Thursday, 15 February 2007
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for affording me the opportunity to raise this matter. The issue affecting my constituents and many others in the commuter belt in the greater Dublin area is the serious and ongoing problem of overcrowding on commuter trains to and from Sallins, Hazelhatch, Kilcock, Maynooth and Leixlip and the city. Passengers more often than not must remain standing for the entire journey, with consequent health and safety implications, and there is a need for the Minister for Transport to issue instructions to increase the frequency of the service. I am glad to acknowledge the presence of the Minister in the House.
That status is fast disappearing because this Minister is one of the few who has come into the House. I compliment him on doing that because, sadly, it is a dying practice.
I urge the Minister to enhance the feeder bus service too because if we are serious about dealing with global warming and road traffic congestion, we must be serious about the alternatives. Trains are the most effective and efficient form of passenger service. Transport 21 will encompass this entire area and meet its needs well into the future. However, several modifications could be made now to enhance and improve the health and safety factors in the service, making it possible for more people to avail of the rail service and thereby take traffic off the roads.
A parking area of six or seven acres at Maynooth local rail station was sold some years ago for a housing development. It happened before this Minister was in charge of transport. It was a daft idea. Enhanced parking is needed there now. Some effort has been made to create extra parking in Leixlip-Louisa Bridge but this is insufficient to meet the requirements of the number of passengers likely to use it. Kilcock has limited parking and is likely to need much more because of the development taking place there. People from the hinterland will need a place to park there too.
Every town along that route is introducing parking restrictions because people in a hurry abandon their cars when they have nowhere else to put them. They might have already travelled 20 miles. The train does not pass every house. The same applies to Sallins and Hazelhatch. There is plenty of parking space at Hazelhatch but it is a mile or so from the village. It is an area that could provide a better service and this also applies to Sallins.
The Minister has several options. For example, he could increase the size of the trains by adding more carriages, although that raises health and safety factors. It is not necessary, however, to open the trains all the way from end to end. It is possible to meet the safety requirements. The Minister should consider increasing the frequency of the service and provide an upgraded feeder bus service to ensure the maximum number of people can get to the train, and come away from it, as quickly as possible. That has the potential to become a very attractive service but it needs to be enhanced with all the improvements required to make it easy for the commuter to use it.
Standing throughout the journey is not a great idea. People say that if one travels on the Tube in London, one might have to stand all the way. It is not necessarily a great idea there either as the British have found to their cost more than once.
It would be greatly appreciated if, in anticipation of and prior to the inauguration of Transport 21, a number of modifications could be undertaken along the rail lines in question. Such modifications would have major benefits in terms of alleviating the congestion with which we must deal on our roads.
I thank Deputy Durkan for raising this important issue. I hope I can meet some of his specific concerns with a number of positive outcomes.
The day-to-day operation of railway services is a matter for Iarnród Éireann. I am aware, however, of the significant increase in suburban rail passenger numbers in recent years, including on the two lines serving Kildare, namely, Connolly-Maynooth and Heuston-Kildare. This can lead to crowding at certain peak times but I am informed by Iarnród Éireann that while this can cause some discomfort and inconvenience to passengers, it does not give rise to safety concerns.
In response to this increase in passenger numbers there has been a significant increase in rail investment in recent years. The frequency and capacity of services on the Connolly-Maynooth and Heuston-Kildare lines have been increased substantially in line with demand growth over the past five to ten years. For example, provision for an extra 2,000 daily commuters was added to Maynooth line services at the start of 2006. This increased the overall peak commuting capacity to cater for over 7,000 people, more than double the level that obtained in 2003. On the Kildare line, overall peak commuter capacity has more than doubled since 2000, from 2,200 to over 5,000.
A number of rail development projects currently under way or in planning will further increase capacity on both lines. The first of these involves introducing new services on the Maynooth line to the new Docklands station on its opening in March 2007. The new station will have great significance in respect of the matters raised by the Deputy. While long-term issues will be dealt with under Transport 21, short and medium term solutions will be offered in tandem. The new station at Docklands will facilitate the operation of extra peak services from Clonsilla, on the Maynooth line, to the city centre, freeing up more capacity for users from areas such as Leixlip, Maynooth and Kilcock. This and other planned service enhancements will increase the capacity of Maynooth line services by a further 3,000 this year, from 7,000 to 10,000.
It is also planned to increase the capacity of some peak services by introducing eight-car trains to replace the four-car trains currently in use. I am informed that the greatest level of crowding normally occurs on two peak-time four-car trains. Doubling the capacity of these trains will, I hope, substantially ease the problem. These immediate solutions will come on stream within the next month or so.
Capacity on the Kildare corridor is currently constrained by track capacity due to the mix of fast inter-city services and stopping commuter services. On 5 December 2006, I signed the Kildare route project railway order. This will enable Iarnród Éireann to proceed with works to double the number of tracks from two to four on a key section on the line between Cherry Orchard and Hazelhatch. I understand that work will commence later this year on that project for completion by late 2009 or early 2010. I understand the main stations where crowding can occur on the Kildare line are at Sallins and Hazelhatch. In an effort to alleviate the situation at these stations, Iarnród Éireann recently added an extra service at Sallins. There are now nine services each weekday morning from Sallins to Dublin-Heuston, arriving before 9.30 a.m., compared to just four services in 2001.
The major short-term and long-term projects being delivered or planned under Transport 21 will deliver additional capacity to meet the growing demands of commuters on both routes. The longer term plan is to electrify both lines and have them form part of an integrated rail network for Dublin connected by the interconnector tunnel. This will have an important effect in the context of reducing carbon emissions.
Deputy Durkan will acknowledge that I cannot wave a magic wand and put everything in place overnight. We recognise the problems faced by people in the area in question and we are trying to deal with some of these immediately. The new station at Docklands — the first built in 100 years — will be operational in March and will help us to deal with many of the capacity constraints that exist.