Thursday, 3 February 2005
Brian Lenihan Jnr (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
I thank Deputy Keaveney for raising this important issue on the Adjournment. I was impressed with her eloquent plea for direct rail connection to Derry, which as she said is the fourth largest city in Ireland and one of significant sentimental importance to the people as a whole. I will certainly draw her comments to the attention of the Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, on whose behalf I make this reply.
The north-west region, the west Ulster region and Donegal specifically is served by a variety of public transport modes. The Minister has been informed that Bus Éireann offers several services per day from Letterkenny, timetabled to take between three hours and 40 minutes and four hours and five minutes. The company expects journey times to improve over the coming years as road improvements are completed.
The regional airline, Loganair, operates a twice-daily public service obligation air route between Dublin and Derry. The journey time is 50 minutes. Aer Arann, operating from Donegal Airport, also serves Dublin, offering a similar frequency and journey time. Deputy Keaveney referred to these rail and bus links in her contribution.
Irish Rail and Translink offer the facility to travel by rail from Derry to Dublin, changing at Belfast, with a travelling time of approximately four hours 20 minutes. I understand from the Deputy that changing at Belfast is the crux of the issue she wishes the Minister to address. The waiting time for connections to Belfast Central Station can vary, but may add as little as 17 minutes, depending on the service used, to the total journey time.
While journey times by rail are not as attractive as bus times, Irish Rail and Translink, the operator of the Northern Ireland Railway network, are working to improve journey times by rail. I understand that Translink is currently bringing into service a new fleet of diesel rail cars. With the additional capacity available as a result of the arrival of these new units, I expect Translink will examine all the options for the Derry-Belfast route and the scheduling thereon. It is Translink's decision, based on knowledge of the market and on consultation with its authorities and local interests to provide the levels and frequencies of rail services along the route that it believes are necessary and viable.
A similar set of circumstances pertains to Iarnród Éireann's operations here. It has statutory responsibility for the scheduling and timetabling of trains. It is not for the Minister of the day to direct Iarnród Éireann's day-to-day operations. The Minister of Transport has, however, asked Iarnród Éireann to look at better marketing of the rail connection between Dublin and Derry in conjunction with Translink.
I would not accuse the Deputy of greed in seeking to advance the cause of a direct Dublin-Derry train link. I wish her well in her endeavours.