufficient time to consider it in greater detail.

My understanding of the initial comments of the Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan, on the report is that it did not constitute Government policy in any shape or form. In making those remarks, the Minister used the word “handcuffs”. Members would have open minds in respect of this matter, provided that the business and strategic cases are made in clear terms.

As a Deputy representing Limerick and the mid-west, I was disappointed - I intend this as constructive criticism - that the presentation did not refer in any way to the proposed spur line from the Limerick-Ennis-Shannon link. I say this because a great deal of the report is predicated on the national development plan, under which the area to which I refer is a gateway. If our guests are seeking cross-party and cross-country support, it would be much more helpful to their case if they were able to bring people along with them. People who are supporting the aspect of the rail corridor to which I refer would like to see emphasis placed on it.

There are a great many figures listed in the report, which is welcome. However, people will need to be convinced of the business case. The bottom line of any such case is the amount per annum that would be made and the cost to the Exchequer in the same period. That is the question most people are going to ask. Will our guests focus on this point in their replies?

Senator Morrissey: Information on Tom Morrissey Zoom on Tom Morrissey One of the most telling aspects of the presentation was the photographic descriptions provided. As one who represents the area through which the northern line to Maynooth runs, I could also show areas in which many miles of track have been unused and under-utilised for decades. That is the greatest issue of concern to me in my dealings with Irish Rail. The presentation showed that many hundreds of miles of track are unused and under-utilised. The salutary lesson for members of the committee is that there is so much under-utilised track throughout the country in respect of which planning permission is not needed or legal requirements do not need to be met in order to have it upgraded. All that is required is funding.

From what source is West-on-Track expecting action on this issue, the Minister or Irish Rail? To whom should we make our views known after this meeting? Several groups such as West-on-Track have made presentations to the committee and very little happens afterwards. To whom should we go in order to make the vital argument? The best way for our guests to progress their case is to show photographs of those hundreds of miles of unused and under-utilised track that are in the ownership of Irish Rail to whom it concerns. The greatest difficulty we have with infrastructure is acquiring land, through CPOs, to facilitate its being put in place. Our guests have produced evidence that such land exists and is not being used. This is the point on which they must focus.

Acting Chairman: Information on John Ellis Zoom on John Ellis For the information of members, I wish to state that those who are not members of the committee will each have the opportunity to put one question to our guests.

Senator Dooley: Information on Tim Dooley Zoom on Tim Dooley I join colleagues in welcoming the group and congratulating it on its presentation. I agree with Deputy Shortall regarding balanced regional development and the necessity to put infrastructure in place to ensure that people move to other regions. A great deal of what is contained in the presentation is good but it is necessary to work with all the groups concerned, particularly in respect of the Shannon spur to which Deputy Power referred. It is also important to work with local authorities. Will our guests indicate the kind of work they are doing with the local authorities along the corridor in terms of land use and also with the Western Development Commission, which has been charged, by the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, with putting together a business case in conjunction with those local authorities? It would be helpful if our guests could provide information in that regard.

Acting Chairman: Information on John Ellis Zoom on John Ellis We will now take questions from those Members who are not members of the committee.

Deputy Harkin: Information on Marian Harkin Zoom on Marian Harkin I shall be brief. I welcome the members of the delegation and congratulate them on an excellent presentation. I also congratulate Fr. MacGréil on the work he has done on this issue for many years.

My question is simple and straightforward. Does the fact that Iarnród Éireann has lifted the track at Athenry and that the freight service at Sligo has been seriously downgraded indicate the attitude of the company towards the reopening of the western rail corridor?

Deputy McHugh: Information on Paddy McHugh Zoom on Paddy McHugh I welcome the delegation and I acknowledge the work of Fr. MacGréil in respect of the railway in the west. Do our guests agree that the Government is responsible for taking action on this matter because, for success to be achieved, a co-ordinated Government policy to bring together the various strategies, particularly the national development strategy, the railway strategy and the forthcoming programme for decentralisation, is required?

If we are to be successful, we must do what the Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan, advises, namely, create a critical mass. Anyone who is familiar with the west will be aware that critical mass does not exist at the points to which reference has been made and that it must be created. The latter cannot be done without Government support. The Government has a central role to play in respect of this issue and until it realises this and decides to bring together the various strategies, progress will not be made. The Government has a golden opportunity to show that it is earnest in respect of this matter by following up on the National Spatial Strategy. The Chairman stated that there are two gateways and four hubs on the line in question and the Government should decentralise Departments to those areas in order to initiate the creation of the critical mass to which I refer.

Senator Higgins: Information on Jim Higgins Zoom on Jim Higgins The delegation’s submission was one of the most impressive and comprehensive ever presented to a committee of the Houses. I congratulate our guests on it.

The necessity to put the business case has been mentioned. What business case was put forward in respect of the DART or Luas? The case is incontrovertible. Thousands of people travel from Mayo to Galway and Sligo every day and clog the roads in their vehicles. What was a one-hour journey now takes two and a half hours to complete.

What Government Ministers have the representatives approached up to now in respect of this matter and what was their reaction and response? In the end, what will be required in this area will be a political decision.

Deputy Eamon Ryan: Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan The Green Party gives its 100% support to the proposal put forward by our guests. It has the sort of vision we need to pursue in terms of developing the country, particularly the west. The imbalance in terms of investment to date, as displayed in the graph shown in the presentation, is shocking. West-on-Track is to be commended for raising this issue.

The western rail corridor could be put to many uses, be it for freight carriage or long-distance travel between western cities. However, the immediate use to which it could be put is to meet commuting needs. The people who drive their cars from Tuam and Claremorris into the Galway suburbs and get stuck in Claregalway could switch to rail transport, which would free up roads and end the gridlock being experienced in Galway city.

It is unfortunate that we did not have time to go into the full detail of the presentation. I hope our guests will e-mail it to members. On commuting, how regularly would trains from Tuam, Claregalway and the new town of Ardán run? Would new stations be needed in the business areas of Galway? I presume that services would not just run into the centre of Galway city, thereby obliging people to travel back out to their place of work. Are we talking about a service which would be halfway between heavy and light rail and which would make regular stops so that business points could be developed along the route? We have to start thinking about developing Galway city along the railway line. I am interested in obtaining further information about the creation of a commuter service. It is up to us, as politicians, to take on the work our guests are doing, to support it fully and to ensure that funding is provided. If we do not do so, the entire country will lean towards the east coast and Dublin and the west will die.

Acting Chairman: Information on John Ellis Zoom on John Ellis We have no intention of allowing that to happen.

Deputy Cowley: Information on Jerry Cowley Zoom on Jerry Cowley I thank the Chairman for the opportunity to speak. I also welcome the West-on-Track committee. I had the pleasure of being involved in some of its earlier meetings and I have met Fr. MacGréil on many occasions on the train to Dublin. He travelled to the city, alone in many instances, to put forward the case for West-on-Track at a time when the penny had not dropped with a great number of people. Huge thanks are due to West-on-Track, those who kept the railway tracks open in the past and the Minister, Deputy Brennan.

The bottom line is that this is probably one of the most important infrastructures we have and it represents a great opportunity. In the Dáil yesterday I asked what the Taoiseach intends to do about the imbalance in the west and I was informed that there were no proper projects. However, this is a proper project that offers great hope to the west. What is the position as regards the next move, the symbolism involved and what the reopening of the rail corridor can do for the west in terms of infrastructure, development and offering new beginning? The mid-term review shows how badly the west has fared. Do our guests agree that this is a great opportunity for the Government and, as they outlined so clearly, very good value for money when compared to the cost of Luas or the laying of a mile of motorway? It took me an hour to travel by car from the House as far as the Mater Hospital last week. If a rail line to the west were in place, I would have been well on the way home in that time.

I thank the representatives for their presentation. Everyone present is totally and utterly behind the West-on-Track campaign; they have our full support. As regards symbolism, do our guests see this as the start of the great comeback for the west?

Deputy Hoctor: Information on Máire Hoctor Zoom on Máire Hoctor I thank the Chairman for the opportunity to address the group present this morning. I congratulate Fr. MacGréil. I am a former student of his and I see that I still have much to learn from him and his committee.

I represent north Tipperary. With regard to the Limerick-Nenagh-Roscrea-Ballybrophy line, in respect of which I am sure another partnership group will be meeting the committee at a later stage, how much co-operation can partnership groups expect from Iarnród Éireann in terms of its providing figures for the substantial passenger base? What is the position vis-à-vis the flexibility of timetabling which, I understand, the company is reviewing at present? What are the views of our guests of the fact that station masters are not being replaced when they retire and that second lines at stations, which would have permitted two trains in a station at one time, are being lifted? How much can be expected from Iarnród Éireann and how willing is it to co-operate with partnership groups, such as that before us, that are earnest in their efforts to rejuvenate existing lines on which very basic services are operating at present?

Acting Chairman: Information on John Ellis Zoom on John Ellis Before asking our guests to reply, I must point out that at least 100 questions have been asked. If they wish, they may deal with the main questions and send detailed replies to members to the supplementary and other questions. I offer this suggestion because they would need an hour and a half to answer all the questions and there is not enough time available.

I wish to put a question. Has any funding been made available for the completion of a comprehensive feasibility study? I ask this question from a positive point of view because I believe the project is worthy of full support. I know it has the support of everyone present. However, there is a need for a detailed feasibility study in order to highlight the exact position. Have any groups been approach to provide such funding? I ask this question because more than 20 years ago the then Government provided £1 million for a feasibility study on the Shannon-Erne waterway, which has been a tremendous success. It is a case of obtaining money for a proper feasibility study in order to drive one’s point home. If the organisation has not, perhaps we can all put our heads together to see where we can obtain that money.

