Thursday, 3 February 2005
Bord Gáis's catchphrase is "Don't You Deserve the Best". People in the north west deserve the best but the Minister for Transport has not sanctioned the building of a proper rail infrastructure in this region. I am disappointed he is not present for this debate because I have raised the issue of a direct train service between Dublin and Derry at many other fora and I have been forced to raise it on the Adjournment. I hope the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan, will ensure a copy of the transcript of the debate will be conveyed to the Minister for Transport and that he will seek a meeting with him on my behalf. I raised this issue previously with the Minister of State's aunt, Senator O'Rourke, when she was Minister for Public Enterprise and I thought I received a good hearing.
This time last year there was a scare that the train service between Ballymena and Derry would be suspended. I was involved in whipping up support for retention of the service. While it has been retained, I do not know whether it will continue in the long term. Rail lines were dismantled everywhere in the 1960s whereas nowadays large amounts are being spent on new carriages and upgrading the network. It will be a scandal if a service is not provided between Dublin and Derry, even if part of the line is in another jurisdiction.
I can board a train in Derry, disembark in Belfast and board the Enterprise service to Dublin. There is no reason for the lack of a service between Dublin and Derry. Investment in Northern carriages and the upgrading of parts of the track are all that is needed to allow trains to travel quickly. It is possible to provide a direct service but there is no will to progress this issue.
I was jealous of the announcements of the carriages but I am not being greedy. I have corresponded with the Minister for Transport, the Northern Ireland Secretary of State and Jonathan Spellar, Minister for Social Development, through the British-Ireland Interparliamentary Body, and they have indicated that I am being greedy. According to them, I should be happy with the bus service between Derry and Donegal. Derry is the fourth largest city on the island. Every other city is served by buses, trains and planes and, under the national development plan, they will be served by motorways. However, a motorway is not being provided for buses in the north west so we should, at the very least, be at the top of the queue for an alternative.
I am accused of being greedy because I seek road, rail and air access but I am only seeking what every other region has had for years. I am worried about the lack of a North-South Ministerial Council and an executive to progress the matter and I am worried about the Secretary of State's response to my question at the sitting on the BIIPB on 19 October 2004. He stated:
My colleague, John Spellar, is studying the railway situation. The problem with all railways is that not enough people use them. It is a chicken and egg situation. Everybody wants to use the railways but not enough people wish to make them a viable proposition. The Belfast to Derry line goes through some of the most naturally beautiful scenic areas in Ireland and it is something we are examining until, I hope, eventually the Executive, will decide one way or the other.
If I wait for the executive to make a decision, I will be an old woman, given the current rate of progress. This is a cry of desperation on my behalf.
This is one of the most beautiful routes. I chair the tourism committee and those who take the train on that line will discover one of the most beautiful locations on the island. However, I agree it is a chicken and egg situation. I and many others would avail of a direct train service. Roads have been upgraded and improved but a train service is not available. We spent money on getting the Dublin to Belfast line done. There is no reason then, if we go for European funding, that we cannot have a Dublin to Donegal service. It is not all right to say there are alternatives. All we want is equality. It is not an unfair request.
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)
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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.