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Sunday 21 September 2014

End of line for ghost trains as 31 stations under 'full review'

Published 17/08/2014 | 02:30

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The revelation comes as new figures obtained by the Sunday Independent reveal a chronic underfunding of the country's rail network.
The revelation comes as new figures obtained by the Sunday Independent reveal a chronic underfunding of the country's rail network.

Just two passengers a day are using one rural railway station. The station in Attymon, Co Galway, is one of 31 stations across the country that cater for less than 100 passengers a day which are now the subject of a "full review" by Irish Rail bosses

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The revelation comes as new figures obtained by the Sunday Independent reveal a chronic underfunding of the country's rail network. Internal briefing documents from the Department of Transport show the Government needs to be spending €60m more a year simply to maintain the railways.

"Analysis has shown that the Exchequer contribution for the heavy rail network is €60m per annum less than required to maintain the existing network - and there is no possibility of this gap being closed through rail passenger revenues," the document states.

Despite this, the Government is continuing to subsidise loss-making rail routes used by less than 100 people a day.

The documents also show senior officials in new Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe's department admit that passenger numbers on the €110m Western Rail Corridor from Galway to Limerick, which opened in 2010, have been "disappointing to date". The corridor is one of a number of rural railway lines that could face a cut in services.

One of the quietest lines in the country is the Limerick-Ballybrophy line, which runs through the constituency of Environment Minister Alan Kelly, which was used by just 73 people a day. Nenagh-based Mr Kelly, who was previously a junior transport minister, had campaigned strongly to keep the line open.

An in-depth review of services across the rail network is under way, which could result in some lines being closed or see such service levels reduced. They include Limerick Junction to Waterford, and Limerick to Ballybrophy in Co Laois, which carried a combined 55,000 passengers last year.

Meanwhile, Irish Rail has conceded that threatened rail strikes by workers later this month and next month are all but certain to go ahead.

Mr Donohoe has been heavily criticised for comments he made in an interview with the Sunday Independent last weekend, in which he described the decision of workers to strike as a "slap in the face" to taxpayers and commuters. The minister has taken a hard line against the proposed strike action - timed to coincide with three key All-Ireland weekends beginning on August 24 - saying payroll savings must be achieved.

There is also concern that many passenger journeys on under-used lines are made by passengers in receipt of the free travel pass, meaning Irish Rail receives no revenue from the trips.

A spokesman for Irish Rail said in light of the grave financial situation facing the company, a full review of routes and services is currently underway.

Irish Rail has accumulated losses since 2008 of €147m.

Despite the poor performance of many lines, Fianna Fail transport spokesman Timmy Dooley urged the Government not to cut services in rural areas. He also called on Tanaiste Joan Burton to clarify whether she shares Mr Donohoe's hard-line views.

"What are the views of the Labour Party? What do they think of Paschal's posturing, do they share his views," he asked.

Sunday Independent

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