Deputy Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten A feasibility study would need to be conducted.

Acting Chairman: Information on John Ellis Zoom on John Ellis A combination of both.

Fr. MacGréil: I conducted a study in 1981, which was well received, but those in power ignored it. Professor Cuddy in Galway conducted another in the 1990s and that did not get anywhere. The west is not even referred to in the Booz Allen Hamilton report. There is a conflict in reporting and that is why our confidence in these reports is low. Our belief is it is a political decision and it will not come from anywhere else. The most favourably disposed Ministers have been the current Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan, the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, and former Minister of State at the Department, Deputy Stagg. He kept the flag flying. Deputy Brennan also preserved the line for us in the early 1990s and, as a result, a thoroughfare is ready for operation. If the State had to provide that, it would cost a great deal.

The business case involves frontloading. All counties are working on a plan for the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and they will show every county is doing that. The Shannon spur was included in the original report and we have always supported that. On the Waterford question, there should be a line between Sligo and Rosslare, a distance of 202 miles, as Waterford will become the main port. Norfolk Line is interested in the revival of this line, as it will provide a lift-on, lift-off service. That is why it is vital the gantry in Sligo is not removed. If that happens, our case is lost because we are thinking about Donegal, Leitrim and cross-Border services. Our long-term plans seek the rebuilding of the rail line through Manorhamilton, Enniskillen and into Sligo. Mr. Cunniffe will reply to other questions.

Mr. Martin Cunniffe: As Deputy Shortall said, all economists will say infrastructure must be frontloaded. If that is not provided first, a scenario such as that in Dublin will result where the infrastructure will constantly try to catch up and will never get there because demand is increasing at the same time at a dramatic rate. West-on-Track believes Dublin should get every piece of infrastructure it is getting and probably a great deal more but what is good for the west will also be good for the east because the western rail corridor represents balanced regional development.

The Shannon spur is included in our presentation but it was not raised. No business plan was drafted for the reopening of the Ennis-Limerick line. It was not needed; the line has been re-opened and it will be an outstanding success. The same applies to the Shannon link and it should be opened. We are wary of business plans because of what happened in the SRR.

We are more than frustrated by the response of the Department of Transport. GerryConcannon of the CBE group is one of west’s leading business people. He is an economist by profession and he wrote a well-worded letter to the Department three weeks ago. He employs 74 people in the software business and he is frustrated. His company is the largest distributor of cash registers in Ireland. The reply he received from the Department is exactly the same as replies they issued six months previously. The reply is totally out of date and did not refer to the points raised by Mr. Concannon. We do not know how to get the western rail corridor on the agenda. It is obvious to everybody in the west that it is good for the west and it is also good for the east.

Mr. Ó Raghallaigh: We will send replies in writing to a number of questions but it is important to address the question raised by a number of members regarding Iarnród Éireann’s attitude to the rail corridor. A new model is required for rail transport in Ireland and West-on-Track is in a position to suggest that model. Communities and the national railway company should work together to advance railways. We should sit down to ascertain what kinds of services are needed, demand, fares and the hours at which trains should run. A citizen travelling from Athenry to Galway is no less a citizen than one travelling from Balbriggan to Dublin yet he pays almost three times the fare. That is not acceptable in a democracy. We all pay exactly the same amount in tax. If we were paying one third of the tax, we would be quite happy to pay three times the fare.

We would like to discuss these issues with the railway company. It has come out of the doldrums and has had five years in the limelight. While the national railway grid has been renewed, shamefully, those who produced the SRR described the magnificent work done by Iarnród Éireann as being akin to painting an old house, putting in new windows and pretending it was a new house. That is disgraceful, as Iarnród Éireann deserves to be commended for the tremendous job it has done on the national railways. Sadly, many of its workers will be on the dole next week. Almost 40 employees who are trained to the highest level and can lay more than a mile of track per week will be on the dole next week along with 30 workers in Portlaoise who have been manufacturing sleepers. There is demand for 200,000 sleepers in the west if those people remain in employment.

These employees have delivered on time and below budget. They are the jewel in Iarnród Éireann’s crown. They should be given more work, not the door. The western rail corridor will provide work for them. We want to meet Iarnród Éireann and we will write a letter to the company. We had a brief chat with company representatives prior to this meeting and we would like to sit down with them in a spirit of partnership and development. They should not be afraid to go to the Department of Transport with ideas. They should not appear before this committee saying they can only implement policy. I do not agree with that. A proactive company should come up with its own ideas. It should go to Government with certain proposals, which it thinks have potential and which it can implement, outline the cost and seek the funding. It should not be a question of waiting for the Minister to tell the company what to do.

A number of members asked whether the Department of Transport or the Minister favoured this proposal. We believe the Minister is favourable but, as Mr. Cunniffe pointed out, the attitude reflected by civil servants in the Department in the letter, which is included in the pack we have circulated, is not acceptable to us. Good words without good actions are no use to the people of the west. Grass growing on railway lines is a thing of the past and we are not prepared to tolerate that anymore in the west. Our elected representatives, some of whom are present, have spoken about this for long enough. The people are now speaking about it and the beauty of the West-on-Track campaign is it is the voice of the people. Nobody can deny it and we have brought two suitcases full of petitions with us. This indicates there is a new future in store for the west but the Government, the Department of Transport and the Minister for Transport must deliver. We thank the committee for indicating its support for our campaign.

Fr. MacGréil: I also have a submission, which I will circulate to the committee.

Acting Chairman: Information on John Ellis Zoom on John Ellis I thank the delegation for their presentation. The approach to the project is if there is a will, there is a way and that must be the approach of the committee henceforth.

Sitting suspended at 10.30 a.m. and resumed at 10.35 a.m.

Acting Chairman: Information on John Ellis Zoom on John Ellis We will now have a presentation by the Shannon Rail Partnership. I ask Mr. Kirby to introduce the members of the delegation.

Mr. Tom Kirby: I am director of the Mid-West Regional Authority and I am a member of the rail partnership. I am accompanied by Ms Bernadette Kinsella, who is director of the Clare County Development Board and a member of Clare County Council; Councillor Seán Hillery, who is the current mayor of Shannon and a member of Clare County Council; Mr. PádraigMcCormack, who is development officer with the Clare County Development Board; Councillor Seán Mulrooney, who is cathaoirleach of the Mid-West Regional Authority, mayor of North Tipperary County Council and cathaoirleach of the Association of Irish Regions.

I sincerely thank the committee, on behalf of the Shannon rail partnership group, for meeting us. We do not intend to go through our presentation, which was sent to the committee previously. I intend to cover the main points. Limerick-Shannon-Ennis is the third largest growth centre in Ireland; is an existing gateway and has also been identified in the National Spatial Strategy as a gateway for further development. The Shannon Airport enterprise is a regional, national and international asset. Currently, 2.3 million passengers per annum use the airport and it will handle 48,000 tonnes of freight this year and has a total capacity for handling six millions passengers in a year. The airport has spare capacity.

The national development plan identified the airport as critically important to the State and described it as having national and international importance. The spatial strategy refers to the need for access gateways to the airport and it specifically stresses the need to improve public transport access, including rail to the airport. Our proposal is also in keeping with EU policies and I refer the committee to the Commission’s White Paper on Transport 2010. Our proposal is a sustainable form of transport; it will revitalise the railways and it will shift the balance between transport links.

Our mission is to seek the committee’s support in advancing the Shannon rail link proposal and to ask the committee to endorse our application for funding to the Minister for Transport for a full feasibility study. We estimate the total cost of the rail link will be €63.1 million, with €1.5 million operating costs. Five new stations will be incorporated in the proposal. The region has the necessary critical mass. The population of Shannon town is 8,500 and 1,000 people are employed in the Shannon complex. The industrial estate employs 8,500 people while 2,500 people are employed at the airport. The Shannon Airport enterprise indirectly supports 40,000 jobs in the west. Out of the 2.3 million passengers who will use the airport this year, 1.7 million comprise terminal traffic. These are people who embark and disembark at the airport and travel through the surrounding area.

We have undertaken a pre-feasibility study. We have spent €150,000 to date on the work we have done. We have undertaken a patronage study, which was conducted by the University of Limerick following public tender. It identified that there is a commuter customer base for the Shannon rail work. The service required was identified and the initial costs, both in terms of capital and revenue, have been identified, but, more importantly, the route was identified as a result of work undertaken by German consultants. The land has been preserved in the south Clare economic corridor local area plan and its retention in the plan is subject to a full feasibility study.

I compliment Iarnród Éireann, the Minister for Transport and his officials for the assistance they have given us in the work we have done to date. We met the Minister some time ago and following the meeting he nominated two officials to work with us, the chief engineer with Iarnród Éireann and a principal officer in the Department. The length of rail involved is ten kilometres but 60% of the land for the rail extension is in public ownership which relieves the question of CPO acquisition price, etc. Aer Rianta Shannon and Shannon Development Ltd. own the land.

I wish to refer to the critical mass. Having met the SRR consultants and the Minister’s officials, a rail proposal must stand up in value for money terms in terms of critical mass. The recent strategic rail study is strong on the need for critical mass to support rail infrastructure. We are quite happy that we will do this. The Limerick land use and transportation study, to be published soon, will provide for dispersal of population in Limerick city and surrounding counties. The National Spatial Strategy projects a population of 410,000 in the mid-west region by 2020. The regional planning guidelines are currently under preparation as a strategic planning document and they will provide the settlement strategy for the next 20 years in the mid-west region. The strategy will be consistent with and support investment in public transport initiatives, which is one of the key points in the recent SRR. County and city development plans will incorporate what I have outlined.

