News Analysis

Sunday 31 August 2014

Tough decisions must be made to get back on track

Paul Melia

Published 14/11/2012 | 05:00

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CIE's cash crisis has been a long time in the making. Passenger numbers have fallen, with cuts in state aid and rising fuel bills leaving the company on a knife-edge with question marks over its future.

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It was all so different back in 2005 when the Government announced its ambitious Transport 21 programme, which promised €16bn for public transport and new trains and buses. Much of the money was spent upgrading the ageing rail network, while a fleet of buses and new trains replaced a clapped-out fleet.

New services were introduced and, in a booming economy with almost full employment, the numbers grew. CIE was encouraged to think big, and it did. It secured planning permission to redevelop Tara Street station to include a 12-storey office block, and a rail commuter service was introduced for Meath.

But problems were coming down the line. Some train services just didn't attract passengers, in part because it was often quicker to travel on one of the new motorways.

The Limerick-Galway train line, which opened in 2010 at a cost of €160m, is a case in point. It takes more than two hours by rail, or one hour and 22 minutes by road.

Some 300,000 passengers a year were expected to use the service. Less than 35,000 did last year.

CIE hasn't been standing still. It has cut costs, but more is needed, and it will need its unions to come on board. Selling assets will not make the kind of money needed to fix the company, particularly as the market won't pay the premiums demanded just a few years ago.

Dublin Bus has restructured its network. Bus Eireann, which made money last year, has done the same. Iarnrod Eireann has made some changes, with more on the way.

But there are services that just aren't getting the numbers, and CIE cannot afford to keep them going. Tough decisions will have to be taken.

Irish Independent

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