Dáil debates

Wednesday, 7 March 2007

Private Members' Business

Rail Freight: Motion (Resumed)

7:00 pm

Photo of John EllisJohn Ellis (Sligo-Leitrim, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the opportunity to make a contribution to the debate on the Private Members' motion. I wish to share my time with Deputy Wilkinson.

Deputies:

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of John EllisJohn Ellis (Sligo-Leitrim, Fianna Fail)
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The strategic rail review commissioned by the Department of Transport contained a comprehensive examination of the rail freight business and its realistic potential to support economic development and contribute to sustainable development.

Iarnród Éireann, in responding to the challenges contained in the review, developed a business plan with regard to freight and continues to pursue a policy of growing its rail freight business where opportunities present, such as in bulk and trainload traffic. The company has also sought to return the rail freight business to profitability. To help achieve this turnaround, Iarnród Éireann withdrew from loss-making groupage, palletised and single container rail transport. This has resulted in the deficit on rail freight being reduced by 50% in the past three years. All Members are aware that rail freight had been a major burden on Iarnród Éireann and had been affecting its profitability seriously in recent years.

Since 1999, Iarnród Éireann has invested more than €1.6 billion in rebuilding the railways with Government and EU support for the investment programme. This has delivered improvements in new trains, upgraded infrastructure and customer facilities. Only yesterday, the first shipment of the new trains that will serve the Dublin to Sligo line was unveiled in Dublin Port. This commitment to the rail service is a far cry from the days when I listened in this Chamber to Members discussing the closure of the entire rail network in the west. It has now been upgraded to the point where welded line extends all the way from Dublin to Sligo. In turn, this means that the new trains, which can travel at 90 mph, can be put on those lines to provide people along the route with the train facilities to which they are entitled. While such investment is primarily focused on improving passenger services, the investment in improving rail infrastructure also has a direct beneficial impact on freight activities.

Iarnród Éireann has no plans to eliminate capacity or freight infrastructure. The company has made progress in growing the rail freight business in areas in which it holds a competitive advantage over road haulage, such as large volumes or trainloads over long distances. For example, Iarnród Éireann has re-introduced the trainload pulpwood business by modifying surplus wagons and providing additional services for Coillte between the west and the south east. The company has also altered rail schedules and provides three additional trains per week for Tara Mines with a potential to carry an extra 85,000 tonnes of lead and zinc between Navan and Dublin Port per annum. It has also modified surplus platform wagons to provide a trainload service for containers between Ballina and Waterford Port.

All Members are aware that the only types of freight that can be carried effectively by rail are heavy freight or trainload freight. Apart from those Members who are thinking in extremely radical terms, no one considers it viable to load a container at a company's premises, take it to the train station, unload it and put it on a train, take it to Dublin or wherever its destination and reload it. Rail freight is only possible when one has a full train being taken up with whatever is being carried. Moreover, Members are aware of the introduction of regulations to open the freight market, through EU Directive 2004/51, to competition from both domestic and foreign operators, from 1 January 2006 in the case of international freight and from 1 January 2007 in the case of domestic freight operations.

I support Iarnród Éireann's extensive engagement with industry and transporters throughout Ireland to try to identify long-term sustainable business opportunities. However, these are quite scarce. The company has genuine difficulty in identifying business opportunities that offer reasonable volumes of business on a regular basis. It is not feasible to run trains with one or two containers and Iarnród Éireann has not identified sufficient business, with the exception of the timber trains from Ballina to Waterford, to group together a number of separate activities to form a viable trainload.

Most Irish industry is focused on "just in time" transport and as our road network continues to expand and improve, the role of rail freight becomes more problematic because all rail journeys involve road movements at each end of the logistics chain. Furthermore, distances in Ireland are short. All research that has been carried out demonstrates that for rail transport to be viable, the minimum distance travelled should be from 400 to 600 miles. This can be seen on mainland Europe, where long train journeys are possible and freight trains can traverse the Continent. However, Ireland lacks both the extensive network and long journeys to make this viable. The experience across Europe is no different. Rail freight activities are most economic where distances are long and where there are large volumes to be transported. All Members will have seen this down the years. It is the only way in which rail freight can have a positive outcome and can be competitive.

As part of this engagement with industry, I understand Iarnród Éireann also works closely with port authorities, such as in Dublin relating to transport of lead and zinc and Waterford relating to container traffic, to increase rail based freight. The Government's ports policy statement recognises the need for the integration of ports as a fundamental link in the supply chain with other transport modes, including rail. In the absence of opportunities or proposals for viable long-term rail freight business, the development and use of fiscal incentives would be difficult to justify.

Any views held by Opposition Members on how rail freight can be expanded within the existing business environment should be considered. The market for rail freight is now fully liberalised and if opportunities exist, I expect that many people would want to take them up.

As for the entire rail network, one can see that the enormous investment that has been made in recent years will ensure that Ireland will have a modern rail service. If Members can identify a need for freight and freight carriage, undoubtedly the infrastructure to carry it exists. I have gathered much information on this subject in recent years and have been involved in a major discussion on the issue conducted by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport, which I chair. Consequently, I have become convinced that for rail freight to be competitive and sustainable, the projects taken on must entail large volumes of heavy goods that can be moved easily onto the railway.

Members should remember that the obligation to take a container, transport it from a factory to the nearest railway station, put it on a train and take it for export to Dublin Port, Waterford or wherever will result in higher costs than if one put the container on a truck and delivered it directly to the port. Many companies that sought to use rail freight have discovered this fact. I know of several companies from my native locality that examined the possibility of using the Dublin to Sligo line. However, they all found that it was much easier for them to transport their single container business to Dublin by road than by train. Another point to note in respect of industrial concerns is that they must now be able to give a definitive time of delivery. As many goods produced in Ireland are perishable and must be used rapidly, they must be transported quickly. If Ireland lacks the facilities to transport them, we will suffer severely.

The motion probably draws attention to the need to try to ascertain whether we can reduce our dependence on road freight. However, in so doing, the economics of the issue must be examined fully. As for the rail services, the investment made by Iarnród Éireann in recent years with regard to the upgrading of its rolling stock is to be welcomed. As I stated at the outset, yesterday witnessed the delivery of the first of the new rail carriages that will operate on the Dublin to Sligo line. This will facilitate an upgrade of the services on that line to a standard that everyone expects and people now have a right to travel by rail if they wish. Yesterday saw the unveiling of the first of 180 diesel rail cars that will enter Iarnród Éireann's fleet. It showed us how far the Government has taken the rail network.

