Seanad debates

Tuesday, 11 February 2003

Adjournment Matters. - Rail Services.


2:30 pm

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Fine Gael)
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I wish to share my time with Senator Feeney.

Acting Chairman:

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Fine Gael)
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Despite many cash injections, Iarnród Éireann has unsuitable and unsafe passenger trains on its mainline network, especially on the Sligo and Westport lines. Locomotives break down regularly and people living in Connacht expect this as the norm. Passengers are considered second-class citizens.

Recently a train on the Sligo-Dublin line was late and no apology was given. Carriages used on the line are unsafe and have no heating, despite the vast amounts of money allocated to Iarnród Éireann, of which we have waited four to five years to see any sign. The fact that the company undertook to investigate an incident on the Dublin-Cork line is an example of how it places greater emphasis on that line than on those to the west.

Will the Minister of State relay our grievances because we believe we are second-class citizens when it comes to rail travel to the north-west and west?

Photo of Geraldine FeeneyGeraldine Feeney (Fianna Fail)
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I thank Senator Feighan for sharing his time with me. I am delighted and proud as a Fianna Fáil Senator to acknowledge that the Sligo-Dublin line has received huge investment for line repair and new tracks under Fianna Fáil-led Governments. However, I am also a little sad to have to acknowledge that, while we have a wonderful line and a great track, the carriages and service leave a lot to be desired. As Senator Feighan pointed out the heating problem, I will not discuss it further. There is no catering service on the line. One cannot purchase hot food, despite the fact that the journey from Sligo to Dublin takes three hours. Breakfast or evening meals are not available.

Ten years ago the chambers of commerce in the north-west campaigned and protested to keep the line open. They succeeded in doing so but, while the line remains open, the service is very poor and leaves a lot to be desired. All we ask is that the people of the north-west be given the service their fellow passengers enjoy in the west, south, south-west, east and south-east – everywhere except the north-west.

I am also sad to say compensation arrangements are ad hoc. There have been instances where, when the company has known a train will be two hours late with passengers having to disembark and board a bus, vouchers have been given to passengers, usually to the value of €5 off the price of the next train ticket. This is treating those who use the service as second-class citizens and is not right in this day and age.

Photo of Noel AhernNoel Ahern (Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Senators for raising the issue. Generally, Iarnród Éireann was starved of investment for years. Significant amounts of money have been invested in recent years but initially they were spent on signalling and track renewal. The company's slogan, "We're not there yet, but we're getting there", is true. The enormous investment it has received has mostly gone into signalling and track renewal.

Many carriages are on order but the company appears to lack them at present. Significant levels of funding have been and continue to be made available to Iarnród Éireann for investment in new rolling stock. In addition to the 38 new DART cars and the 20 diesel railcars delivered over the last two years, the first batch of 80 new diesel railcars was delivered recently. The balance will be delivered over coming months and go into service later this year after commissioning. In addition, 40 new DART carriages were ordered in 2002 and are being manufactured. On mainline rail, an order for 67 new intercity carriages was recently placed at a cost of €115 million. This level of investment in new rolling stock, totalling approximately €310 million, represents the most significant investment in new rolling stock for Iarnród Éireann in decades. Future additional rolling stock requirements of the company will be considered in the context of the strategic rail review, which the Minister hopes to publish shortly.

Regarding the rolling stock on the Westport and Sligo lines, Iarnród Éireann has advised the Minister that the carriages used on the Westport route are Mark III vehicles acquired in the 1980s and that those used on the Sligo line date from the 1970s. The company has confirmed that these vehicles are air-conditioned and are safe for use on these services. While they might not be the best carriages in the world, it is not appropriate to raise concerns about their safety if engineers have given them a clean bill of health on those grounds

Iarnród Éireann has advised that the vehicles on these lines are occasionally replaced, for maintenance reasons, with older Craven carriages which were acquired in the 1960s.

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Fine Gael)
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If a person catches a cold on a train, it cannot really be safe. If there is no heat, it would be possible to die.

Photo of Noel AhernNoel Ahern (Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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The people down there are tough characters. That might happen to weak little Dubliners, but hardly to the people in question.

Craven carriages, which have been in service since the 1960s, are occasionally used and weekend services are often augmented by their use. Iarnród Éireann recognises these carriages do not have the same comfort levels, but it has assured the Minister that they are safe for operation. The 67 new inter-city carriages that are on order will begin to enter service in 2005. These new carriages will facilitate the retirement of the older vehicles currently used on inter-city services.

In addition, the entry into service later this year of the 80 diesel railcars, purchased for use on outer suburban routes, will release mark III carriages from those routes for use on inter-city services. This might give some temporary short-term relief. These new railcars will reduce the number of commuting passengers using key inter-city trains and will also be available to supplement inter-city rolling stock on Sundays. The Government is confident that the significant funding being made available to Iarnród Éireann for investment in its infrastructure and rolling stock will improve the safety of the network, increase the passenger capacity of the system and improve the quality, reliability and speed of Iarnród Éireann services.

The long-term future seems bright, but if a problem exists it is likely that it will persist for the moment. When these railcars are introduced on the outer suburban routes, I am not sure how many of the mark III carriages will be released, but they may give some temporary benefit before the arrival of the new carriages which were purchased at the significant cost of €115 million. However, the new carriages are not due until 2005.

This represents a long-term strategic investment by Government. Much investment has been put into signalling. Once the carriages arrive, Iarnród Éireann will be in a strong position for a number of years. It is trying to put right matters that were ignored for a number of years. The equipment on some of the other lines is probably far better.

I used to work for CIE. However, I left the company ten years ago and I do not claim to be an authority on it any more. As the Sligo line would not have been the main source of revenue, it did not get the pick of the crop and I doubt if things have changed significantly. I hope the huge investment of €115 million will provide a very modern service on all the lines.

The Seanad adjourned at 7.25 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 12 February 2003.