Monday 11 December 2017

Transport Minister may shut loss-making line that carries just 73 passengers a day

Taxpayers' €550 per passenger rail line bill

Shane Ross. Photo: Tom Burke
Shane Ross. Photo: Tom Burke
Niall O'Connor

Niall O'Connor

A single route on the country's rail network is costing the taxpayer €550 per passenger, ministers will be told today.

The extraordinary cost to the State to operate the loss-making Limerick-Ballybrophy line is revealed in a memo being brought to Cabinet by Transport Minister Shane Ross.

It compares to the sum of just 90c it costs per Dart passenger through the Government's subvention to the trouble-hit Irish Rail.

In 2012, Irish Rail added four extra daily services - at a cost of almost €20,000 per day - to the route which is serving the constituency of the then public transport minister Alan Kelly.

At the same time, just 73 people a day used the line, generating a paltry €753 a day in fares. But it now seems likely Mr Ross, an Independent Alliance minister, will close the route in order to save further taxpayers' money from being squandered.

According to the memo, seen by the Irish Independent, Irish Rail's body finances are deteriorating.

It suggests the taxpayer may have to foot the bill to deal with a black hole in the finances of the semi-State body.

The memo has been brought to Cabinet on the back of a review carried out into Irish Rail's finances.

"Until Iarnród Éireann's financial situation is rectified, the eventual costs to the Exchequer will continue to grow, while performance of the railway deteriorates. In the short-term, bridging the funding gap is necessary to prevent this," the memo states.

"The review identifies wide disparities in the funding requirement for the various routes on the network. It identifies the subvention requirement per passenger journey on each route, based on the running costs for these routes (excluding the capital investment). It shows, for example, that the subvention for each passenger journey on the Dart is 90c and on Limerick-Ballybrophy is €550."

Mr Ross will gain credit if he finally ends some of the network's loss making routes.

According to the memo, decisions on routes won't be taken until a public consultation takes place.

"The minister has stated that no decisions will be taken on any of the options identified in the review in advance of a full process of public consultation and that it is appropriate that the public and all interested parties get an opportunity to contribute to the debate on the future of rail," it states.

The memo adds that the National Transport Authority (NTA) has prepared a short consultation paper which is due to be published shortly.

"This public consultation gives respondents the opportunity to provide the NTA with public and stakeholder opinion on an optimal rail network for Ireland and its funding," according to the memo.

Irish Independent

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