The SRR consultants stated that the Limerick-Ennis-Shannon line could be regarded as a key subcomponent of the proposed western rail corridor and we support the case for the corridor. However, they also said a separate detailed evaluation of this scheme with due consideration for its full range of potential and complementary land use potential would be needed and such an evaluation should also consider the phasing in of the western rail corridor project. They mention the Limerick-Ennis-Shannon line in particular as an integral component of the overall western corridor because a great deal of work has been done on it. With the pre-feasibility study completed, we are seeking to undertake a full feasibility study.

Rail is a sustainable form of transport but, more important, it is critical in supporting regional growth, as envisaged in the NSS. While acknowledging that the road infrastructure on the approaches to the airport has been upgraded with plans for further development, nevertheless it is proven that growth in economic activity leads to population and car ownership increases, which, in turn, lead to public congestion in an improved road capacity. The Shannon rail link would mean the provision of infrastructure ahead of development and such infrastructure would be a significant driver of development in the region and in the west. The link will be an important component of the proposed western rail corridor and will greatly expand the catchment area of the airport while enhancing its role and relevance in the mid-west and the west.

The national development plan also refers to establishment of a freight hub for Ireland. Shannon has the spare capacity to deliver this facility and it already handles 48,000 tonnes of freight per annum. The proposal for a freight hub is also under examination as part of a Shannon Development Limited-led initiative on Ireland’s Atlantic arc. The partnership welcomes the recent announcement by the Shannon rail company to build and operate the rail link to Shannon Airport. As part of its proposal, the developers are seeking funding from the Minister for Transport for a full feasibility study. Preliminary discussions have been held with representatives of the Shannon rail company with a view to jointly undertaking a full feasibility study. The initiative by the developers can be seen as a response by the developers to a statement by the Minister when he met the partnership some time ago. He suggested that the partnership should examine non-traditional methods of funding.

We fully support the case for the western rail corridor but the Shannon rail link is the first and most important step towards implementing this. The settlement strategies will provide the critical mass. We have estimated that the full feasibility study will cost €0.5 million. We are confident investment in a project of this nature will provide value for money and will ensure a better balance in social, economic and physical development between our regions and will also ensure the project is properly researched and evaluated in advance of construction.

Deputy Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten I welcome the presentation. The infrastructure must be put in place initially in order to attract investment. This is the traditional chicken and egg scenario. I refer to the spare capacity at Shannon Airport, which has significant potential for development, but it has a pathetic infrastructure. The airport is closer to me than Dublin Airport but I can reach Dublin Airport much quicker because of the road infrastructure. If Shannon Airport is to be a viable independent entity, that issue needs to be addressed, and the rail element is critically important.

Will Mr. Kirby outline the PPP proposal? How much money will be invested by the private sector? How much State funding will need to be committed? The cost is €63.1 million, which is much more than the amount needed for the western rail corridor. I acknowledge this project involves a green field development, while the other relates to an existing corridor, but the construction costs are significantly higher. There is no indication of land costs, which is a significant factor in other infrastructural projects. Will Mr. Kirby elaborate on that?

A freight hub is needed and Shannon town is in ideal location between Foynes and Shannon Airport to develop the necessary critical mass, especially for transatlantic freight. Rail is a critical element. Will the feasibility study examine the development of freight with a link to the europort in Rosslare and the new EU proposals for a motorway of the sea?

Deputy P. Power: Information on Peter Power Zoom on Peter Power I welcome Mr. Kirby and his colleagues and compliment them on their presentation. I support the case made for the feasibility study and the committee should make a formal decision to do so later because the case has been made. West-on-Track made a detailed presentation on the western rail corridor earlier. There is no doubt the best way to advance the case for the western rail corridor is to demonstrate to the decision makers that this proposal is the first leg and, while it will not cost a significant amount, it demonstrates that rail transportation in the west works.

As Deputy Naughten pointed out, the case should hinge on the excess capacity at Shannon Airport. There is no point in such capacity when people who are closer to the airport express a preference for travelling longer distances to reach Dublin. The issue of regional autonomy for airports has been in the headlines this week and the case must be pressed home so that customers can avail of the excess capacity at Shannon Airport. The terms of reference given to the consultants for the feasibility study should include substantial research on that issue.

Senator Dooley: Information on Tim Dooley Zoom on Tim Dooley I welcome the group. Mr. Kirby put forward its case exceedingly well and I have no hesitation supporting the request for a full feasibility study. It is heartening to acknowledge the work done and the conduct of a pre-feasibilty. The staggering numbers put forward demonstrates the business case for the line. A number of private organisations are interested in the rail line and that lends great support to the partnership in working through whatever PPP arrangement might be put in place. That, above all, makes the business case. Finance is needed to conduct a proper survey of the route the line might take. Nevertheless, this could be a pilot project for the development of the western rail corridor. This will connect to key infrastructure for the west and, as Deputy Power stated, this link could be the first element of the rail corridor by connecting to Shannon Airport.

Mr. Kirby pointed out that 60% of the land is in public ownership and that is critical because land is expensive for infrastructural projects. I thank the group for the presentation.

Deputy Hoctor: Information on Máire Hoctor Zoom on Máire Hoctor I welcome our guests, including Mr. Tom Kirby, director of the Mid-West Regional Authority and Mr. Seán Mulrooney, chairman of the authority, of which I am a member. The authority is one of the partners in the very successful partnership represented by the delegation. The progress of this proposal to date is very clearly due to the partnership approach between the business people and potential users of the proposed rail service. It involves a conglomeration of very determined people who saw the merits of such a proposal. I fully support the feasibility study now being sought by this committee to take the proposal to its next stage. I have no doubt that implementation of the proposal would attract further investment into the mid-west region, where it is badly needed. It deserves our full support.

Deputy Killeen: Information on Tony Killeen Zoom on Tony Killeen I welcome the opportunity to address this meeting of the joint committee. I join in welcoming both groups which have made presentations today on their very forward-looking plans. It can be said that Ireland is not very good at building infrastructure in advance of requirements - we are usually playing catch-up. The opportunity is now presented, in this instance, to develop the infrastructure initially and subsequently build on it. Both groups have gone to great lengths to show that such infrastructure would be utilised subsequently. I particularly acknowledge the contribution of Mr. Seán Hillery in promoting the Shannon rail link. He was a lone voice for quite a while but I am glad the idea is now gaining a great deal of support from the county development board, the Mid-West Regional Authority and others.

The support of the private sector is particularly noteworthy. It is rather unusual to find a private sector company, such as the Shannon Railway Company, prepared to invest very substantial amounts in such a project as this. That is a clear affirmation of the company’s belief that the projected usage of the service by 2.3 million passengers per annum is well founded. I am glad the two groups concerned, West-on-Track and the Shannon Rail Link Partnership, are represented at this meeting. There appears to be a great deal of work which they can do in co-operation with one another. The next step should be a full feasibility study, which certainly has my support.

People may say the opening of the N 18 and N 19 has provided considerable spare infrastructural capacity. The section leading to the airport was officially opened last week by the Minister. Those of us who use that road have been somewhat surprised by the huge volume of traffic on it. If the growth of road traffic is to continue at its present rate, in terms of private cars and freight, the huge infrastructure being put in place over the next four or five years via Ennis, Gort and so on, may be inadequate soon after it is completed. It is in that regard the proposals which have been presented today will come into play. They will be highly cost effective, relative to other options, in catering for the anticipated increase in traffic volume.

Senator Morrissey: Information on Tom Morrissey Zoom on Tom Morrissey I welcome the delegations and compliment them on their presentations. Although I now represent a Dublin constituency, I am originally from County Tipperary and am very familiar with the area to which the proposals relate. Unfortunately, I was one of those who had to move to Dublin and did not return. The case has been very well made. However, density will be a major consideration with regard to any rail transport project. I would like further detailed figures in that regard, taking account of the location of the five stations concerned. That will be a determining factor as to the success or otherwise of the project.

What discussions have taken place with the airport authorities in connection with the additional capacity which is not currently used? I assume that is the source of some of the figures on which the business case for the projected increase at Shannon is based. As well as the link between Limerick and Shannon, I am also interested in the prospects of linking Shannon to north Tipperary. Deputy Naughten referred to the poor road infrastructure between his area and Shannon. In my view, a person based in north Tipperary would possibly go to Dublin rather than Shannon. Perhaps the delegation will outline its overall view of the whole region, in terms of future links with Shannon.

Senator Daly: Information on Brendan Daly Zoom on Brendan Daly I join in welcoming the delegation and compliment the members on the huge effort which has gone into the preparation of the presentation. I also welcome the previous delegation, whose presentation I did not hear in full. The case for this project has been very well made and I hope we in this committee will add whatever weight we can to it, including any necessary feasibility or other studies. As DeputyKilleen stated, Seán Hillery has played a central role in the Shannon link project. Every modern airport has a rail link. For example, in Brussels, there is a readily available connection from the airport rail link to the Eurostar system. We are really in the dark ages in that regard. International travellers require a modern transport service and more people would visit Ireland if we had such facilities.

There is one aspect on which I am not entirely clear. I would like the delegation to elaborate somewhat on its studies on the projected usage of the proposed service. I also invite the delegation’s response to the strategic study, which indicated that the project would cost an enormous sum of money.

