CASH-strapped Irish Rail – which increased fares despite receiving a €30m Government bailout last year – has 21 surplus train carriages valued at €44m sitting idle at any one time.
The details of the surplus trains led TDs to question why Irish Rail doesn't sell them off to help its perilous financial situation, but the company says it has no intention of doing so.
It was accused of presiding over a "massive waste of taxpayer's money" and operating a "carriage graveyard". However, Irish Rail in turn claimed that the spare stock "future-proofed" the country's rail network.
It comes after the National Transport Authority (NTA) sanctioned a rise in CIE fares late last year to help ease the company's financial crisis.
The Dail Public Accounts Committee (PAC) heard an initial order worth €500m was put in with Mitsui, a Japanese train manufacturer, for a total of 234 railcars.
The cars, worth €2m each, were delivered in four tranches in 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2008, but not all of the last batch were needed because of declining passenger numbers.
They are the latest 'InterCity' carriages run on all major routes, except the Dublin-Cork and Dublin- Belfast routes, and Gerry Murphy, the CEO of the NTA, said they are worth €44m.
However, both the NTA and Irish Rail say the extra cars are alternated out of storage and used in service.
At the PAC yesterday, chairman John McGuinness questioned Mr Murphy about the unused carriages and described them as a "massive waste of taxpayers' money".
"Then you increase the fares instead of saying there will be no fare increases until you get your house in order," Mr McGuinness said. "I just can't fathom why you can't do that to put a stop to the carry on that is going on in CIE. A company in the private sector would be bust if they did that."
CIE was given a €36m bailout by the Government last year, with a massive €30m of this going to Irish Rail and €5.33m given to Dublin Bus.
Mr Murphy said the NTA commissioned industrial maintenance company Jacob's Engineering to assess what to do with the carriages, and it recommended keeping them in long-term storage, which would reduce maintenance costs.
But an Irish Rail spokeswoman said the carriages are "rotated" and are "constantly in service".
"The order was given when the economy was in a different place," she added.
"When we have a pick-up in demand, we will have the carriages ready to go."
They are mostly stored in the Laois Traincare Depot – opened in 2008 – which does not cost any extra money.
Mr O'Donnell, a TD for Limerick City, also said Irish Rail had to improve its services if it is to attract business customers, describing the food offered as "third world" and quality of internet wi-fi and mobile phone coverage as "appalling".