As I stated earlier, I was in the House when proposals were made that all the regional railway lines to the west and some parts of the south should be closed and that the only services which should be maintained were those between Dublin and Cork and Dublin and Belfast. That decision was overturned and the Government has taken the initiative with regard to ensuring we have a proper service in place with rolling stock and a proper rail network.

Rail safety is as important as everything else. If we do not have proper rail safety we will have accidents and that is the one thing we do not want to happen. Iarnród Éireann is to be complimented on the way in which it runs its services and maintains its rolling stock and crossings.

Regarding rail freight and moving to rail, we have already seen that a number of large rail users found it more profitable to use road transport. I remember well when cement was transported by rail throughout the country. Now, the users and cement companies find it is much cheaper to take it by road with bulk tankers. This is one example of business which left railways and went back to roads.

The improvement in our road network will help us in the future. Roads will also become more competitive against rail transport. The investment in roads means companies can now transport goods by road and know exactly what time they will arrive. Logistics managers find it is much more feasible to run their businesses using roads. While the network is maintained, we have one or two advantages and should the opportunity arise for the transport of large, heavy and bulky goods we would be in a position to adjust the rail fleet and the rolling stock to take advantage of this change.

The amount of lead and zinc taken from Navan to Dublin is important. The proposed changes with regard to the extension of the passenger line to Navan will be of tremendous importance to the people who live in the area. None of these extensions would be feasible if we were dependent on rail freight. Rail freight business is a dwindling commodity in this country and will continue to dwindle so long as our roads improve and companies want to move their goods as fast as possible.

One of the major initiatives taken by the Government with regard to rail is the western rail corridor from Ennis to Claremorris and on to Collooney, which will be opened on a phased basis. This will mean we will have a rail network throughout the country, which is extremely important. If it was felt for environmental reasons that we must change our methods of transport of goods, we will have the rail network in place to do it. At present, it is not a viable opportunity except for extremely heavy and bulky goods.

Iarnród Éireann staff and management are to be complimented on the progress they made during the past ten years in improving the services available to the public and to anybody wishing to become involved with freight. In doing what it did, it ensured the rail network will be maintained and kept in a proper state. We must compliment the management and workers of Iarnród Éireann, some of whom have given life-long service to the company.

In progressing rail freight, suitable commodities for transport must be identified. The vision for the rail line proposed through this Private Members' motion cannot be achieved. Our national road transport system is improving all the time and we also see other problems which arise through this, such as issues with greenhouse gas and fuel emissions. We must tackle them as time goes on. Many people do not realise the emission levels of many vehicles used on our roads were cut considerably over recent years.

While we would all like to see more freight returned to the rail lines we must live in the real world, which dictates that it is more economic and viable for many of our industries not to use rail freight, but to use container and road freight services. We have the infrastructure left in place should it be necessary for us at some stage to return to rail freight. Iarnród Éireann will not miss any opportunity which comes its way with regard to providing rail freight services to any company in a position to provide the volume necessary to maintain it.

Ollie Wilkinson (Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the opportunity to state a few words on this important topic. The rail service was part and parcel of our growing up. In west Waterford, quite close to me, one could set one's clock by the train schedules. We spent many a harvest time loading sugar beet onto the railway. It ran through all of Waterford and was a wonderful service. Time moves on and the amount of money spent on our roads has seen to it that the transport of freight and goods is far cheaper by road. This is a pity.

I speak more from a sentimental point of view than anything else. When the trains were taken off the lines, it did not appear to be such a great loss. However, given our population increase and how things happen now, it would be nice to see them run along the old rail lines again. We must be practical and cost-conscious and things must pay for themselves. It would not be feasible to move by rail much of the freight which is transported by container, lorry and rigid truck. It would have to be handled on many occasions which would add enormously to the cost.

In west Waterford, a big move is on to open the old rail track as a walking line all the way from Dungarvan to Waterford city. It is creating enormous problems for the landowners because the areas adjacent to it and the fencing were left to deteriorate. With the type of world we have today, some of the people who might use it might not have the best of intentions. The idea is very good and I would welcome it if it worked out. However, I clearly understand the serious concerns of the landowners. One must admire the way the bridges, stonework and tracks were put in place at that time. I have seen cases where machinery was used to take away some of the bridges to make way for roadways and further progress, as we call it. Some of the machines had great difficulty in removing what had been built by hand.

That is in the past and we must look at what is happening now. At times when we travel on roads around Ireland we would wish that much of the heavy transport could be removed from our roads, but we must consider the cost factor. Cost dictates. There is no doubt that Ireland is booming, and even in many small areas we have courier services and freight trucking businesses. It is amazing. Although I would like to see a rail freight service provided, I do not believe it would be cost-effective.

Recently in Waterford the Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, launched a whole new scheme for transport. There will be many modern buses, transport in Waterford city will be improved dramatically and the frequency of buses and trains will be better. We will have a new rail station and car parking, and there will be a better, more efficient and more frequent train service between Dublin and Waterford. This is all to be welcomed. I will leave issues of freight for a moment and ask if CIE would consider reinstating the bus service that used to go through the centre of Waterford. This might be the time to look at the issue, when facilities in the city are being upgraded.

Public infrastructure is vital and the Government is spending many millions on improving it. One sees what is happening when driving anywhere in Ireland. Over 20 projects are on time and on budget, a concept that would be almost unheard of not so many years ago. That also takes from what a rail service could do.

The rail service is of course a grand way of transferring people and freight. Competition is the key factor and Iarnród Éireann must be cost conscious and consumer friendly. It must also be innovative in the services it supplies. Equally, the Government must continue to invest in public transport, and there is of course a massive role for trains. The movement of freight by train is not an option, however, because of the cost involved.

Environmental studies have clearly pinpointed that our economic success has placed 2.2 million vehicles on our roads. Looking at the estimated increase in population, one must wonder about the future. In time to come there may be a greater role for freight trains. I do not see any change in the short term because of the vast amounts of money being spent on roads.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for allowing me to contribute on this subject.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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Ba mhaith liom mo chuid ama a roinnt leis na Teachtaí Connolly, McHugh, Finian McGrath, James Breen, Cowley agus Eamon Ryan.

I welcome the Fine Gael, Labour Party and Green Party motion but wonder whether all the signatories of the motion have really thought out the implications of the proposals they are supporting. The logic of the desire immediately to halt the decline in our rail freight sector as a method of lowering greenhouse gas emissions raises the question of preparedness to grasp the nettle and accept that meeting Kyoto CO2 targets means a substantial turnaround in how we run not just the rail service but public transport throughout Ireland. In particular, it means rethinking the privatisation of public transport services and accepting that it will be the public sector in the form of Iarnród Éireann, Bus Éireann and Bus Átha Cliath which will lead the way to a sustainable transport strategy on this island. It is these companies alone which have the ability and skills to demonstrate the flexibility needed to meet the environmental transport challenges facing us on the island as a whole.