Acting Chairman: Information on John Ellis Zoom on John Ellis Before I ask Mr. Kirby to reply, may I ask, as a semi-neutral observer who might have a different perspective on the situation, what degree of co-operation has there been between the group represented by the present delegation and the one represented by the delegation we met earlier? In the context of this proposal and the position of Iarnród Éireann, we have to think in terms of an integrated plan to bring back into operation what I regard as the second class citizens of the rail service, including the service to my own area, Sligo, despite the fact that we have welded rail.

As far as the BMW region is concerned, if we are to advance the rail service, we must have an integrated programme which is capable of implementation. Reference was made earlier to pilot projects. However, I regard pilot projects as simply a way of enabling somebody to get off the hook. It can happen that, when a pilot project is completed, the most beneficial part of the overall scheme may never be reached because of the pilot project being knocked for one reason or another. As well as the Limerick to Shannon link, we also need to consider linking Ballybrophy, Nenagh, Limerick and Shannon and continue on along the western rail corridor. Instead of having to travel via Dublin to reach Sligo, one would then have a better alternative route. I invite Mr. Kirby to give his response.

Mr. Kirby: I will be brief. I also request that Councillor Hillery be given an opportunity to make a few comments.

On the question of co-operation between the groups, there was a joint submission between county development boards in the west and mid-west, both to the Minister for Transport and to the national spatial strategy. We have already had a number of meetings with the Galway County Development Board in connection with this project, in the context of a link and co-operation between us and the entire western corridor. In Shannon, two weeks ago, we held an important rail seminar, to which we invited speakers from West-on-Track and the Shannon Rail Link Partnership. There is full co-operation between us.

Deputy Hoctor and others referred to the rail link from Limerick to Nenagh and Ballybrophy. A similar partnership has been formed in that regard and has had discussions with Iarnród Éireann with a view to upgrading the line and changing the services. I anticipate that partnership will also come to this joint committee with a proposal at an appropriate stage. The intention is to link the service from Ballybrophy to Limerick with the Cork - Limerick - Shannon - Ennis-Galway line. On Deputy Naughten’s question about costs, our estimates are based on the pre-feasibility study. Of the total cost of approximately €63 million, we estimated the line construction and signal costs at €34 million, the remainder being attributable to rolling stock, fees etc.

On the airport aspect of the project, Aer Rianta (Shannon) is a major player in our partnership and is working in full co-operation with us, both in terms of financial subvention to our group and advice on spare capacity and the availability of land for this project. As I said, 60% of the land is in public ownership.

I believe I have covered the main points raised. Where any point has been missed, we will provide a written submission to the committee. Councillor Hillery will comment on the PPP proposal on behalf of the Shannon Rail Partnership.

Councillor Seán Hillery: I will be brief as much of the ground has been covered. There has been considerable discussion on the airport and its capacity. As outlined in our brief, we have a town with a population of 10,000 people and two major schools. Seventy five per cent of our children go to UL. The number of workers arriving and leaving each morning and evening is 9,000. My point is that there is more than just an airport at Shannon. It involves a whole concept and it is part of the Limerick gateway status. We will prove the justification and viability of the rail link.

As members of the joint committee have rightly observed, we took a very broad view of the situation. We have done a great deal of work and we are prepared to wait for an in-depth feasibility study to justify our case. A rail link will enable economic growth in the west of Ireland, which is consistent with the national development plan and balanced regional development. A rail link will form the cornerstone of the western cities transport axis, linking the three gateway cities of Cork, Limerick-Shannon and Galway.

As well as linking them to an international airport, they will also be linked to the largest industrial zone outside of Dublin. There will be direct access from the industrial zones in Cork and Galway, tied in with the Shannon industrial zone. We also need two further massive pieces of road infrastructure, which may take as long as five or six years. In the meantime, development of the existing rail line can make a great contribution to tourism in the west of Ireland by linking Shannon international airport to Galway and Cork.

The Shannon Railway Company also made a submission to the Minister, a copy of which will be provided to the joint committee. That company is a consortium of investors led by Beaux Walk Properties, a group of astute business people who are seriously interested in building and running the rail service from Shannon on their own, with certain commitments from the Minister and the Department. If a private group of astute, hard-headed businessmen can see this as a viable project, it is well worthy of serious consideration by this committee.

All our submissions are supportive of the presentation made by the Shannon Rail Link Partnership. As to whether we are integrated with that company, the answer is “yes”. On Friday next, we will have a joint meeting between the partnership and the Shannon Railway Company. Our purpose is to align both our submissions so that we can jointly go forward in seeking a feasibility study. The rail link initiative includes all relevant bodies, including State, semi-State and community organisations throughout the mid-west, as listed in our submission. We had the broader picture in mind at all times.

The initiative to date has been characterised by a unique level of co-operation and commitment by all interested bodies. In order to maintain that momentum, it is necessary to progress to the next stage - a final feasibility study, for which we request the support of this joint committee.

Acting Chairman: Information on John Ellis Zoom on John Ellis I believe the delegation can be assured of the support of the committee for a feasibility study. I thank the delegation for their presentations. If the organisations represented wish to submit any further documents to the committee, we will be glad to receive them.

Deputy P. Power: Information on Peter Power Zoom on Peter Power I propose that we convey that decision to the Department of Transport.

Acting Chairman: Information on John Ellis Zoom on John Ellis After this public session, we will consider our recommendations to the Department.

Sitting suspended at 11.06 a.m. and resumed at 11.08 a.m.

Acting Chairman: Information on John Ellis Zoom on John Ellis I welcome Mr. Joe Meagher, Mr. Tom Finn, Mr. Brian Garvey and Mr. Gerry Glynn of Iarnród Éireann and thank them for having sat in on the entire meeting. As a result, they will have a better idea of our respective positions. I have no doubt the delegations also welcomed the presence of the Iarnród Éireann representatives. I invite Mr. Meagher to make his opening statement. Unfortunately, we have only about 20 minutes of our allotted time remaining for this meeting.

Mr. Joe Meagher: I thank the Chairman and members of the committee for their invitation. Mr. Tom Finn is our manager of strategic planning; Mr. Brian Garvey is our chief engineer on infrastructure and Mr. Gerry Glynn is district manager in Galway. I will confine myself to a brief submission. Before dealing with the western corridor, I wish to make a few points with regard to developments nationally, which sets the context for the western corridor. Over the past five years, Iarnród Éireann has been engaged in a major investment programme to rebuild the rail network. Committee members will be aware of the chronic under-investment in rail infrastructure and rolling stock for decades. A key element of the investment programme, which is currently under way as part of the national development plan, is the railway safety investment programme. The safety programme includes investment in track and all associated infrastructure, including bridges, level crossings, fencing, etc, to bring our safety standards up to international standards. This programme, which is being concentrated on operational lines, is well advanced and is being completed on time and on budget. On the lines currently in operation, we have spent the past five years rebuilding the railway. Had we not invested so much of the available funds in that area, there is no doubt that some sections of the lines concerned would not now be operational. We really had no choice in the matter.

In parallel with the safety programme, investment is also being made on projects to provide much needed additional capacity on commuter routes, especially in the Dublin area. Eighty new railcars are currently entering service and a project to increase DART capacity by 30% has just commenced. An order has also been placed for 67 inter-city carriages to replace some of the very old rolling stock on inter-city routes. At present, half our carriages on inter-city services are more than 30 years old and in need of replacement. We would have preferred to do some of that replacement over the past five years in replacing old carriages such as those on the Sligo line, but that just was not possible due to the urgency of expenditure on the track. We plan to have all these carriages replaced by 2007.

Passenger carryings are now at record levels and in 2002 a total of 35.4 million passenger journeys were made by rail, which is a 210% increase compared to two decades ago. As an indication of our ambitions for the coming years, our target for 2007 is 44 million passenger journeys. This renaissance in rail usage has prompted demands for the re-opening of a number of lines throughout the country, including the western rail corridor and major capacity expansion and improvements on existing services.

Turning to the strategic rail review, in 2002 the Government commissioned consultants to conduct a wide-ranging review of rail services nationally. The objective of the review was to provide a framework for development of rail services for the entire country over the next two decades. The review was wide-ranging, comprehensive and independent. As well as considering the existing network, it examined the feasibility of up to 27 new projects on lines not currently in use. These new schemes were spread throughout the country and included the western railway corridor, in which I include the Shannon link as part of that overall project.

The strategic rail review provided a very positive endorsement of the future role of the railway based on a thorough economic appraisal. Previous reviews, including the McKinsey report, were advocating reductions and cutbacks, as actually happened over the years. The review examined, initially, the implications of “staying in the game” ^ that is, maintaining the existing network - before taking account of what it termed “going for growth”. It is clear from the review that investment will be a critical factor and even staying in the game needs investment of €4.5 billion over a 20 year period. Going for growth schemes requires an estimated further investment of €4 billion.

The going for growth schemes which performed best are on busy inter-city corridors where demand is already high or in areas of future population growth. It is interesting to note that the only new route included in the recommended plan was the Cork suburban rail development project, including the Midleton line. This performed well because of its inter-relationship with the Cork area strategic plan and the local authorities’ policy of locating future population growth along the rail corridor. That has to be a critical factor in the development of any new rail lines. It should be emphasised that the strategic rail review contains guidelines for the future development of rail services, as distinct from any absolute statements.

Following the publication of the strategic rail review, Iarnród Éireann and the Department of Transport formed a joint implementation group to progress its recommendations. It is clear that a substantial programme of work remains to be completed to bring the existing operational network up to acceptable standards. larnród Éireann’s immediate priorities are clearly defined. This programme will include a continuation of safety investment, new inter-city rolling stock and capacity-increasing measures to meet growing commuter demands in Dublin, Cork and elsewhere.

