Galway to Limerick rail route to run at €2.4m loss
JUST 320 passengers a day will use the €110m Galway-Limerick train service which opens for business next week.
And it will take longer to travel by rail than by road, with 30 minutes added to the journey time of commuters who choose to go green and leave the car at home.
The Irish Independent has learnt Iarnrod Eireann expects to lose €2.4m a year running the service, with just 100,000 passengers expected to make the switch from road to rail in the first five years.
Even by 2015 when passenger numbers are expected to double to 640 people a day, trains will run at less than 40pc capacity, an independent review of the state rail company's business reveals.
The first stage of the controversial Western Rail Corridor, the Limerick to Galway service opens next Tuesday.
It will serve Galway, Athenry, Craughwell, Ardrahan, Gort, Ennis, Sixmilebridge and Limerick -- linking the cities in just under two hours.
However, the journey by road takes just 90 minutes and is expected to be even shorter when the Gort--Crusheen dual carriageway opens next year.
The faster journey time means Iarnrod Eireann will face an uphill struggle to convince people to change to trains.
"The key issue will be the ability of the service to generate patronage in the context of a much improved road network and increasing bus competition," the company's business case says.
"A major element of risk associated with this project relates to the impact of the Transport 21 Atlantic Road Corridor and increasing car ownership levels. The business case suggests that the justification for the project is on grounds of its contribution to regional development."
It has also emerged:
- Five trains will run in each direction per day, two fewer than promised when the line was being planned.
- The interval between trains was to have been no more than three hours. For some services, however, it is almost four.
- A day return will cost €20, but fares will meet only €1m of operating costs per year, meaning the taxpayer will have to subvent the line by €2.4m.
- The maximum speed on the line is less than 100kmh.
But Iarnrod Eireann said it was confident it could increase passenger numbers, and that the service would be developed over time.
Spokesman Barry Kenny added the project was prepared under Department of Transport guidelines for capital funding, and approved. "This will be a deliverable and reliable city-to-city journey time."
Fine Gael Transport spokes- man Fergus O'Dowd said it would be "difficult" to make the project work. "It seems a very expensive operation," he said.
There are two phases left to complete on the Western Rail Corridor. Phase two will link Athenry to Tuam, and phase three will reopen the Tuam to Claremorris line.
However, both are dependent on capital funding, and a decision has not been made on when the rest of the project will proceed.
Rail passengers lobby group, Rail Users Ireland, criticised the lack of services, saying that people would not use the rail network unless frequent services were provided.