It also means having a Government with the political will to fully implement and deliver on such a policy. Last week in Tralee, the Minister for Transport arrived to open a new Bus Éireann station and stated it gave him great pleasure to do so. He also indicated it was a key priority of the Department to develop and upgrade public transport facilities. He then went into the now familiar Government speak that is replicated in the amendment to the motion tonight, which is to keep away from specific details and bleat at regular intervals that Transport 21 will solve all our problems.

What of Transport 2007, the real world that the rest of us live in? The Government amendment indicates spending of €16 billion. Does this include the €713 million in the under-the-table deal with National Toll Roads? Not content with paying the company €38 million to build the West Link and the €230 million it has pocketed in profit from operating it, the Minister has blown nearly €1 billion without even a bus or rail carriage taking a passenger on board. To put the €713 million into perspective, it is nearly double the amount being spent on the much-hyped investment in railways this year.

To focus on the freight proposal, there are two core issues that must be dealt with. The first is the development of a commercial strategy for the Iarnród Éireann freight service and the second is the context of where and to whom freight needs to go now and in the future. Iarnród Éireann's freight business lost €7.6 million in 2005 and €9 million in 2004. The 2006 losses might be higher again as it is stated in the annual report that the company is losing Diageo's keg service and will be hit by the cessation of beet growing and processing.

We need a freight service that links Irish businesses with their local train line and the ports and airports of Ireland. We need a train line from Dublin to Derry and Derry Port, from Derry to Letterkenny and south to Sligo, Galway, Athlone, Ennis and even into Tralee. We need dedicated freight lines from north to south from Larne to Rosslare. We especially need additional capacity on the Dublin to Belfast track, as expanded commuter services envisaged on these lines will leave little room for freight.

We also need train lines into Dublin Airport, but the sad reality is that this will not happen. The Government is without vision, promising to spend millions on our behalf but in fact wasting billions. It is hard to believe in Transport 21 when one is waiting for the gridlocked bus or standing on the overcrowded train. This is the pathetic reality of Transport 2007.

Paudge Connolly (Cavan-Monaghan, Independent)
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This motion is particularly timely in view of last week's report from the European Environment Agency, the EEA. The report stated that Ireland's transport sector has been responsible for an increase in greenhouse gas emissions six times the European average. This increase constitutes a major obstacle, albeit an avoidable one, to the EU's reaching its Kyoto climate change targets. Meanwhile, emissions from most other sectors, including energy supply, industry, agriculture and waste management have diminished, so there must be a lesson in there somewhere.

Transport, including air transport, is responsible for 21% of the EU's greenhouse gas emissions, with road transport contributing 93% of the total. Accordingly, our main objective should be to divert as much as possible of this road transport to rail freight, with consequent benefits for road users. One need only look at yesterday's traffic snarl-up on the M50 to see how quickly gridlock can occur and the consequences of a small accident.

Since the ill-advised closure of the GNR rail network in my constituency in 1957, freight movement has been exclusively by road, to the detriment of other road users. Nevertheless, another ill-advised closure of a railway line from Kingscourt to Navan took place in 1991, forcing the surrounding industries to use road freight. Given the thriving Gypsum Industries, College Proteins, Kingspan and Kingscourt Brick Limited, to name but a few, there is a clear need for this line to be re-activated. It is near Carrickmacross in County Monaghan and, were proper consideration given to it, could be extended through counties Cavan and Monaghan.

Paddy McHugh (Galway East, Independent)
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The urgency to reduce transport emissions is acknowledged by all. As this need has been accepted, should a serious search not begin for the means to bring about the reduction? The motion before the House illustrates where to begin.

Rail in general is regarded as a poor relation, but is this not wrong? There are underutilised rail lines in many parts of the country. In Galway East, some lines are not used at all. In recent years, there has been much talk about re-opening the western rail corridor and certain decisions have been taken, but they could be described as begrudging in view of the unacceptably long timeframe envisaged. For example, the Tuam-Athenry line will not re-open until 2011. There is no reason for such a delay. I welcome the commencement of work on the Ennis-Athenry section, but work should start immediately on the Tuam-Athenry section to allow both lines to open simultaneously. The west is entitled to this infrastructural investment. The decision has been made and we have been told the money is there, but the work should begin and the west should be allowed to feel the benefit now rather than in five years.

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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I with to share time with Deputy Catherine Murphy instead of Deputy Cowley.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for the opportunity to speak on Private Members' Business on greenhouse gas emissions, which have increased by 25% since 1990, with transport emission growth the greatest in any sector. I will continue in the tradition of my predecessor, Seán Dublin Bay Rockall Loftus, a former Deputy for Dublin North-Central, in the interest of the people and to protect the environment. I remind Deputies that Seán Loftus was Ireland's first environmental politician long before it was popular. In that tradition, I support this motion.

I also support Dublin Bay Watch, an excellent voluntary community group in the Clontarf area, in its efforts to stop the 21-hectare infill of Dublin Bay. If Deputies are serious about the environment, they will support our efforts on Dublin Bay, which is part of this debate and part of the solution.

It was pointed out that in light of ever-increasing advances in technology associated with the transport industry and problems with the growth of port cities, particularly traffic, whole ports or sections of them have needed to be relocated. New York, Liverpool and London ports were given as examples. The Government should direct the Dublin Port Company to enter into a joint venture with the Drogheda Port Company to develop its deep-water facility at Bremore, just north of Balbriggan, and save Dublin Bay. The Dublin Port Company has a history of disastrous decisions, such as its sponsorship of the Dublin Bay oil refinery and its proposal to reclaim 2,870 acres of the bay.

In 1879, Sir John Purser Griffith, a prominent marine engineer, warned against further reclamations inside or outside the harbour due to the threat to the maintenance of the deep-water channel across Dublin Bay. His advice has been ignored, leading to flooding in Clontarf, East Wall and other areas in the northside. I urge Deputies to support the motion on the environment and making a greener and cleaner Ireland.

James Breen (Clare, Independent)
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If the Minister for Transport and Iarnród Éireann were serious about developing a transport strategy, they would use existing rail lines to attract industry to key towns along our rail network. The loss of sugar beet plants in Mallow, Thurles, Carlow and Tuam could be compensated by the promotion of those towns through proper and flexible rail freight timetables to encourage industries to establish there.