The western rail corridor, as defined in the strategic review, stretches from Sligo through to Cork. No trains operate on the section between Collooney and Ennis. None of this route is suitable for train operation without very significant investment. Indeed, the track has totally decayed along much of this section of line. The Ennis to Limerick section has been renewed with continuously welded rails. The Limerick to Cork section is in regular use and in good condition.

Without wishing to sound negative - we are rail people who are anxious to see an expansion of the railway - I need to highlight the type of work that needs to be done if the western rail corridor is to be opened. In summary, 115 miles of railway needs total replacement before services could be restored. The original line was built to a low standard and parts of the route were actually constructed under a light railways Act. If the line were re-opened, a much higher standard of infrastructure would be required. In essence, all that remains is a right of way that is still in CIE ownership. This right of way incorporates numerous physical constraints limiting potential speeds.

Every aspect of the infrastructure would need replacing, including the track formation, bridges, culverts, drainage, fencing, track work, points crossings, etc. All station buildings need replacing to modern standards, including disabled access. All signalling would have to be replaced by a modern colour light centrally controlled system. Also it would be very desirable to automate the numerous road level crossings on the route and achieve the safest and most cost effective method of operating a train service. I believe the Rail Safety Commission would demand that of us at this stage. A high quality infrastructure would be required to deliver competitive journey times, attract patronage from road-based systems and generate new business. This is achievable but would require significant investment.

The strategic rail review - I realise this has been controversial - estimated the total cost of upgrading the entire route from Sligo to Cork to be in the order of €572 million, including the link to Shannon. In order to arrive at a cost for the section from Ennis to Collooney, a fairly detailed feasibility analysis would be required. On the basis of our very brief look at it, the cost would certainly be in excess of €300 million.

On the business case for the western corridor, the Department of Transport has commenced a process of engagement with the eight regional authorities nationwide regarding implementation of the strategic rail review in the context of the national spatial strategy. This will present an opportunity to re-examine the business case for the western rail corridor, which was not given a high priority in the strategic rail review report. Each region will prepare strategic planning guidelines for its region, which will encompass population projections, settlement strategies and transport needs over a 20-year period.

The transport needs study will generate a transport infrastructure requirement, including road and rail, with an appropriate balance between road and rail as proposed in the Cork area strategic plan. This process will be critical in the formulation of a business case for the western corridor. The Minister for Transport has encouraged local authorities and regional bodies to adopt this approach and has offered assistance. The preparation of strategic guidelines is likely to take place over the next 12 months and we will certainly participate as required.

The following factors need to be addressed in the preparation of the business case: population growth strategies and implementation plans - I mentioned the advantages in the Cork area because of the strategies adopted; demand estimates and projected usage both at peak times and off peak times; capital cost estimates; operating costs and revenue projections; funding sources and potential development contributions. Iarnród Éireann will definitely work with the local authorities and the regional bodies to develop and formulate the business case for the western rail corridor.

I wish to comment on what is happening in the BMW region in terms of investment in the rail network. Our immediate priority will be to continue rebuilding and enhancing capacity on the existing network, including the BMW region. Under the national development plan we have already completed the renewal of all jointed track on the Sligo, Westport, Ballina and Galway lines with modern continuously welded rail. While it is easy to say that in a sentence that represents an enormous amount of work carried out over the past five years. We have implemented a programme of bridge renewal, level crossing upgrading and fencing in parallel with track renewal. That also involved a considerable degree of work. We have resignalled the Galway line with a modern electronic signalling system. The Sligo line will certainly be completed in early 2005. We have constructed a new state of the art maintenance depot in Drogheda, which is part of the BMW region.

There are a number of benefits of this investment and passengers have experienced them with reduced journey times compared with the old journey times; for example, in the case of the last timetable on the Sligo line. In the next timetable there will be some additional services to Longford and an additional return service to Galway. The Ennis to Limerick service was mentioned. It has been an ambition for a long time to complete the work on that line. That renewal work has been done and we will increase the frequency of services between Ennis and Limerick to seven per day. That demonstrates our commitment to revitalising rail services when investment is completed.

We have been engaged in a major investment programme over the past five years and have completed a large programme of work, which I emphasise was done on time and within budget. We have been rebuilding the railway following years of under-investment to a great degree. Further rebuilding and capacity enhancement work is under way, which is our focus in the short-term.

The Strategic Rail Review sets out guidelines for further development and we welcome the positive endorsement of the role of the railway in general. While the Strategic Rail Review now sets out priorities for investment, if a robust business case for re-opening some or all of the western rail corridor, including the Shannon link, can be made, the issue of funding priorities can be re-examined. We have a clear programme of priorities to spend in the order of €2.2 billion to €2.3 billion on our network over the next five years. Therefore, considerable money is being allocated to various projects. I do not believe anyone could go through any of those projects and say such funding is not needed or is over the top; it is badly needed. The issue is one of examining our priorities and reordering them, if necessary, or securing more funding. We are happy to work with the appropriate regional and local authorities in the development of a business case.

Deputy Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten Credit must be given to Irish Rail for the infrastructural developments on the permanent way and the continuous welded rail that it has laid. It is the only organisation within the State that has delivered on time and within budget, for which it must be given credit, and that should be recognised by the committee.

I wish to clarify a number of inaccuracies in Mr. Meagher’s presentation. The Limerick-Ennis rail line is not in the BMW region. The new state of the art maintenance depot in Drogheda is one station within the BMW region, but it will not provide any additional services within the BMW region. The three elements stated in Mr. Meagher’s presentation in regard to the Galway, Ballina and Sligo lines will not result in any new services. The provision of the 67 new carriages referred to in the presentation will replace existing carriages, but there will be no increase in capacity. It is important to clarify those points.

The Strategic Rail Review refers to the upgrading of the lines between Sligo and Cork at a cost of €572 million. Will Mr. Meagher outline what outstanding works are required on the development of the Sligo-Collooney line and the Ennis-Cork line and the cost of those works? The majority of people who have talked about the western rail corridor referred to the section between Collooney and Ennis, not the section between Sligo and Cork where most of the work has been completed. I understand that most of the work was completed on the other two significant sections along that corridor. Will Mr. Meagher elaborate on that and on the costs involved?

Will he indicate when the joint implementation group formed between Irish Rail and the Department of Transport was established; the number of times it has met and whether it is seeking submissions from the public on the implementation of the Strategic Rail Review?

Will Mr. Meagher indicate the estimated cost per mile of upgrading the western rail corridor? It is interesting that he mentioned the issue of computerised signalling. In the investigation published last week the railway safety officer was critical of such a system not being put in place on the Westport line, on which there had been four incidents. I am glad Irish Rail has prioritised the issue of signalling. Will Mr. Meagher indicate the timescale for the rollout of such signalling on the existing network as part of the upgrading of safety standards?

Deputy Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall Like Deputy Naughten, I believe it is important to recognise the huge programme of work being undertaken by Iarnród Éireann and the fact that so much of it is being delivered on time and within budget. It could be an example to many other State agencies.

I fully appreciate the approach adopted and the reason the company has done so is to try to meet the established existing demand for rail services. There is a huge demand for suburban and inter-city rail services in the east. As a commercial organisation, I fully appreciate that the company will seek to meet that demand first before it considers experimental systems or projects. Those are the hard commercial facts. It is for that reason support for the western rail corridor has to be given at a political level. Iarnród Éireann, operating as a commercial organisation, will not take a decision to prioritise that route over improving services in the east. That will never happen. Therefore, a political decision is required.

Mr. Meagher quoted a good deal from the Strategic Rail Review. Does he accept that a big problem with that review is that it did not examine the case for the western rail corridor? The review states that the matter requires further consideration but the authors of it did not give it any serious consideration within the main body of the review. Does Mr. Meagher accept - this is outside his remit in many ways - a fundamental flaw of the Strategic Rail Review was that it took the view that it is up to county managers in the west and in the Munster region to take decisions on rezoning for development, encouraging such development, whether for industrial or housing purposes, and once they do that Iarnród Éireann will consider putting in place a rail service. That view is fundamentally flawed. We should have learned the lesson at this stage that transport links must be put in place first. We must provide the transport infrastructure and development will follow from it. Due to the difficult financial circumstances under which Iarnród Éireann has been expected to operate for many years, it has never had the commercial freedom to take such decisions. Does Mr. Meagher accept that it has been shown in many cases that where good transport infrastructure is put in place, development follows? Anyone who is serious about balanced regional development must commit to providing the transport links first and development will follow from there. That is the kind of confidence we heard from the two earlier groups, but that confidence needs to be supported by more than people coming in here for a half an hour to show their support. We have members from all parties giving 100% support to what the two earlier groups were seeking. I would like to think such members would be as active and as vocal when it comes to their own parliamentary parties - especially those who have access to Ministers and who are members of the Government parties - and as strong in lobbying the Minister to support this issue because it is a political one.

Most of these questions need to be directed to the Minister because they are fundamentally political decisions. In the event of a political decision being taken to support the west, does Iarnród Éireann have the capacity and the capability to carry out the works requested?

Mr. Meagher made a point about an outline business case. However, the position in that regard is unfair, given that the Minister does not operate on the basis of outline business cases. There was not an outline business case for the Luas, the DART, the metro or the Port Tunnel——

Deputy Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten Or for Aer Rianta.

Deputy Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall There is not one for Aer Rianta.

A Deputy: There was one. It is regarded as one of the most useful infrastructures in the country.

Acting Chairman: Information on John Ellis Zoom on John Ellis Allow Deputy Shortall to finish without interruption.

