Seanad debates

Thursday, 20 October 2005

2:00 pm

Tom Morrissey (Progressive Democrats)
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I tabled this matter because last week on the Order of Business I stated that as a member of a Government party, I was no longer prepared to stand over what is happening on rail services to and from Dublin. I will relate a short story to indicate my annoyance. This morning I had to decide whether to catch an overcrowded train provided by the State three minutes from my doorstep in Castleknock or drive my car into Dublin city centre and park it in a space provided by the taxpayer until the day I die. I had no choice but to take the train because the traffic is gridlocked. When the train arrives in Castleknock from Maynooth, having stopped at Coolmine, Clonsilla and Leixlip, it is so overcrowded that between 60 and 70 people stand in an area of less than 9 sq. m. Crèches operate under a charter and guidelines under which children must be provided with a certain area. However, what charter is in place for commuters?

An additional 400,000 people have joined the workforce since 1997, which is positive. We boast that 77,000 housing units were built last year and a lower figure will be built this year, primarily in the eastern region, which the commuter rail lines from Drogheda, Arklow, Maynooth-Longford and Carlow are trying to service. It is no longer good enough to have to wait for additional services as thousands of extra people join an overcrowded system every year. Ministers are delighted to partake in photocalls on the Luas and the DTO boasts about the fantastic QBC system between Stillorgan and the city centre. However, no Minister has travelled on the suburban rail lines, which transport people to and from work. The conditions are so bad that men are bringing extra shirts with them on the train so that they can change when they get to work. That is not acceptable in a country that is so flush.

I demand that the Government's ten-year plan should be launched immediately and that the Irish Rail five-year strategic plan, which was approved 12 months ago, should see the light of day with an interconnector provided in Dublin so that a decent service can be provided. Every year these plans are delayed, the situation worsens. A scheme comprising 2,000 houses is being built in the Phoenix Park. As part of the planning permission, a train station must be provided. The developer is providing it but how will trains service this station? Irish Rail's strategic plan should not be held up by the Government's ten-year investment plan. The suburban rail system could be linked through an interconnector. People in the regions have been forced out of Dublin to buy houses and they could get to work more easily if it was built.

I travel a mere 20 minutes into the city on the train. However, commuters from as far away as Carlow experience these overcrowded conditions and we hear nothing about it. As a public representative, I cannot stand on a platform and say nothing about what is happening. I intend raising this issue non-stop until I achieve positive action. The Government established a Department with special responsibility for transport. What is happening? Debates in this House are not adequate to address the issue and I have been forced to table an Adjournment debate. However, my anger is nothing compared with the anger of those who commute daily. I only travel by train two or three days a week but many people travel five days a week, 48 to 50 weeks a year. I cannot accept these conditions any longer.

Photo of Frank FaheyFrank Fahey (Minister of State, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Galway West, Fianna Fail)
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Following a number of years of underinvestment, the Government has provided significant funding for public transport since 1999. The role the railway plays in moving large numbers of people in an efficient manner has been particularly recognised. More than €1 billion has been spent in recent years in bringing the rail network up to an acceptable level to cater for the increasing demands made on it. Almost all the trackwork has been renewed and is now continuous welded, the signalling system across the network is undergoing renewal and a phased introduction of new rolling sock is taking place. By the end of 2007, larnród Éireann will have the most modern rolling stock in Europe.

In the case of the Maynooth line, which is the basis for the Senator's matter, Iarnród Éireann doubled the trackwork from Connolly Station to Maynooth in 2000. The company purchased 20 railcars specifically to operate on the line, thereby doubling its capacity as well. Subsequently, under the national development plan, and with EU assistance, the company purchased a further 80 diesel railcars, many of which were assigned to that route. This allowed Iarnród Éireann to increase peak hour trains to eight-car length, the maximum possible on the route. Additional frequencies were also added over time so that the line is now at capacity. Since June 2005, Irish Rail has accepted into service a further 36 diesel railcars. These railcars will be used to replace older rolling stock on the Sligo-Dublin route. In December this year, frequencies on that service will increase from three to five each way per day and will benefit both longer distance commuter and Intercity passengers.

The DART upgrade project will be completed by year end and one of the benefits of this work is that it has allowed Iarnród Eireann to operate additional trains through the Pearse Station-Connolly Stationbottleneck in the morning and evening peaks. The additional train paths are to be assigned to the Dundalk and Maynooth services exclusively. These additional services, similar to the Intercity services I mentioned, will come into effect with the timetable change in mid-December 2005.

In the longer term, the issue of continued growth and demand for rail services must be addressed in an integrated and planned way. A feasibility study into the reinstating of a railway line between Clonsilla and Dunboyne M3 has been completed by Iarnród Éireann, and was presented to a steering group comprising the rail company, Meath and Fingal County Councils, and the Dublin Transportation Office earlier this year. The study examined the line from Clonsilla to the M3 interchange at Pace, which is 7.5 km in length. Three stations are considered at Hansfield, Dunboyne and a major park and ride facility at the proposed M3 interchange. Service frequency would be about every 15 minutes at peak, and every 30 minutes off-peak. larnród Éireann is examining the feasibility study at present and will make specific proposals to the Department if it wishes to proceed with this project.

A complicating factor in the provision of additional services on the Maynooth line and the construction of the spur to Dunboyne is the fact that the central corridor between Pearse station and Connolly station is at full capacity in the peak hours. In view of this, any further capacity increases along the Maynooth line are dependent on the construction of a new city centre railway station. Iarnród Éireann is currently examining suitable locations in the Docklands for a new station.

The Dunboyne line would, at best, cover its direct operating costs, and would not generate profits to fund financing or depreciation costs. However, when wider economic social benefits are taken into account such as time savings, accident savings, environmental benefits and decongestion, the project yields a positive rate of return and is economically viable. Iarnród Éireann has submitted a greater Dublin integrated rail network plan, which proposes the enhancement of all suburban and outer suburban services into Dublin and not just those of the Maynooth line to cater for demand into the future. The proposals are being examined by the Department at present in the context of the multi-annual investment framework for transport and a decision is due soon.

I appreciate the frustration of the Senator and it is shared by people in Dublin, the west and the south. The major economic growth of recent years has left us with a deficit but this is something with which we must put up. The comprehensive reply given highlights the time it takes to make these improvements. Many complications are involved and it is not simply a matter of providing additional rolling stock. Significant infrastructural improvements are needed and significant funding has been directed toward this in the past few years and this will continue. The Minister for Transport and Iarnród Éireann are determined to improve the standard of services as quickly as possible.