The development of bio-fuels and bio-refineries near hub towns along our rail network would significantly increase rail freight transportation business. It is time the Government took on board the actions of our EU partners, who have given grants, subsidies and tax breaks to rail freight users in an effort to protect existing trade and to encourage growth in industry.

A bonus of increasing rail freight would be a reduction in the amount of goods vehicles on the road and the possible reduction in the number of road accidents and road deaths. However, if the development of a national freight transport strategy is dependent on the leadership of the Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, the death knell is at hand. He is the man who has single-handedly sabotaged the future of Shannon Airport and the mid-west region with his open skies ego trip and wasted millions of euro of taxpayers' money on e-voting machines.

As other speakers stated, it is crucial that a holistic and integrated review be taken of transport policy. As part of that review, the advances made by the road transport and haulage sector should be acknowledged. Equally, increased incentives should immediately be put in place.

Road and rail transport should grow in tandem. In the haulage industry, newer heavy vehicle engines are ahead of car engines in that they are Euro 4 compliant in terms of emissions. There are 16,000 licensed vehicles involved in road haulage. When one adds back-up and distribution staff, the sector is one of the top three employment areas in the country. To ensure the continuing focus on reducing harmful emissions, a scrappage scheme for older vehicles or a grant scheme for the purchase of new vehicles should be initiated.

Rail freight has understandably reduced considerably during the past 50 years, as our road network has greatly improved and the rigidity of train timetables has not suited modern industry. Instead of being proactive in this sector, the Government has simply used a surgeon's knife to remove those routes that have been unprofitable.

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Independent)
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I am confident that we can do better in reducing greenhouse gas emissions if we develop a comprehensive strategy, but I am not confident that we are approaching this critical topic in a serious way. While we can see public money being used to purchase carbon credits, they are being used as a get-out-of-jail-free card because there is no evidence of a short or medium-term strategy to counterbalance such purchases.

While many of the public transport elements of Transport 21 are welcome, a closer examination shows that it has serious gaps, a number of which I wish to highlight. My constituency is described as being in the heart of the commuter belt, but when Transport 21 is complete in ten years there will be a good rail service between Hazelhatch in Celbridge to the city centre, but Sallins, the next station along the line, which serves Naas and its hinterland and is designated for considerable growth, will not have a comparable service. The same is true of Kilcock, which is developing on the Kildare and Meath sides of the town and is closer to the city centre than many parts of County Dublin. It will continue to be served by a single train line after Transport 21 has been completed. The relationship between land use and transport planning can be illustrated by these two examples.

From daily traffic on the N4 and the N7, we know what traffic levels are like in 2007. What will they be like in 2017 if no alternative is provided? We are fixated on moving vehicles rather than people and goods in the most sustainable way possible. If one factors in the cost of carbon credits, accident rates, time lost to the economy and high levels of traffic congestion, public transport becomes an attractive proposition. Without evidence of a strategy to provide a short, medium and long-term public transport alternative, our greenhouse gas emissions will continue to climb.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin South, Green Party)
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On behalf of the Green Party, I am happy to support this motion. It is significant and welcome that the Green Party, the Labour Party and Fine Gael have joined together in this respect because it shows a widespread realisation on this side of the House that the Minister, who has just left, is getting it wrong. His head is stuck in the sand with transport planning that belongs in the past. It is not looking forward, nor is it the future.

It was interesting that we had an animated discussion at Question Time last week on this rail freight issue. The Minister made one point which should be corrected. He cited the failure of the Norfolk Line to develop services here as an example of why rail freight is not possible. In reality the only ray of sunshine at the moment is the current planned expansion from two trains a day to three from Waterford to Ballina. This essentially is a Norfolk Line service being operated by Iarnród Éireann.

In Ireland the Government is hell-bent on shutting down rail freight. An Iarnród Éireann company has suffered under decades of Fianna Fáil and therefore lacks the necessary ambition or faith in its own potential. Even in circumstances such as that, however, it is possible for one or two remaining rail freight services to survive. It is a survival, however, against the intentions and policy directions set out by this Government.

Fundamentally, this is an issue of economics and what the analysis should include. The Minister openly and honestly concedes he does not believe in rail freight and that he wants to shut it down. He cites economic reasons, and Deputy Catherine Murphy is exactly right in saying that it depends on what is counted in the analysis.

I discussed recently with representatives of the National Roads Authority what they count when doing cost-benefit analyses for their roads-based transport system. It seems clear they are not counting all the costs that are truly involved. They are not counting the congestion, for instance, from the increase in induced traffic we are bringing on to the roads. These take away all the benefits which were supposed to be delivered from the various sections of new roadway that are being provided. They are not taking into account the climate costs, which are becoming increasingly apparent. Sir Nicholas Stern ascribes something like €70 a tonne as a valid economic cost applied to emitted carbon. Given that rail freight is estimated in the UK to be emitting something like a tenth of the amount of carbon per tonne-kilometre carried, as a road-based alternative, there is a significant cost involved if one projects forward. Economics as currently being developed in its latest format would come to a very different conclusion from the narrow out-of-date resolutions arrived at by this Minister for Transport.

It is interesting to look at recent experience in the UK. The rail network there is turning into a success story in terms of rail freight. The British have not carried as much rail freight since the 1950s. They are planning something like a 50% expansion by tonne-kilometre carried to 2015. That is an example in a country that is not dissimilar to Ireland in terms of the business being conducted and it is significant that they are able to develop their rail freight services.

By comparison, in Ireland in 2006 the estimated reduction in rail freight traffic was something like 40%, a damning indictment of this Government's policies. Keg carrying, which was carried on in this city for many years, was shut down last year. It was a consistently profitable operation until a few years ago. As a result there was a major increase in the number of lorries on the roads which means more accidents, while the engines emit diesel that is getting into the lungs of every child they pass. This will cost us for years to come when our use of oil increases by 7% per annum because of that type of short-sighted Government policy. It will cost us when oil becomes prohibitively expensive. One can only appreciate the potential that would exist if there was a change in Government and people started to have faith in the future and in their ability to manage their affairs in a more efficient, safer, cleaner, quicker, rail-based transport system.

That faith does not exist on the opposite side of the House. Instead, we have a backward thinking Luddite position on transport policy. I do not want to defame that group by assigning the current Minister for Transport's planning philosophy to the Luddites' original motives.

The motion sets out in clear terms the reasons we need to change. The only way we can get change is through a change in Government. That is the reason I support this motion and the various parties joined together in making that claim, as well as my Independent colleagues. I look forward to hearing the Minister's response, should he return.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I am sharing time with Deputies Pat Breen and Neville.