Deputy Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall In terms of monitoring the spend under the NDP, has Iarnród Éireann a role in that and why is the spend in the BMW region lagging so far behind the rest of the country?

Acting Chairman: Information on John Ellis Zoom on John Ellis I call Deputy Peter Power and ask him to be brief due to time constraints that apply.

Deputy P. Power: Information on Peter Power Zoom on Peter Power I will be brief. I have only one question because Deputies Naughten and Shortall put many of the questions I had. Mr. Meagher mentioned that he anticipates the company will have a capital programme of give or take €2.3 billion over the next five years, fingers crossed. Where will all that money be spent? He might answer that question in broad terms.

After Mr. Meagher referred to all the works required to maintain the inter-city routes - this is not stated in his presentation, but I wrote it down when he said it - he said, “our priorities will be confined to that area in the next five years”. That would indicate to me and to the people who made the earlier presentations that the western rail corridor, as of now, is not a priority for him. Is that a fair summation, in straightforward terms, of what he was saying?

Senator Dooley: Information on Tim Dooley Zoom on Tim Dooley I will be brief because, as Deputy Power said, most of this ground has been covered. I agree to a large extent with what Deputy Shortall said about balanced regional development and the necessity to put the rail infrastructure in place first. Mr. Meagher might comment further on that. I disagree to some extent with what Deputy Shortall said about the land use policies of councils. The issue is to ensure that the land use policy is in place before the rail infrastructure is put in place. The policy is decided and put in place, then the rail infrastructure is put in place and development should take place on the back of that. That is my view on the way elements should be structured.

On the earlier presentations, a number of speakers dealt clearly with West-on-Track’s approach. From a parochial point of view, the route in which I have the greatest interest is the Shannon link. What is Mr. Meagher’s view on dealing with the western rail corridor on a section by section basis or a staged basis? While it is important to examine the entire corridor from the point of view of planning, does he accept that it is better to proceed in stages, recognising that some of the partnerships are at a more advanced level in their planning, whether it be through analysis they have done, the density that is already in place or some other infrastructure that might be in place. In the case of Shannon, the airport is a key infrastructure and it is also well located between two gateways and in the middle of a hub. Will Mr. Meagher comment on that element and whether Iarnród Éireann would be prepared to be involved in a public-private partnership arrangement with some of these partnerships or on some of these projects?

Senator Morrissey: Information on Tom Morrissey Zoom on Tom Morrissey I welcome the representatives of Irish Rail. The most telling parts of Mr. Meagher’s contribution are the factors to which he would give weight in prioritising projects. Those factors, if I noted them correctly, are population strategies by county councils, demand estimates, capital costs, revenue funding and State contribution. The fundamental case for any rail improvement across Ireland will have regard to those factors. I presume Shannon will not be considered under the company’s planned expenditure of €2.2 billion over the next five years. I represent areas that meet the criteria of population strategies and demand estimates, from which capital costs, funding and revenue will follow. If an area does not have the level of population growth and demand estimates considered appropriate by the county council, it is going nowhere in this regard.

Local authorities and county councillors, on the hysteria surrounding the rezoning of land, must bite the bullet. If we want a metro, the DART or other forms of transport in our areas, we will have to bite the bullet in terms of density. I asked the representatives of the Shannon group where were their densities. Mr. Meagher appears to be making the same point that if people are to have access to a railway line, they will have to ensure that it will be used. If this issue comes down to making political decisions versus value for money decisions, there will be no order to the rankings. If the Minister were to make a political decision on investment without it being based on a value for money criterion, there would be no rule any of us could follow. I ask Mr. Meagher to clarify that point.

In terms of any feasibility study Iarnród Éireann may carry out vis-à-vis what the Shannon Rail Partnership or West-on-Track might be doing, are the factors I listed the ones Mr. Meagher is saying will have to be met to satisfy a decision by the company to follow through on investment?

Acting Chairman: Information on John Ellis Zoom on John Ellis There are four speakers who are not members of the committee who wish to ask questions.

Deputy Eamon Ryan: Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan Senator Morrissey’s question about where are the densities is the question people are asking in terms of one-off housing. The policy of allowing one-off housing will make it impossible for us to provide the urban densities required to run public transport systems. I am glad he raised that question and I hope he will raise it with his party and Government colleagues.

Deputy Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten The Deputy agrees with high-rise development.

Deputy Eamon Ryan: Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan I noted the comments praising Iarnród Éireann for having brought in the rail safety programme on time and within budget. However, we still have the problem politically of giving Iarnród Éireann a massive annual subvention, in the order of €250 million, towards the operation, in particular, of the main rail services. It seems its main strategy of developing inter-city urban routes will not address that problem because, for example, the Galway line, which is an extensive infrastructure, is expensive to maintain and only a limited number of services operate on it. The company seems to be pulling out of the freight transport service, which at least complemented the passenger service; in that freight trains were running when inter-city trains were not.

It seems there is a lack of ambition by Iarnród Éireann outside the Dublin area to become involved in short urban journeys and short urban commuting. Such short journeys are the key to the future success of the western rail line not only into Galway - we heard this morning that 30,000 cars a day queue at the roundabouts on the way into that city and inevitably they get clogged - but also into Sligo, Shannon, Limerick and Cork - the main western towns and cities. The real strength of the western rail line is that it is an existing asset on which Iarnród Éireann is spending a significant amount of our money not only to maintain but so that it can be used more efficiently by the provision of new and additional services.

Acting Chairman: Information on John Ellis Zoom on John Ellis Will the Deputy put his question? I said that the speakers would have a short time to put their questions, given that there are time constraints.

Deputy Eamon Ryan: Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan I will be brief. Are new rail services, such as those that exist in other countries, involving single carriage urban commuting runs planned? Does Mr. Meagher believe that those 30,000 people travelling to Galway every morning from Tuam, Gort, Ennis, Ballinasloe or Athenry are a catchment market for Iarnród Éireann? Does he believe the company could get some of those 30,000 people out of their cars and on to trains? Is it that expensive to run an additional train on those lines?

Senator Higgins: Information on Jim Higgins Zoom on Jim Higgins I join members in commending Iarnród Éireann on the work it has done. I also pay tribute to the former Minister for Public Enterprise, Senator O’Rourke, for giving it the necessary money and fighting at the Cabinet table for the money to upgrade the track.

I disagree with some colleagues on the company bringing in all its projects on time and under budget. What is the position regarding the mini-CTC signalling system?

Acting Chairman: Information on John Ellis Zoom on John Ellis We will have no re-runs here.

Senator Higgins: Information on Jim Higgins Zoom on Jim Higgins Is the work on it nearly completed and what was the cost of it?

Judging from Mr. Meagher’s presentation, I do not detect any great enthusiasm by Iarnród Éireann for the promotion of the western rail corridor. It has thrown in everything bar the kitchen sink. Mr. Meagher mentioned culverts and bridges. Is he aware that an expert analysis was carried out by West-on-Track detailing requirements in respect of culverts and every possible aspect of infrastructure and that such analysis was expertly and professionally costed?

Mr. Meagher said that we are rail people; in other words, that he is proud to promote rail transport. One would have imagined that rather than leaving such an analysis to West-on-Track and other groups, Iarnród Éireann would have carried out a cost-benefit analysis and examined the possibilities in terms of the number of people, whether shoppers, workers or students, who commute to Galway and Sligo every day and the possibility of reducing journey times. For example, the journey from Claremorris into the heart of Galway takes two and a half hours by car but only 45 minutes by rail.

Mr. Meagher stated, “Following the publication of the Strategic Rail Review, Iarnród Éireann and the Department of Transport formed a joint implementation group to progress the recommendations of the Strategic Rail Review.” How is that happening? The Government has not adopted the Strategic Rail Review, yet this joint implementation group has been set up. The Cabinet has not decided how it will proceed with the Strategic Rail Review.

Mr. Meagher said that large stretches of track on the western rail route are totally decayed. Some stretches of track are, but is it not a fact that up to 18 months ago trains ferrying pulp were running on some of these stretches of track? The condition of the track is not as negative, decayed, derelict, dilapidated or as unusable as Mr. Meagher has made out. If the track is in a condition of such decay, what is Iarnród Éireann doing, in the interest of public safety, to secure the existing bridges and track belonging to it on the stretches in question on which vehicular traffic is operating?

Deputy Hoctor: Information on Máire Hoctor Zoom on Máire Hoctor I thank the Chairman for the opportunity to address the committee. I welcome the members of Iarnród Éireann. I thank Iarnród Éireann for the assistance it has given to partnership groups, West-on-Track, the Shannon Rail Partnership and, closer to my constituency, the Nenagh-Limerick-Ballybrophy rail line partnership. I am a member of that latter partnership group and those involved very much appreciate the assistance given by Mr. Jim Galvin of Iarnród Éireann’s working committee on that line. We are equally anxious and determined to retain the Limerick-Nenagh-Roscrea-Ballybrophy line. The removal of the transport of freight and cement, in line with recent directives, has not helped our situation. In Nenagh, one Craven carriage arrives most mornings instead of two, and while it is an old style carriage it provides the service required at a minimal standard.

While we recognise small improvements and the complete reconstruction of the Ciamaltha Road bridge, which we welcome, are under way, I want a commitment from Iarnród Éireann today that there will be no further reduction of services on the Nenagh-Limerick-Roscrea-Ballybrophy line. At present, a bus brings passengers from Cloughjordan as far as Ballybrophy and beyond because the Craven carriage fails to arrive on the day. If people cannot have confidence in the line, it will be difficult as a partnership group to put our case to the Minister who awaits our findings, in order that this line can be advanced. I call on Iarnród Éireann not to reduce any further the services on that line until we get a more credible case together for the Department.

