Coalition ministers' lines cross over future closures in rail system
FINE Gael and Labour are on a collision course over controversial transport cuts, with Junior Minister Alan Kelly ruling out any closure of loss-making rail lines.
Transport Minister Leo Varadkar of Fine Gael has warned that government funding would be cut and diverted to bus services unless Iarnrod Eireann slashed costs and boosted the number of commuters.
Iarnrod Eireann accounts for 55pc, or €117m, of Ireland's annual €209m public transport subsidy though subsidies have fallen by €55m since 2009.
Mr Varadkar's comments came as it emerged two lines, Limerick Junction to Waterford and Limerick to Ballybrophy, carried just 55,000 passengers in 2013.
The Limerick-Ballybrophy line carried just 73 people a day with revenue of just €753.
Mr Kelly is a newly elected Labour TD based in Nenagh, Co Tipperary, which sits in the middle of the Limerick-Ballybrophy line, and he has campaigned strongly on retaining this and other facilities.
As Iarnrod Eireann management and trade unions are locked in Labour Court negotiations over cost-cutting measures, Mr Kelly insisted rail line closures were not the answer.
"There is no ambition to close any train lines. Leo and myself are [at] one on that. I don't think it would be a good signal for the country if we are going around closing train lines," he said.
"How many times have we seen it in the past that when you close a train line a few years later you are trying to open it up again. It is not just about passenger numbers. It is about the potential of freight and commercial activity on various lines."
Mr Kelly said rail travel is his favourite mode of transport.
"A number of other issues have to be taken into consideration in relation to those lines. Many of them are relief lines, which means that if there are issues on another track those lines are used. So they have to be maintained.
"Under EU law, lines still have to be maintained for up to 10 years after closure so the costs are actually sustained in many ways.
"There is no ambition and no proposal going anywhere through Irish Rail or the National Transport Authority (NTA) for closing rail lines."
Mr Kelly said the real answer was a comprehensive agreement between Iarnrod Eireann management and the unions to maximise company efficiency, enhance journey times and promote passenger numbers.
He acknowledged that, in part, Iarnrod Eireann's difficulties had been due to improvements in Ireland's road network.
Mr Kelly said the Government was looking carefully at how to cut rail journey times on the Dublin-Cork, Dublin-Limerick and Limerick-Galway lines.
"Significant work is ongoing particularly on the Cork-Dublin line to try and speed it up," he said.
He acknowledged that, on some routes such as Limerick-Galway, journey times are a matter of major importance.
"Limerick to Galway certainly poses a significant challenge given the speed on the line. There is a group of people looking at that and other lines at the moment."