I am glad of the opportunity to speak on this motion. I hope that tonight is a sign of things to come, in terms of co-operation between my party, Fine Gael, the Labour Party and indeed, the Green Party, bringing forward policies that make sense in terms of the environment, the economy and, perhaps most importantly, people's quality of life.

If alternatives to a current system are proposed one has to outline the reason they are necessary. We have a problem on a number of levels with road transportation. Despite the fact that we are building bigger and wider roads, the reality is that they are not coping. There has been a 70% increase in goods being transported by road over the last ten years. That is not sustainable into the future regardless of how quickly we build roads, even if that is the way we want to go.

It is causing significant traffic, which not only costs the economy time but money. People are in their cars when they should be at work. That goes for lorry drivers as well as people on their way to other jobs. Congestion costs money and people should not forget that fact when calculating the opportunity cost of relying entirely on road infrastructure for the transportation of commercial goods.

Then there is the emissions issue. People have spoken about our commitments under Kyoto and at a European level. Let us be clear that our commitment is that between the years 2008-12 we have to limit our emissions increase to 13% above the base year which is 1990. We are close to 30% above that limit at present. In effect, we need to dramatically reduce emissions in the next three to five years. The first thing we can do is look at the main contributing factors to the increase. Emissions from the transport sector since 1990 have increased by 160%, more than double the increase in any of the other sectors.

The other cost relates to a very basic measure which every county councillor in the country knows very well as it relates to road infrastructure and repairs, particularly for heavy vehicles which do the damage of many dozens of smaller cars every time they transport bulk goods. For all of these reasons we need to find ways of continuing to facilitate growth in terms of transporting goods, growing an economy and allowing people to move around, while at the same time trying to reduce the cost and burden on our roads.

I shall return briefly to the emissions argument. Essentially, four areas contribute to growth in terms of Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions. These are the energy and industry sectors, agriculture and transport. In energy we are finally starting to think about doing something new to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Industry will be forced in time, I hope, through carbon credits and other systems, to see financial incentives through reducing emissions. In agriculture the emission rates are coming down because stock rates are falling. In transport, the biggest contributing factor to increased greenhouse gas emissions, we must take hard decisions across a number of areas. Basically there is fuel, shortening journey times or finding alternatives to driving cars and lorries. There is also a shift from road to rail to be considered as part of the mix. We need to take a much more aggressive approach in the fuel sector by replacing existing carbon-based fuels with bio-fuels. While some pilot projects have been initiated, we are lagging behind the rest of Europe. We are not promoting bio-diesel, ethanol and the other bio-fuels which are available as substitutes for petrol and diesel in a proactive manner.

Some work has been done to decrease journey times and encourage more people to use public transport. There have been positive developments in the commuter rail networks. I welcome the forthcoming completion of the rail link between east Cork and Cork city. If we are to invest significantly in the rail network to move people around the country and get commuters off the roads, surely it makes sense to maximise the use of that network by using it to carry freight. It makes sense to take off the roads the bulky goods, the weight of which does the most damage to road surfaces. Some make the ridiculous and simplistic argument that if one is in favour of rail and public transport, one has to be against the construction of roads. It is a rubbish argument because one can be in favour of both. A similar point can be made as part of the debate on emissions — our strategy needs to be relevant to a series of areas. No single golden key represents the solution to our transport challenge.

The motion before the House suggests more imaginative and ambitious thinking is needed to shift the emphasis in the transport of bulk freight from the road to the rail network. The levels of traffic on the roads are increasing quickly, whereas the use of the rail network is declining. The previous speaker pointed out that the British authorities were supporting the development of the rail sector. Britain is not that different from Ireland in terms of size and scale. We need to be far more ambitious. The argument that it costs a company more to move freight by rail than by road is simplistic. It is more expensive in this country because journey times are not as long as they are elsewhere and goods have to be loaded and unloaded after less time. If the Government thinks imaginatively, it can put incentives in place to encourage people to use the rail network for the transport of freight. This country's road infrastructure would benefit from significant cost savings in such circumstances. Such an approach would help to reduce the emissions associated with traffic, etc. Therefore, the cost of incentivising the increased use of rail freight transportation could be more than justified.

Photo of Pat BreenPat Breen (Clare, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion, the importance of which has been outlined by my colleague, Deputy Coveney. Thankfully, there has been a revival in rail transport in recent times, following its sad decline over many years.

I wish to speak about rail services in County Clare. When the railway line between Ennis and Limerick was downgraded some years ago, no services operated in the area for many years. The twice-weekly service that was started by Iarnród Éireann approximately 20 years ago was a good success. Approximately two years ago, the company put in place a continuous welded line on the track. The improved service on the line has been a marvellous success. The number of passengers carried on the nine daily services in each direction between Ennis and Limerick has surpassed Iarnród Éireann's expectations. The success of the service has led to a reduction in the number of cars on the road between the two places.

Another railway line in County Clare — the west Clare railway — was made famous by Percy French in the 1940s and 1950s. It was closed by a Fianna Fáil Government in 1961. The railway line was taken up and houses were built on it at the time. I was delighted to learn recently that a private investor had bought the old Slieve Callan engine which was on display at Ennis railway station. It has been sent to England to be restored and is due back shortly. The man in question has spent a great deal of money on it. The engine will be on display at many of the St. Patrick's Day parades in County Clare.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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Very good.

Photo of Pat BreenPat Breen (Clare, Fine Gael)
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He is investing money in the old railway line between Kilrush and Kilkee which he intends to reopen as a tourist attraction. He has confidence in the rail service in County Clare.

I would like to discuss the history of the freight service in County Clare. When I was growing up, I often saw timber being taken away from Ennis railway station. I understand that approximately 80 carriageloads of trees used to leave Ennis every week. There are many forests in County Clare. Some 20 carriageloads would leave Ennis for Waterford three or four times a week. Timber is now being transported to the Minister's constituency of Waterford by road, which is obviously putting a great deal of pressure on the road network. We are aware that it costs a great deal of money to build roads. Deputy Ellis mentioned that it was probably more profitable and viable for companies to transport timber by road. The disadvantage of transporting freight by rail is that Ireland is a small country with short distances between urban areas. This is cancelled out by the numerous advantages of rail transport. The damage caused to roads when they have to support heavy loads is not a factor when the rail network is used. Roads are not built to tolerate sustained use of that nature. Some 80 truck journeys now made between Ennis and Waterford each week did not have to be made some years ago when a freight service was in operation in County Clare.