Senator Daly: Information on Brendan Daly Zoom on Brendan Daly I will keep my comments local. I compliment Iarnród Éireann on the work it has done on the Limerick-Ennis line and the additional services it has provided. It has done a fantastic job and I hope it will be a great success. Mr. Meagher heard Councillor Hillery, a member of an earlier delegation say, that some business people in the Shannon region would be willing to put substantial funding into a private arrangement with Iarnród Éireann to put in place a line to Shannon. What is Mr. Meagher’s view on that? Has he a view on the company’s involvement in a private partnership arrangement with the local business people who would put up funding for the investment in such a line? How would such a spur line to Shannon work in with the company’s existing line from Limerick to Ennis?

Acting Chairman: Information on John Ellis Zoom on John Ellis What has been the cost per mile of laying the new welded rail track? The company has practically laid a totally new track system from Dublin to Sligo. What has been the cost per mile of laying that track, including the signalling?

I will be a little parochial and ask Mr. Meagher to give a commitment today that the freight gantry in Sligo will not be removed until such time as a full feasibility study on the opening of the western rail corridor has been fully assessed and decided in the positive or the negative? To remove infrastructure that would be necessary for the viability of a further expansion is not something we or, I believe, the Government would support, especially given that the Minister, Deputy Brennan, has already told the company on a number of occasions that it cannot touch what is left of the western rail corridor.

What is Mr. Meagher’s position on private companies using the railway lines at times when Iarnród Éireann trains are not operating on them? A number of people have put it to the committee directly and indirectly that a number of private freight groups would be only too willing to use the lines if they could get access to them to run freight services on them, services from which Iarnród Éireann seems to be walking away.

Does Mr. Meagher support the western rail corridor as a viable rail link? What investigations has the company carried out, other than the negatives we have heard about bridges and culverts? Given that the company owns this rail right of way, what would be the cost of replacing it mile by mile from Collooney to Ennis, in view of the fact that the west needs this line for passenger and freight services?

Mr. Meagher: I will go through the questions in the order they were put and if I omit any members can come back to me on them.

I accept that the Limerick-Ennis line is not part of the BMW region. I included it because we were talking about the western rail corridor from Sligo down through Limerick and on to Cork and that sector has been developed.

Deputy Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten That was not an investment in the BMW region. We have had enough miscalculations in regard to it.

Mr. Meagher: Drogheda is part of that region. The issue of balance in investment has to be reviewed because considerable investment has taken place, which is of significant benefit to the BMW region, but which has also been allocated to the other region. In the case of the 80 new rail cars, significant numbers of them are being used in Dublin, a number of them are operating from Longford and a number of them will operate from Athlone. We spent €117 million on the development of Heuston Station, which will benefit all the inter-city routes, including the routes to Galway, Mayo and Ballina. We must look at the positive aspect of what happened in the upgrading of Heuston Station and how it has benefited all of us. Instead of always honing in on the negative aspects, we should look at the positive ones.

Deputy Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten It is hard for me, or for anyone else from the west of Ireland, to consider the investment put into Heuston Station or the Drogheda, Limerick and Ennis stations as being of benefit to us.

Acting Chairman: Information on John Ellis Zoom on John Ellis Deputy Naughten, you and I are aware that the people in the west of Ireland are not that foolish to believe that some of that investment is of great benefit to them. Heuston Station might be of some benefit, but Drogheda is only a maintenance operation. That point does not arise.

Mr. Meagher: When we invest in a station like Heuston, we are investing in all rail routes. When we invest in rail cars and a maintenance depot, we are also investing in all the routes. Consequently, there are some benefits.

On the track from Sligo to Collooney and south of Ennis to Cork city, there is much work to be done on the existing network. While the rail tracks has been renewed on most of the radial lines, but not on some of the cross-radial lines, there is still a significant amount of work that remains to be done. For example, the old signalling system on the Limerick to Ennis line has yet to be replaced. Much work needs to be done on level crossings and other parts of the rail infrastructure throughout the entire network, including Limerick to Ennis.

The strict cost of simply relaying the rail on the lines has, from our experience, come to €800,000 a mile. Other costs need to be taken into account. I deliberately said when I gave the presentation that I did not want to sound negative. We are in favour of expanding the railway. However, I want the committee to be aware that to restore the western rail corridor requires major work. Much of the corridor is in bad condition and it is not a question of simply planting the track. Work would have to be done on foundations, clearings, level crossings and bridges. Mr. Brian Garvey, chief engineer for Iarnród Éireann, is the main architect of the railway network infrastructure renewal work carried out over the past five years. His estimate of the cost of reopening the 115 miles of the western rail corridor stands in excess of €300 million. I do accept that one needs a more detailed study of this figure.

Why have we not done so? We have had requests from 27 different areas while we are concentrating on renewing the existing rail line. In the strategic rail study, consultants were hired by the Minister to look at each of those issues and the review set out a plan for the future. We all have our ideas on it and people can agree or disagree. However, as requested, we sat down with the Department to ensure we had an agreed implementation and investment programme arising out of the findings of the strategic rail review. From this, came the plan of investing €2.2 billion over the next five years.

What elements are included in the plan? The elements are concerned with the existing network. The plan includes the replacement and addition of rolling stock. It is claimed that we have no ambition to improve the capacity of the existing network. That is untrue. We have ambitions for the existing network so as to increase the capacity and frequency of services and to reduce journey times. We have plans set out for each of those lines and aim to achieve these over the next five years. By 2007, we will have a much higher capacity, reduced journey times and have replaced rolling stock on the inter-city services. This is a clear ambition and target for us. We also intend to increase suburban capacity, particularly in Cork and Dublin.

The additional cost of providing commuter services was raised. If rolling stock is in place, solely for operation at peak times, it is a significant cost and the bottom-line will suffer. What we are trying to do is to wrap it into a more frequent service. On the Limerick-Ennis line, we are putting in seven services a day and developing it to generate a commuter business between the two towns. At the same time, we will link it to Dublin and Cork and use the rolling stock well. In the future, when we renew the Galway line, we will see the improvement of the rolling stock on the line and an increase in the frequency of services. Out of that, we will try to generate some benefits to commuters at the Galway end. However, this must be done in the most cost effective method.

Comment was made on the enormous subvention of €250 million. However, the subvention is actually €155 million. If it is compared with other railway operations in a revenue-to-cost ratio, we perform well. Railway operations do cost money. We are asked if we have the capacity and capability to carry out the renewal works. In the past, when there was little funding available, we used to renew five miles to 15 miles of track per year. The challenge was put to us to renew 75 miles to 80 miles of track from 1999 to 2003 to keep the existing network open. We have achieved that.

Acting Chairman: Information on John Ellis Zoom on John Ellis What are Iarnród Éireann’s commitments for the next two years with regard to rail track renewal?

Mr. Meagher: Our commitments on track renewal are reducing because——

Acting Chairman: Information on John Ellis Zoom on John Ellis Mr. Garvey can tell us how many miles of track is he committed to renew for the next two years per annum.

Mr. Meagher: It has reduced significantly.

Acting Chairman: Information on John Ellis Zoom on John Ellis How many miles?

Mr. Meagher: We are talking about 20 to 30 miles.

Acting Chairman: Information on John Ellis Zoom on John Ellis So, there is a spare capacity to renew 40 miles of rail tracks per annum with in-house engineering skills?

Mr. Meagher: One has to take into account the availability of funding.

Acting Chairman: Information on John Ellis Zoom on John Ellis Forget about funding.

Mr. Meagher: It is an important point.

Acting Chairman: Information on John Ellis Zoom on John Ellis Subject to funding being available, Iarnród Éireann is in a position to provide from its own resources 40 miles of track per annum, on the figures given to us by Mr. Garvey. Currently, Iarnród Éireann is renewing between 70 miles and 80 miles and is committed over the next two years to renew 25 miles to 30 miles of track. This means that it has a spare capacity of 50 miles. If Iarnród Éireann had the funding, it could now build the track from Collooney to Ennis inside the next two years. The cost of providing the track, going on the figures provided, is €92 million. Iarnród Éireann will actually need to provide €40 million per annum for the next two years to renew this track. Is that the case?

Mr. Meagher: That is not the case. Objectively, to renew and reopen the western rail corridor, more work has to be done than just renewing track. The plan aims to renew existing track that is operational.

Acting Chairman: Information on John Ellis Zoom on John Ellis Iarnród Éireann has put down new sleepers and welded rail. It is a total renewal of existing carriageways.

Mr. Meagher: Yes.

Acting Chairman: Information on John Ellis Zoom on John Ellis What we are asking here is about the total renewal of existing carriageways.

Mr. Meagher: There is far more preparatory work required——

Acting Chairman: Information on John Ellis Zoom on John Ellis Is Iarnród Éireann committed to completing this project if funding is forthcoming? There is no use in politicians fighting with Ministers if Iarnród Éireann is not committed to the reopening of the western rail corridor. That is as big a question as anything else.

Deputy Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall Iarnród Éireann will do what it is told by the Minister for Transport.

Acting Chairman: Information on John Ellis Zoom on John Ellis That is fair enough. However, is there enough of a willingness within Iarnród Éireann for us to push this at a political level to get action? Going by its submission, it has decided a plan of action from its own viewpoint for the next four years on how to spend funds. We are talking about a project that would only take up 10% of this funding. We want to persuade the Government at this late stage to give the necessary finance to do this work. However, we also need to know that Iarnród Éireann is committed to this project.

