Thursday 25 December 2014

Use it or lose it threat needed to focus minds

Published 04/09/2014 | 02:30

GETTING workers to sign-off on the agreement between management and trade unions at Irish Rail is only the first step to restore the company's finances.

Hard decisions have to be made, and the first question to be asked is whether the taxpayer should continue to fund a rail network where so many services are underused as people refuse to make the switch to public transport.

A 'use it or lose it' policy should be adopted - give people a year or 18 months to use the network or close the lines with low passenger numbers.

In advance of that, Irish Rail and Government should undertake a major public consultation process to see what services are required, what time of the day they should run and what measures are needed to grow passenger numbers.

Apart from stopping the waste of money incurred by investing in a service that many refuse to use, there's another pressing reason for action.

Just this week the AA warned that traffic volumes were up and that congestion would return to pre-recession levels, particularly in Dublin, Galway and Cork.

With new car sales increasing, it's clear that gridlock will become a real issue sooner than we think. Getting people onto sustainable forms of public transport where possible should be a key focus of Government.

The train has a key role to play in this regard, and already offers an alternative to the car by way of commuter services in our bigger cities.

But people aren't making the switch, citing parking charges in stations, services which simply don't suit and the high cost of travel following successive fare increases. In addition, the motorway network often offers quicker journey times.

Something has to give. Not only has the State already heavily invested in recent years - a new fleet, new lines including Galway to Limerick and the Dunboyne commuter service - it continues to spend heavily on safety and signalling upgrades.

The question now must be asked if the taxpayer should continue to invest in a service which many people seem not to want.

The necessary changes must made to grow numbers, especially as Irish Rail is still in dire financial straits. The alternative is closures.

Irish Independent

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