Since the opening of the Dublin Port tunnel, there has been a reduction in the number of trucks on the quays in Dublin and a consequent improvement in the flow of traffic. Additional problems have developed on the M50, however, because lorries are having to use that route. If more rail freight services were available, it would help to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions, as other speakers have said. It would also be in the interests of road safety, as Deputies have mentioned, as many articulated trucks are involved in accidents.

I ask the Minister, Deputy Cullen, to check whether something I have heard about Iarnród Éireann is true. I was told yesterday that many of the new commuter trains which operate on lines such as the Ennis-Limerick line do not carry small parcels and similar items. If one is expecting a parcel being transported from Dublin to Clare, one has to go to Limerick to collect it, as it will not be carried any further. I would like to know why small and secure areas where packages could be held while they are transported to Ennis are not set aside on such trains. It is a pity that an existing service has been downgraded in such a manner. I ask the Minister to examine this matter.

I would like to highlight a problem we will face if we want to restore freight services. I have been told by someone I know who works for Iarnród Éireann that many of the carriages which were once used to transport timber, cement and kegs have been cut up. There is no longer a surplus of carriages which can be used. Iarnród Éireann would have to invest heavily in new carriages before it could participate in the freight sector once more. It is obvious that the company does not have a long-term policy of developing its freight business.

I am delighted that progress is being made with the western rail corridor which should have been reopened before now. It is planned to reopen the line between Ennis and Athenry by 2008 and I hope that deadline will be met. Iarnród Éireann is considering the possibility of reopening Sixmilebridge railway station and other stations, which would be welcome. The reopening of stations such as Crusheen railway station could be facilitated as part of the redevelopment of the northern stretch of the line between Ennis and Athenry. Such measures would help to provide a rail service for people in rural areas. I do not doubt that the upgrading of the track that forms the western rail corridor which will cost approximately €1 million per mile is an exciting project. The redevelopment of the line between Ennis and Athenry will cost approximately €36 million. I hope the target date will be adhered to. My colleague, Deputy Neville, will probably speak about the railway line between Limerick and Foynes, the biggest port in the mid-west region. It is a shame that the line in question has been closed. All the freight out of Foynes is going by road. I am delighted the Minister is in the House. I hope he will take on board the views of the Opposition and that the rail freight sector can be expanded because the business exists for it.

8:00 pm

Photo of Dan NevilleDan Neville (Limerick West, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion. I am disappointed with the Minister's decision not to support a bio-energy production facility at Foynes which was proposed in this House during a debate on 27 October 2006.

As I stated during that debate, the world faces unprecedented energy and environmental challenges and both sectors are inextricably linked. Capway Engineering intended to be part of this new system. The company commenced operations in 2005 and had constructed a pilot research facility for bio-diesel production and a laboratory at Shannon, County Clare. It developed skills-based bio-diesel technology operating procedures and quality control systems. It also developed a core staff with expertise to transfer to a commercial scale plant.

In the past two and a half years, more than 1,000 jobs in my constituency have been lost in three companies, both directly and indirectly. I refer to Kantoher, Castlemahon and Microtherm in Bruff. Last October I pleaded with the Minister to support job creation in my constituency, but he has failed to do so. The company submitted an application to the Minister under the biofuels and mineral oil tax relief scheme for excise duty relief, but it was not accepted by the Minister. This was a comprehensive proposal which included a supply agreement with Dairygold co-operative and Acorn Independent Merchants Group. Capway Bioenergy had provisional distribution agreements in place with three of Ireland's leading mineral oil distributors, Topaz Energy Products, Maxol Group and Tedcastles Oil Products. Furthermore, Capway had signed provisional supply arrangements with three high profile capital fleets, Roadstone Provisions Limited, STL Logistics and Pallas Foods.

This was an excellent proposal to create jobs in my constituency. I appreciate that 80 jobs were involved but it would have been an injection of confidence into the constituency by the Government. Eighty jobs would have been provided during the construction period along with direct employment during the operational period with more than 30 full-time positions and significant indirect benefits. It would have been a new bio-energy company in the area and would have been one of the first positive things to happen in my constituency following the devastation of the three closures to which I referred.

It would have been complementary to the work being undertaken in my constituency on the development of alternative farm enterprises through the growth of miscanthus grass. It is to be hoped that miscanthus will be established as an alternative farm enterprise and, with Government support, it could provide a significant opportunity for alternative farm enterprise and environmentally friendly fuel. It is a high-yielding, multipurpose crop suitable for production across large areas of Ireland. The crop is undergoing much research in Europe and the United Kingdom as a renewable energy crop to produce heat and power.

I express extreme disappointment at the failure of the Government to support the project which would be an alternative farm enterprise and would create employment in the constituency of Limerick West.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the opportunity to participate in this debate. I commend the Opposition on tabling the motion. The beauty of being in Opposition is that one can be utterly inconsistent and irresponsible when it comes to spending taxpayers'——

Photo of Dan NevilleDan Neville (Limerick West, Fine Gael)
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I am not being irresponsible.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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I did not suggest that Deputy Neville was irresponsible. I will deal with the point made by Deputy Neville and I support much of what he was trying to say. I ask him to bear with me for one moment as he was the final speaker and there were many before him. I wish to deal with the issues raised. These boil down in many respects to one clear issue. What all the speakers were saying, but in an undefined way, is that the Government should subsidise highly profitable companies to move their goods around the country by rail. This is a legitimate position to adopt and I have no argument with it. However, when it comes to looking after the wealth of this country, the taxpayers of this country expect us to be very clear and focused on the real needs of health and education and the development of infrastructure. I do not believe that the subsidising of highly profitable Irish and foreign companies is at the top of the taxpayers' list.

I too support the movement of freight on the rail system. Deputies opposite ask what the Government has done. We have put €1.5 billion into restoring the entire rail network to allow for the expansion in the movement of passengers and this facility could also be available to rail freight. The difficulty is that given the scale and size of this country, the distances involved are very short. It is therefore very difficult to run large amounts of goods on a rail network over short distances. It is successful in Europe and more successful in the UK because the distances are greater.

This country does not have major centres of population; Dublin is the only one. Even Cork, our second city, by international measure is not a major city of international standards whereas the UK has many cities with populations in excess of 2 million. I am not being disparaging but simply setting out the facts. This also has an impact on rail passenger services but we are making very good progress in this area.

