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Saturday 10 December 2016

Kelly takes off like a runaway train - but the facts are stark

Published 16/11/2016 | 02:30

While working as junior minister in the Department of Transport in 2012, Mr Kelly appeared in the local papers on several occasions fighting off rumours that Irish Rail would reduce the underused service. Photo: Maxwell Photography
While working as junior minister in the Department of Transport in 2012, Mr Kelly appeared in the local papers on several occasions fighting off rumours that Irish Rail would reduce the underused service. Photo: Maxwell Photography

Alan Kelly was like a runaway train. Newspaper reports were "factually highly inaccurate", certain people had "an agenda" and the minister was involved in a "cover-up".

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All the while he was trying to distract from the headline figure of €550.

That's how much it costs per passenger to operate a train service from Limerick through his own Tipperary constituency to Ballybrophy for 73 people.

While working as junior minister in the Department of Transport in 2012, Mr Kelly appeared in the local papers on several occasions fighting off rumours that Irish Rail would reduce the underused service.

"My intention is to improve it. We will be looking at speeds on the line, pricing, timetables, getting more direct services to Dublin and looking at how the services are marketed by Irish Rail," he said in one interview.

And so we are back to the age-old debate of whether we want our politicians to make decisions based on what's best for the country or what's best for their voters.

During his media blitz yesterday Mr Kelly described calls to close the Limerick to Ballybrophy route as "madness" and "totally unacceptable".

He even suggested that it would be akin to grounding flights at Knock Airport, which also relies on taxpayer monies to stay operational.

So let's look at the facts. First off a record 720,000 passengers are expected to use Knock Airport this year.

The Limerick to Ballybrophy line caters for commuters living in five towns along a 78km stretch. The journey takes about one hour 10 minutes and a one-way ticket today will set you back €17.99. A roadtrip from Limerick to Ballybrophy by the M7 takes an hour. Extra services on the line were agreed in 2012 without any written records of the decision-making process.

Permission to run the extra trains was granted just 90 minutes after the National Transport Authority (NTA) was formally approached by Irish Rail about the matter.

The NTA didn't seek any details on how much the extra services would cost.

And all the while two high-level reports which recommended that the Ballybrophy line be closed as too few people used it were gathering dust.

Now the Government has committed to improving services in rural Ireland, not decreasing.

But the fact stands that Irish Rail needs a €128m cash injection every year for the next five years to prevent insolvency.

So while we would all like to see a rail service in every town some major restructuring is going to have to happen or we will have none. As a former minister, Mr Kelly should know that better than most.

Irish Independent

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