Wednesday, 6 December 2006
Question 32: To ask the Minister for Transport if he is satisfied that public expenditure on rail upgrades, improvements and infrastructure since 2002 is delivering the maximum value for money; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41999/06]
I am satisfied that the investment of recent years in upgrading and expanding the rail network represents good value for money. The rail network has been revitalised and modernised and we now have a safer network with increased capacity, providing more services and carrying more passengers than ever. The benefits to the travelling public are evident in the increased numbers using the network on both commuter and intercity services.
Passenger numbers on the Iarnród Éireann network have grown from 35.37 million in 2002 to a projected 42.3 million in 2006. I was recently happy to see at an international conference that Ireland's rail network was referred to as the fastest-growing in Europe. The two Luas lines are an unprecedented success and have exceeded all projections for carrying passengers. An estimated 26 million passenger journeys were made in 2006 and a surplus was generated on the operation of the lines.
All major capital investments in railway upgrades and improvements and in rolling stock are subject to rigorous appraisal procedures, ensuring the need for each project and the options for delivering it are established within the objective of maximising value for money in accordance with Department of Finance guidelines. Major rail projects are being delivered on time and within budget.
Progress on projects is monitored through regular reporting by, and meetings with, the implementing agencies and through technical and financial audits of a selection of projects by independent consultants. I have also established a Transport 21 monitoring group, chaired by my Department and comprising representatives of relevant Departments, to oversee the monitoring arrangements. The chief executive officers of the implementing State agencies assist this group in its work.
I am satisfied the arrangements in place for the appraisal, approval and monitoring of projects are sufficiently robust to ensure value for money is secured.
The Minister claims the heavy rail system is being revitalised and modernised. I doubt if those rail passengers who were stuck outside Mullingar for two hours last Sunday would agree. Nor would those who are obliged to stand regularly on the same Sligo service at least as far as Carrick-on-Shannon and sometimes as far as Sligo.
One of my main concerns in tabling this question is the operational difficulties that have arisen in regard to the new Cork trains. Their introduction was promised many times in recent years but when they were finally put in service, they broke down one after the other. I do not know the reason for this because the Minister will not answer questions about it in the House. The public has a right to know what the problem is because taxpayers have made a major contribution to their purchase. We were also promised an early service on the Cork line but there is no sign of that happening.
The breakdowns on the service are so regular that CIE was obliged to post an apology on its website. Some of these breakdowns last for hours, with people being moved from one train to another without being given any information. In one instance, passengers were moved successively onto four different trains, none of which would start. It is absolutely outrageous that such major investment has taken place but we are given no explanation for the operational difficulties.
The Government also undertook to refurbish 76 DART carriages and a contract for this purpose was signed in 2004. A problem became evident in 2005, however, and only four of them have been refurbished to date. The Minister told me in response to a parliamentary question that this delay has incurred no financial loss for the taxpayer. There is no doubt taxpayers are losing out, however, because the extra capacity that was promised has not been delivered. Passengers are paying high fares to stand in trains which are not running at either the capacity or frequency that was promised.
What is the problem with the new Cork trains and why is the early service that was promised several years ago not in place?
I will provide the Deputy with the information if she requests it.
The best way to assess the public's attitude to the railway system is simply to look at passenger numbers. The figures are through the roof, with more than 42.3 million passenger journeys in 2006.
All the new rail carriages that were promised on the Cork route have been commissioned, some of which are currently being tested. I am not aware of any major issues in this regard. These are state-of-the-art trains which offer first-class facilities.
An early service will be in operation from Cork to Dublin.
The Deputy is correct that the rolling stock on other routes is outdated. In terms of the quality of the carriages, I agree it is not what one would want in a modern rail service. That is why 157 new carriages will be introduced next year on all intercity connection routes from Galway, Limerick, Sligo, Waterford, Rosslare, Westport and so on.