Friday 27 April 2018

Irish Rail to seek more funds from taxpayers even if routes are axed

Barry Kenny Picture: Frank McGrath
Barry Kenny Picture: Frank McGrath

Anne-Marie Walsh and Kevin Doyle

Irish Rail will look for more funding from the taxpayer - even if four of its most costly subsidised routes are axed.

It has emerged the semi-State company may also seek "additional Exchequer funding" and increased payments from the Free Travel Scheme.

It comes after the Irish Independent revealed Irish Rail listed plans to close the Limerick to Ballybrophy, Limerick Junction to Waterford, part of the Limerick to Galway and Dublin to Rosslare lines in a submission to the Labour Court.

The company has now confirmed the closures may be just "one element" of a wider rescue plan.

Spokesperson Barry Kenny said that the Government must decide whether to close routes that were listed for elimination to address serious underfunding. He also said union claims for a 3.75pc a year pay hike - similar to increases at the Luas and Dublin Bus - could be met only if there was more productivity.

In a submission to the Labour Court, Irish Rail said the potential line closures mooted in a rail review were on routes with the largest subvention per journey.

"If the policy decision from Government is to close some lightly used lines, the rail review is clear that this would just be one element of addressing our funding shortfall," said Mr Kenny. "Additional Exchequer funding would still be required to maintain current standards of safety and service."

He said this would include what he called "proper payment levels" for the Free Travel Scheme.

The submission said additional funding of between €90m and €116m would be required each year up to 2021, plus €41.7m compensation for previous underfunding of €41.7m each year up to 2019. Mr Kenny said that because of the company's accumulated deficit of more than €160m, further losses could lead to insolvency.

He added that the pay claim had been referred by the Labour Court back to the Workplace Relations Commission, and talks would begin there next week.

Mr Kenny denied claims by unions there was a "North Korean" management style at Irish Rail.

General secretary of the National Bus and Railworkers Union Dermot O'Leary (inset) said staff were "sick to the back teeth" of listening to the "we have no money" line from management. "The notion that rail lines would close, would actually pass political muster is as laughable as describing North Korea as an idyllic holiday location," he said.

The union leader said it was "within the gift" of the company and those who funded public transport to prevent any "unnecessary" industrial action across our national railways.

A group representing train users said there was a case to close the Limerick to Ballybrophy route - which costs €761 per passenger journey - because without savings, the entire network is under threat. But Mark Gleeson, of Rail Users Ireland, said there was also a case for retaining the other routes, particularly the Rosslare route, if there was better integration with ferries and more marketing to get more passengers on board.

Fianna Fáil warned it would fight any attempt to reduce rail services and called on Transport Minister Shane Ross to take action. Transport spokesman Robert Troy said the suggestion by Irish Rail it would have to close some lines was "deeply concerning".

"It's astonishing that Irish Rail is considering closing the Gorey to Rosslare line, considering its strategic importance linking Rosslare Europort to the capital," he said.

"The Government has recognised the need to enhance Rosslare Europort in light of the challenge posed by Brexit. This will be impossible to achieve if the Gorey-Rosslare rail line is axed."

Irish Independent

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