Mr. Meagher: There is no issue about that. Deputy Shortall is correct. We set out what are the “must-dos” on the current network such as safety and investment. There is still work to be done on the existing network. For example, we will spend much on replacing rolling stock over the next number of years. We would have wished to have done this sooner. People in the west of Ireland suffer from travelling in rolling stock that is 40 years old and this must change. Half of our rolling stock on the inter-city network is more than 30 years old. No modern railway in Europe would entertain having any rolling stock even over 25 years old. That is an absolute urgency over the next number of years. There is a long string of projects available for spend. However, we have to accept there is an envelope of funding available. We are appreciative of the funding that has been made available with support for it right across the political scene.

Deputy Eamon Ryan: Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan Iarnród Éireann is looking for funding of €2 billion over the next five years and it is appreciative of receiving this. However, the NRA will get €8 billion over the same five year period. Is it not time that Iarnród Éireann, rather than being appreciative of the crumbs from the table, cutting back on rail freight and concentrating on limited services, began to be ambitious and asked for €4 billion over the next five years. One example of why——

Acting Chairman: Information on John Ellis Zoom on John Ellis Deputy Eamon Ryan has not made his point.

Deputy Eamon Ryan: Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan The point is that Iarnród Éireann claims to be appreciative of the level of funding. It should now be looking for more funding? It can use the example of the Limerick-Ennis line, all but shut a few years’ ago, that is now being upgraded to seven trains per day. Is that not an example of how these western rail lines can work? It is time that Iarnród Éireann stopped being appreciative of the crumbs and started looking for more.

Deputy Shortall: Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall As if Iarnród Éireann does not look for more funding. Deputy Eamon Ryan should stop passing the buck about it.

Acting Chairman: Information on John Ellis Zoom on John Ellis Order, Deputies Eamon Ryan and Shortall. Mr. Meagher, please continue.

Mr. Meagher: We look for all the funding we can possibly get. There was an envelope of €2.2 billion recommended in the strategic rail review. It was the first time there was an independent report that was supportive of the railway network. If more money is available, we can do more things. However, more money has been available in the recent past than has historically been. For so long, one of the great problems was that there was no investment in the railways. Consequently, we now have to spend so much time getting back to where we would have been in normal circumstances. Had there been continuous investment in the railway from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, we would not be in the position we are now. We also would be more proactive concerning further developments of the network.

We are curtailed by the requirement to spend so much on the existing network. Yet, this is portrayed as showing a lack of interest in expanding the network. This is grossly unfair because it is not a situation we chose and we have to deal with the current network. There was no choice. It is not right to ask people to travel in 40 year-old carriages. We saw it as a ten year programme when funding became available in 1999. We are halfway through it and much progress has been made.

On PPP projects, if another source of funding can be found, we would happily entertain it. That is the simple answer to that question. In the mini-CTC project, there were particular circumstances that Senator Higgins is well aware were outside of Iarnród Éireann’s control. However, from having one accountant in the infrastructure division in 1998, we have built up a major project development sector and expertise. We currently have projects on stocks that are spanning a periodof time and approximately €1 billion. We arealso planning to deliver those projects underbudget.

Deputy Hoctor: Information on Máire Hoctor Zoom on Máire Hoctor What about the Nenagh-Limerick-Ballybrophy line?

Acting Chairman: Information on John Ellis Zoom on John Ellis All politics is local.

Senator Morrissey: Information on Tom Morrissey Zoom on Tom Morrissey There is also the issue of feasibility studies with local authorities on density of population.

Mr. Meagher: Where we are developing the railway, in the greater Dublin area or elsewhere, it is important that population development is concentrated along the railways. For too long, this has not been the case. There are examples in County Cork where the local authorities are working with us to get such development going. In the case of the western rail corridor, calls for its renewal would be helped if any population developments were also planned to assist the use of the railway.

Senator Higgins: Information on Jim Higgins Zoom on Jim Higgins The rail review has not been adopted as Government policy. How can there be an implementation group if the Government has decided not to adopt it?

Mr. Meagher: There is an implementation group and the strategic rail review has been issued. My recollection is that the Minister announced it, but I am subject to correction. We meet frequently, review the programme and set out the priorities. We have developed a priority of investment over the next five years based on the strategic rail review.

Acting Chairman: Information on John Ellis Zoom on John Ellis Can Iarnród Éireann give the committee a commitment that infrastructure will not be removed, such as the gantry in Sligo, subject to the possible reopening of a freight service?

Mr. Meagher: I do not think there are immediate plans to remove it. However, we will check this and come back to the committee.

Deputy Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten Are there any plans to use it?

Deputy Hoctor: Information on Máire Hoctor Zoom on Máire Hoctor I looked for a commitment from Iarnród Éireann that there would be no further reduction in services on the Nenagh-Limerick-Roscrea-Ballybrophy line? While the rail partnership group is doing its best, with the assistance of Mr. Jim Galvin, until we get our facts and findings together to produce a sustainable and credible passenger base to upgrade the line, should a decision be made?

Mr. Meagher: We have no plans to reduce the service on the Limerick-Ballybrophy line.

Deputy Hoctor: Information on Máire Hoctor Zoom on Máire Hoctor Will Iarnród Éireann assist in the provision of upgraded carriages with a flexible timetable?

Mr. Meagher: We are taking delivery of 80 new rail cars and this will enable us to relocate and improve some services. We expect to put a rail car on the Limerick-Ballybrophy line in the near future.

Deputy Hoctor: Information on Máire Hoctor Zoom on Máire Hoctor I welcome this. It is something that is badly needed——

Acting Chairman: Information on John Ellis Zoom on John Ellis The Deputy now has a press release, so she will be all right.

Deputy Hoctor: Information on Máire Hoctor Zoom on Máire Hoctor ——because the peopleshould be allowed the choice between bus andrail.

Acting Chairman: Information on John Ellis Zoom on John Ellis One final question from Deputy Naughten and then one overall question from me.

Deputy Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten We heard a number of figures from the three organisations quoted at the meeting. If we furnish Irish Rail with the proposed figures on the western rail corridor and the airport connection, can we be informed if they are realistic figures or not?

What was the cost per mile of the Sligo line? The actual condition of it is similar to the western rail line. Mr. Meagher used the term “grossly unfair” on the comparison with Irish Rail’s investment in the existing infrastructure. It is also grossly unfair to use figures at this committee to claim that investment is going into the BMW region when it is not. There has been a significant increase in infrastructure spending but no additional services or plans for them have resulted.

Can Mr. Meagher explain the logic behind the closure of the freight depot in Athlone? Freight on the Dublin to Westport line will pass through Athlone to Claremorris. However, freight destined for Athlone will have to be picked up by HGVs at Claremorris and then brought back to Athlone. This does not seem logical, but it is Irish Rail’s proposal.

Mr. Meagher: There is an additional service going in on the Galway-Dublin line nextmonth.

Deputy Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten What about the Athlone-Galway line?

Mr. Meagher: The Athlone-Galway line will benefit too.

Deputy Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten Yes, it is part of the line. A train that leaves Galway for Dublin does not provide a service from Athlone to Galway.

Mr. Meagher: There is an extra service from Dublin to Galway and Galway to Dublin going into the timetable, leaving Dublin at about9.30 a.m. and Galway shortly after 1 p.m.

Deputy Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten Is it correct to say that it will not provide a commuter service?

Mr. Meagher: No, it will not provide a commuter service.

Deputy Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten That is the critical issue.

Mr. Meagher: That is a separate issue that I dealt with

Mr. Gerry Glynn: Information on Camillus Glynn Zoom on Camillus Glynn The future of handling Guinness freight at Athlone is being examined, with the possibility of consolidating the operation with the Claremorris and Longford depots. If it happens, most of the Athlone region will be served from the Longford depot.

Deputy Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten Is it correct that freight trains will run through Athlone but not deliver there?

Mr. Glynn: Information on Camillus Glynn Zoom on Camillus Glynn Yes, that is a possibility.

Acting Chairman: Information on John Ellis Zoom on John Ellis The cost of the Sligo track——

Deputy Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten The Dublin-Galway service will close too.

Acting Chairman: Information on John Ellis Zoom on John Ellis What is the cost of the renewal of the Sligo track per mile?

Mr. Meagher: When a line is upgraded, there are a number of elements that have to be taken into consideration. Relaying the track is the big issue with an average cost of about €800,000 a mile. There is also the replacement of the signalling system on the Sligo line with other work being done on level crossings and bridges. All of these also have to be completed. If one adds them up, depending on the frequency of level crossings, bridges and the quality of fencing, it can come to well in excess of €2 million a mile. From looking at these factors, our initial estimate is that the 115 miles of the western rail corridor would cost more than €300 million.

Acting Chairman: Information on John Ellis Zoom on John Ellis Can Iarnród Éireann co-operate with the various groups involved in the western rail corridor in the carrying out of a feasibility study for every element of such an upgrade? Then a definitive case can be made to the Government for funding the reopening of the western rail corridor and the various offshoot lines from Ballybrophy to Cork. Iarnród Éireann has much information available that would be of great benefit to the West-On-Track and the Shannon Rail Link Partnership groups. Can Iarnród Éireann co-operate with those groups?

None of us are here to fight among each other. We are here to achieve something in this area. While we may argue, we do have a common goal. I hope Iarnród Éireann is as committed to reopening the western rail corridor as are members and the public, who would benefit most from it. This is a last stand to provide a needed western rail corridor.

Mr. Meagher: The regional bodies and local authorities have a key role to play in this too. We will work with them.

Deputy Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten Will Iarnród Éireann come back to the committee on the breakdown of the Sligo line per mile?


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