I say to Deputy Eamon Ryan that I am well aware of Norfolkline's contribution to both the Port of Waterford and to the development of the container services and the use of the rail services for freight.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin South, Green Party)
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It is an expanding service but the Minister said it was a failure.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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If the Deputy did his research properly, he would know that I was referring to specific types of new operators who were trying to use the rail system. They encouraged many of their customers to use rail freight into the Port of Waterford. However, the customers were not willing to get involved because they regarded it as too cumbersome and too expensive, even though both Iarnród Éireann and Norfolkline together had worked very hard to set up a very good service.

I emphasise that rail and rail freight has a contribution to make to a sustainable transport policy. That is not in doubt. I was very pleased yesterday to see the new passenger trains arrive in the country. These trains meet the 2012 emissions standards which we are proudly achieving in 2007. We should all be very pleased with this, not just in an Irish sense but also in a European sense.

To suggest we have no specific policies in place to deal with the development of a sustainable policy area in this country in terms of using bio-fuels in transport is wrong. Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus are becoming involved in using bio-fuels. They can use a 5% mix for their existing fleet and we hope to increase that figure to 30% for newer buses. Deputies seem to suggest that all of these systems and buses are in place in other countries and it is only a matter of buying them. That is not the case. I do not present myself as an expert but, because I am Minister for Transport, I must try to read up on and study these matters. It surprised me to discover recently that while there is great benefit in using bio-fuels to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, nitrous oxide emissions go through the roof. We gain on one side but lose substantially on the other, an interesting fact of which I was unaware until recently.

We all need to educate ourselves and understand what we are saying in the debate. It is easy to latch onto the latest fad, the new and popular buzz words and the new phrases. Half of the time, it is a load of baloney because nobody has done the research to know what we are talking about.

Under Transport 21 this country is making substantial investment in public transport, the rail network and the road network, and rightly so. All of this contributes to a sustainable transport system which brings great benefits in terms of emissions, safety and the movement of goods and people throughout our island in a much better way than was ever achieved in the past.

Members are correct that up to 1997 the rail network was almost redundant. It is under this Government that the network has been restored and huge investment has been made. This year alone we are spending over €770 million on public transport. I suggest, as somebody else suggested in another debate in which I was involved this evening, that we go back to the Labour and Fine Gael policies with regard to investment in road and rail in 1997 — they will make stark reading for colleagues on the other side of the House — and compare them with the Fianna Fáil manifesto of 1997.

Photo of Dan NevilleDan Neville (Limerick West, Fine Gael)
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Why does the Minister not go back to 1927?

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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It would elucidate the context of what has been said in the past ten years, and explain who has delivered what and who had the interest to set out what a sustainable policy would be and what mechanism was needed to deliver it. That is the reality of Transport 21. We have a framework, unlike most countries, we have the financial resources in place and we have agencies which are delivering.

I was struck by the contribution of Deputy Ó Snodaigh. He is correct that I was in Tralee last week to open a new bus station. In his next sentence, the Deputy claimed we are producing nothing for the delivery of people. I thought that was contradictory given that I had opened a brand new facility for delivery. The Deputy should also realise that, the last time I looked, 2007 was part of the 21st century, although he seems not to think so. That is what Transport 21 is about.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh complained that we need greater capacity to get commuter and intercity trains into Dublin. He is right. While it may not be of much interest to him, the new train station — the first built in Dublin in 100 years — will open next Monday. Its purpose is to alleviate congestion, which is significant in Dublin, particularly at Connolly Station. This station will allow us to operate significantly more commuter services into the capital at peak times, and more intercity services.

Equally, the four-tracking of the Kildare line into Dublin will massively change the commuter belt and access for people in the commuter belt to the heart of the city centre. Within Transport 21, the construction of the interconnector will bring people right to the heart of the city, to St. Stephen's Green. What people forget——

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Longford-Roscommon, Fine Gael)
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What about the Phoenix Park tunnel?

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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I have been in it.

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Longford-Roscommon, Fine Gael)
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I have been there also.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Minister's time is concluded.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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As Deputy Naughten knows, that is a hoary chestnut that will not deliver what we need in terms of an integrated transport system. To go down that road will not resolve anything. What is in place is a result of all the policies, documents, economic assessments and strategic rail reviews of recent years. When I found myself in this position, I decided the time for talking was over and that we would get on and build and deliver. That is what we are doing.

Photo of Dan NevilleDan Neville (Limerick West, Fine Gael)
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The Minister promised to reply to me but he did not do so.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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I thought I had another five minutes.

Photo of Tom HayesTom Hayes (Tipperary South, Fine Gael)
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I commend Deputy Mitchell, the Labour Party and the Green Party for putting down this important motion. On this Government's watch, the rail freight sector has declined while the volume of goods transported by trucks on our roads has increased by 70% in the past ten years. Has the Government decided to be imaginative and divert investment into the rail freight sector? It certainly has not. Instead, it has built the port tunnel in an attempt to move the problem out of Dublin city — out of sight, out of mind. In the meantime the rest of Ireland remains plagued by trucks due to our poor road infrastructure and the lack of decent motorways.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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That is unfair.

Photo of Tom HayesTom Hayes (Tipperary South, Fine Gael)
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The N8, which I often travel, is a nightmare for motorists as well as being dangerous. A further example is the case of Lisheen mine. Some years ago, the mine got planning permission to bring material from outside Thurles to Cork. The trucks pass through Cashel and travel on roads the Minister knows well. There is a railway line right beside that road. It was the craziest decision that was ever made——

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Dublin South, Green Party)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Tom HayesTom Hayes (Tipperary South, Fine Gael)
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——that the mine was allowed to transport that material by road when a perfect railway line was located beside it. There was no reason for this crazy decision.

The Dublin-Cork road is a nightmare due to traffic. Some months ago I had to travel to Cork at 4 a.m. I was amazed at the number of trucks hauling material from Cork or travelling to ports or other locations around the country at that hour of the morning, pressurising truck drivers and other motorists. Our railway lines have been left under-utilised and underdeveloped. I do not care what political party or Government is involved, the railway lines have been neglected. To make a decision like that concerning Lisheen mine——

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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It was a planning decision.

Photo of Tom HayesTom Hayes (Tipperary South, Fine Gael)
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There is a way around it. The Government's national development plan should have advised county councils to deal with that.

Last week the Minister was part of a deputation to Tipperary town. We were delighted with what he said but the reality is, despite the fact we were told to be quiet and be nice to the Minister——

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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I did not ask the Deputy to be quiet.

Photo of Tom HayesTom Hayes (Tipperary South, Fine Gael)
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That is what happens with regard to deputations.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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It was a good meeting which was very professional and well conducted.

