IRELAND'S highest cost rail line is making a determined effort to boost passenger numbers and slash operating expenditure.
The Limerick-Ballybrophy rail line made headlines six years ago when a special report revealed it cost a whopping €550 each per passenger just to operate.
That was in stark contrast to the fact that, in 2016, the average comparable cost for each DART passenger was just 90 cent.
Despite widespread calls for the line to be axed, it was kept in service - and a track renewal project was launched.
Now, the service has received a further boost with Transport Minister Eamon Ryan having personally travelled on the Ballybrophy service.
The Green Party leader insisted the route had "great potential."
“I think Limerick can thrive on the rail lines that lead into it. I think that Ballybrophy line can be a commuting line into Limerick, or shopping line as well as improving the people coming down for Dublin,” he said.
“But forget about Dublin… think about the south west and the mid west. If you’ve got really good commuting services – metropolitan services – from the likes of Cloughjordan into Limerick or Nenagh into Limerick. Or even Ballybrophy or Roscrea into Limerick.”
Clare TD Michael McNamara said investment was crucial to persuading people to use public transport and Ireland's railway network.
“We want to move people off the motorway and onto the trains. The direct line to Limerick, where all direct trains to Limerick went through previously, is now barely served. There’s a 30kmh speed limit in parts of it."
“There are two trains that you can catch in Ballybrophy – which is a great station – in the morning and there’s only two trains in the afternoon. When are we going to upgrade that because we see the difficulty with the ‘all planes go to Dublin Airport’ approach."
The 91.5km line is now the focus of a campaign by the North Tipperary Community Rail Partnership (NTCRP) to boost the number of passengers using the route and to develop a timetable of services best suited to local commuter, business and tourism needs.
It is hoped the new track developments will also ensure speedier local services - and that greater passenger numbers will slash per capita costs.
NTCRP official Elaine Baker said the key was getting local people to support the local service.
She said such rail links were in keeping with Ireland's commitment to promote public transport and clean, green networks.
“We definitely need better services and more frequent services but then at the same time there’s also a lot of really good reasons to use the train as well," she told TippFM.
"There is plenty of space to walk around and there are toilets on the train. The fare is only €2.99 along the line and also fares on the other connecting lines have been reduced by 20pc recently so we also want to encourage people to use the train services that we have while we also try and improve them."
“The survey is really about getting people's views about how to improve.”
NTCRC stressed the people they want to hear from are those who could use the rail line but opt not to - rather than those that already support the service.
“This survey is actually for anybody who lives along the line. The line goes from Limerick, Castleconnell, Birdhill, Nenagh, Cloughjordan, Roscrea to Ballybrophy."
"So anybody who lives along the line or in surrounding areas, we’re really encouraging them to fill out the survey whether or not they’ve ever actually used the train."
“We want to hear from people who don’t use the train as much as from people who do and what might encourage them to use it more often.”
Former Labour leader and Tipperary TD Alan Kelly has been a staunch advocate of the Limerick-Ballybrophy line - and angrily rejected calls six years ago for it to be closed.
He said the line had operated for generations and was going to increase in importance as people increasingly relied on public transport as part of Ireland's drive to go 'green'.
"There is a huge investment going into Nenagh and Limerick – are we really saying to people that Ireland cannot afford to maintain a railway system that will serve people?”