Passenger numbers plummet as train is abandoned for car
RAIL passenger numbers are plummeting as intercity commuters are finding it as fast and as cheap to take to the road.
With competitive costs on the motorway network, a growing number of rail users are switching back to their cars because they can make the same journey as quickly.
Rail passenger numbers have fallen by 25pc in the last five years, according to an official Department of Transport report.
An Irish Rail spokesman admitted last night that improved journey times offered by the new motorway network now put the firm at a competitive disadvantage and was a factor in falling passenger numbers.
However, the spokesman stressed that the main reason for the decline in passengers was the economic downturn.
But during the same period, traffic volumes on major roads has remained steady despite the sharp fall-off in economic activity.
Analysis by the Irish Independent shows that car drivers can travel between Dublin and the main cities for roughly the same cost and time as going by train unless they book online three days in advance.
For example, going by train from Dublin to Limerick takes two-and-a-half hours with an open return for €63.
By car, the same journey takes two hours 21 minutes, with a return fuel bill of €60 and a toll bill of €3.60.
An open return ticket from Dublin to Cork costs €77 with a journey time of two hours 50 minutes.
Travelling there in a typical mid-range car takes two hours 55 minutes, with a return fuel cost of €77 for the return journey, plus €7.20 for four tolls.
And rail fares are set to rise again by as much as 6pc across the board after CIE applied to the National Transport Authority for the price hike.
The move follows a Government decision to increase its subvention to CIE by €36m this year. But CIE point to its own research showing that, far from being a rip-off, Irish Rail prices are lower than the European average.
Ireland ranks midway for rail fares in a survey of 15 EU countries, according to a report commissioned by CIE and seen by the Irish Independent.
The UK emerges as the most expensive for taking an inter-city day return journey train -- twice the price here. Italy has the cheapest mainline services.
The rail survey examines journeys comparable to the 267km Dublin to Cork journey.
• Ireland is the sixth cheapest for a pre-booked online web fare at €39 for Dublin to Cork. Germany is the most expensive with the journey from Hamburg -- Berlin (277km) costing €78 online. The cheapest is Ostend to Eupen (265km) in Belgium at just €15, although there is limited availability.
• For an open return ticket, Ireland is in seventh place, behind Denmark, Austria, Finland, Germany, Sweden and the most expensive, the UK, where London to Sheffield costs €250 (compared to €77 for Dublin to Cork). The Belgium route was again the cheapest.
• For a day return, the UK was again the most expensive, and Ireland the seventh cheapest. Taking the train from Milan to Venice (267km) in Italy was the cheapest.
But it is still as cheap or cheaper to use the new motorway network, by paying for fuel and a series of tolls, than buying a rail ticket on the day of travel.
Cheaper fares are on offer, however, if passengers book online three days before travel.