Wednesday 21 August 2019

Train drivers may not be able to operate earlier and more frequent services - unions

Newbridge Station lies virtually empty after a last-minute decision to call off recent strike action was too late for many commuters
Newbridge Station lies virtually empty after a last-minute decision to call off recent strike action was too late for many commuters

Emma Jane Hade

Unions representing train drivers have indicated that their workers may not be in a position to operate earlier and more frequent services, which have been promised by rail bosses as part of their new plan to tackle overcrowding on services.

The Government and Irish Rail announced yesterday that they were launching a new public consultation process geared towards overhauling timetables of trains using Connolly Station, which includes the Dart.

The National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU), one of two organisations which represents workers within Irish Rail, are now advising “caution” in relation to the proposals which is promising 20pc extra Dart services by running a train every 10 minutes.

Unions and the semi-state company were recently engaged in negotiations in the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) about productivity issues, before being referred to the Labour Court.

The Labour Court recommended the establishment of a “benchmarking” exercise to compare workers hours, pay, terms and conditions with their counterparts in Britain and Northern Ireland.

They also recommended a new set of talks between rail chiefs and workers in relation to productivity, as the NBRU previously accused Irish Rail of "reneging on a commitment to reward past productivity increases".

NBRU General Secretary Dermot O’Leary said this evening that the proposed 10 minute Dart service is “productivity based”.

“It will be for our train driver members in the Dart to decide if they will be in a position to cooperate with any proposed changes, with a particular emphasis on how such a service may affect the current rostering regime and the driver resource pool within the Dart system,” Mr O’Leary said.

“However, in advance of any such consideration is the requirement to ballot members on the Labour Court Recommendation itself, this will be completed by December 14.”

Siptu, the other union involved, confirmed they have contacted Irish Rail about their concerns.

It is understood that these proposed changes were “mooted” in their recent WRC discussions.

However, a spokesperson for Irish Rail said the new proposed timetables for 2016, were “not related to productivity issues”.

“We have been training new drivers as part of the plan for expansion of services,” he added.

The public consultation process was launched online yesterday and will close on December 8.

Trains will begin to operate up to 40 minutes earlier and will run every 10 minutes on weekday mornings under the new proposals, if they are approved by the public.

Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe said it is good news for commuters which comes “in response to the greater demand that is there for public services and is funded by more people using the service”.

“With the capacity that we have and the ability to invest in that new signalling centre, we will be able to support the increased frequency in services that this Dart announcement is signalling,” Minister Donohoe said at the launch yesterday in Connolly Station.

Other changes include more commuter services to and from Dundalk and Drogheda.

The morning Belfast to Dublin Enterprise service will stop at Dundalk at the earlier time of 7.30 am and Drogheda at 7.54am.

A new express service will depart Dundalk at 7.55am, calling at Drogheda at 8.20am.

Weekend Dart train frequencies will be increased to every 15 minutes on Saturdays and 20 minutes on Sundays in a bid to “eliminate existing scheduling gaps”, according to the company.

Irish Rail has urged all passengers to check the proposed timetable changes on its website.

The company said it has recorded a 5pc growth in passenger numbers so far this year.

The rise in traffic is more pronounced on Dart services, with business up 8pc.

Irish Rail spokesman Barry Kenny said the increase in capacity has stemmed from growth in recent years and the increased frequency will “allow more people to use the service”.

“Its great to be in a position to use from our existing fleet and to propose changes like this,” he added.

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