Thursday 25 May 2017

Iarnrod Eireann boss warns underfunding will cause safety risks for passengers

Irish Rail chief David Franks
Irish Rail chief David Franks
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

The safety of train passengers is at risk if more funding is not invested in the county’s struggling rail service, Iarnrod Eireann has warned.

Iarnrod Eireann chief Executive David Franks said the rail service is facing “unprecedented challenges” despite its improving financial position..

Speaking before the Oireachtas Transport Committee, Mr Franks said the company has seen its public funding cut from €195m in 2007 to €98m last year.

“As history has shown us, sustained underinvestment will ultimately impact on both safety and reliability, and result in greater costs to renew our assets in the long-run, rather than maintain them sustainably,” he said.

“For customers, this would mean a return to speed restrictions and a worsening of service standards, when our ambition is to improve times and service quality,” he added.

Mr Franks said areas in need to critical funding to ensure safety include the implementation of an automatic system that prevent trains from passing stop signals or speeding.

These automatic systems are commonplace in other European countries, the Iarnrod Eireann chief said.

The rail service is also seeking additional funding for level crossing safety investment and extra financing for the National Train Control Centre.

However, Mr Franks said the rail service would cease operating if it believed safety threats would risk lives.

He said an audit of the service warned of serious safety risks if investment in the State owned company is not increased within the next five years.

National Transport Authority chief executive Anne Graham told the committee she is favour of “restructuring” fares across the rail and bus networks rather than increasing ticket prices.

Ms Graham said there are “anomalies” in the current charging system which the authority hopes to address in the coming years.

Ms Graham refused to comment on the controversial tendering of Bus Eireann’s Expressway service as the process was on-going.

Asked about the new terms and conditions facing Expressway bus drivers once the routes are tendered, Bus Eireann chief executive Martin Nolan said: “The most I can say about that is that we are like Aer Lingus and Ryanair, we must get in a range of the market without going down to the lowest common denominator.”

He said this is an issue the company is currently discussing with unions.

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