Photo of Tom HayesTom Hayes (Tipperary South, Fine Gael)
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We were asked to be nice to the Minister, which we were. However, the reality is, as the Minister himself said, the Tipperary town bypass should have been designed as a dual carriageway. I wholeheartedly agree. The bypass is choked with traffic from Monday to Friday. I drove on the road at 5 p.m. on Monday and it had been choked up since 4 p.m. The bypass project is only at the design stage. It is a major corridor. It is disgraceful that this has dragged on for so long.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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It will be of great benefit, particularly the newer part.

Photo of Tom HayesTom Hayes (Tipperary South, Fine Gael)
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It will be of huge benefit. Is the bypass included in Transport 21?

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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Absolutely — I will show the Deputy the map. The whole of the N24 is included in Transport 21.

Photo of Tom HayesTom Hayes (Tipperary South, Fine Gael)
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It is most important for the town of Tipperary and the development of the whole area.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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I agree with the Deputy.

Photo of Seymour CrawfordSeymour Crawford (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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I am sure the Ceann Comhairle wonders why I have risen to speak on anything to do with railways, because in Cavan-Monaghan, as in Donegal, we do not have railways. The Minister referred to a sum of €1.5 billion. Can he ensure that if we cannot get any money for railways we will receive compensation in some other way? When we lost our railways in 1956 we were assured the road structure would be put in place and thankfully, as the Ceann Comhairle will be aware, we are moving towards that in Monaghan. In Cavan, however, we do not have a road structure of any note. For example, there was another serious accident in Belturbet town the other day but there is no word of when the bypass for the town will be built. If we cannot get the money for railroads we must get compensation in other ways.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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Belturbet is on the agenda. I have been dealing with it.

Photo of Seymour CrawfordSeymour Crawford (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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It has been on the agenda for a long time. Virginia is the same. There is now a drive towards cross-Border co-operation and funding, such as in the development of the Ulster Canal.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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That is correct.

Photo of Seymour CrawfordSeymour Crawford (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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It would be a good idea to restructure the line from Portadown to Monaghan.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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I agree with the Deputy.

Photo of Seymour CrawfordSeymour Crawford (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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Transport 21 mentions bringing a line to Navan but a line is already in place to Kingscourt. If the existing line to Kingscourt was opened for freight transport, and a park and ride scheme offered for passengers, it would take a lot of pressure off the roads.

The damage being done to roads by freight has been brought home to me recently and I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to speak on that subject later tonight. Construction of the Castleblayney bypass has caused €5.5 million of damage to the regional and county roads which we have worked so hard to build. That gives some indication of what heavy transport can do to a road network. In that context we should use every possible opportunity to remove extremely heavy loads from the roads and onto the rail system.

New roads are being built, such as the N3 through Navan, which will eventually go through Cavan. Would the Government not consider a rail line along that road? No matter how big we build our roads it has been proved that they will fill up with traffic, as has happened with the M50 and as is starting to happen with the M1. We all hope the economy will continue to prosper but that will mean more cars and trucks. The only way to avoid that level of congestion is to create a rail system so that passengers or freight can get straight into Dublin.

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Longford-Roscommon, Fine Gael)
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I compliment my colleague, Deputy Olivia Mitchell, the Labour Party and the Green Party for tabling the motion. We are all aware of the need to reach our emissions targets under Kyoto but Ireland has one of the highest emissions rates per head of population in the world, a huge portion of which has come from transport in recent years. The Government, in its own emissions trading report last March, predicted an increase in emissions of 2% arising from transport but the EPA states it is closer to 8%.

It is disappointing that there is not one reference in the Government amendment to rail freight. The Minister and all his colleagues have given plenty of excuses why we should not support the rail freight sector. The solution does not involve withdrawing investment from the road network — we need that investment and it must continue. It requires investment in other forms of transport, especially rail freight, in tandem with investing in the roads network.

The current roads programme does not provide the investment urgently required for our national secondary roads. A huge amount of tonnage is transported across the country on substandard national secondary roads. We transport cement, which was taken off the rail network, as was the Guinness contract. Even timber from the west of Ireland travels to Waterford entirely on national secondary roads but there is no investment in that road network at present.

Coillte now brings timber from Scotland into the Minister's own constituency in Waterford because it is cheaper to transport it from Scotland to Waterford than to bring it from the west of Ireland. There is something seriously wrong if it is preferable to do that than support our own growers. The issue needs to be addressed and cannot be ignored.

In 2004, there were 1,380 accidents involving heavy goods vehicles leading to the deaths of 74 people, 23 of whom were pedestrians. I suggested to the Minister's predecessor and the Department a change in regulations to oblige lorries to use a simple spray suppression system, so that when travelling behind a heavy goods vehicle on wet roads a driver did not see a fog of spray. It is a pleasure to drive behind any of the continental lorries on our roads but domestic lorries would not be let through Dublin Port, never mind into Calais, because they do not have those systems. They are required for goods vehicles travelling on the Continent but not for those on our own roads. One regulation would change that.

In the UK the benefits of rail freight are assessed on the basis of the environmental impact of moving freight off the roads network. The first consideration is emissions, the second the cost savings on road maintenance, the third congestion relief and the fourth environmental and safety benefits for other road users. A similar assessment should be made in this country because, taking the wider economic implications into account, a financial case can be made for rail freight in a number of situations, even in a country as small as this.

My colleagues have raised the issue of rail lines. The Athlone-Mullingar rail line is being used as a political football and we need clarity as to whether the required investment will be made. There is great potential to develop capacity from the west of Ireland because, as the Minister is aware, there is a limit between Athlone and Portarlington.

Photo of Martin CullenMartin Cullen (Minister, Department of Transport; Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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I would strongly support such development.

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Longford-Roscommon, Fine Gael)
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Commuter services should be developed in the midland triangle from Castlerea to Tullamore and Mullingar through to Ballinasloe. It would only take two DMU units to do so.

The Minister has travelled through the Phoenix Park tunnel, as have I on a couple of occasions. The tunnel could provide relief to passengers on the Heuston line. It will not solve the problem but we now have capacity with the opening of Spencer Dock station.

Serious consideration should be given to using the capacity available at the new station at Spencer Dock to provide additional services into the city centre for people who traditionally alight from trains at Heuston Station. The only reason Irish Rail has not been promoting this option to date is that it believes to do so would undermine its case in respect of the interconnector. I do not believe that to be the case. We need the interconnector. However, we have another asset in place in the shape of a state-of-the-art and fully automated and signalled section of railway line at Spencer Dock and we should utilise the capacity it has to offer.

I commend the motion to the House.