Wednesday, 15 June 2005
Dan Boyle (Cork South Central, Green Party)
I am especially grateful for being allowed to raise this Adjournment matter at this stage and I express my gratitude to the Minister of State for his patience in waiting to respond to this issue.
While I accept this is not a matter for which the Government has direct responsibility, the raising of this issue will give the Minister of State an opportunity to outline the Government's concern about the deterioration of a vital element of national infrastructure and to outline what measures the Government intends to put in place to make sure that in the future this country has a rail infrastructure that is fully utilised.
I speak as a representative of Cork South-Central with Cork being the main destination of the transference of material by freight. There are three return journeys from Dublin to Cork and, I understand, one from Dublin to Limerick and one from Dublin to Ballina each day. Each train journey carries freight equivalent to that which would require 20 articulated trucks to transport it. By removing this service Iarnród Éireann, at a stroke, will instantaneously be responsible for at least 160 extra vehicles travelling on the Cork-Dublin road and Dublin-Limerick road as far as Portlaoise and 120 vehicles entering Cork city through elements of road infrastructure such as the Jack Lynch tunnel, with the impact on the environment of increased vehicular emissions.
Transportation of freight by road is not even a good use of State resources in that information given to me by the Secretary General of the Department of Transport indicates that the construction of rail track, particularly on previously used lines, is about one eighth of the cost of developing motorway systems. The cost of the M50 upgrade would be equivalent to the cost of opening the western rail corridor. If that project is to mean anything, it must have full value added benefit in terms of ensuring the rail track is used to transport goods as well as people. I have yet to hear a valid reason from Iarnród Éireann for this decision. I do not believe it can be justified in terms of making engines available to transport more people around the country because freight is invariably transported at night when the rail network is not otherwise being used.
If we are to reach the full potential of our rail system, the Government needs to make an important strategic decision. If Iarnród Éireann as the Irish rail authority is not prepared to provide this service, the Government needs to decide whether it needs to establish another State company to do that work using the existing rail network or to undertake a tendering process whereby private companies can put in place a rail infrastructure to provide for the transport of freight.
Under the Government we have moved from a position where 89% of freight was transported by road to one where 92% of freight was so transported to the current figure of 96% of freight being transported by road. Environmentally, socially and economically this is the wrong road — pardon the pun — to take.
Following this decision by Iarnród Éireann, I hope the Government and the Minister of State representing it will use the opportunity presented to put a more sane transport policy in place that would benefit the economy, justify the existence of rail stations and ensure that trains carry not only people but goods well into the future.