Thursday, 5 May 2022
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
I thank the Minister of State very much for coming to the House. I am very conscious that Government policy is to increase the number of people using public transport. Senator Casey and I come from Wicklow and Wexford respectively, for which the Rosslare rail line is particularly important.If we want to get people out of their cars and not using the M11 when travelling through our counties to and from Dublin, we will need to have a good rail service but, unfortunately, we do not have the best rail service. If I want to travel back to Gorey by train this evening, the last train leaves Dublin at 6.30 p.m. The service beyond Bray or Greystones is still very limited.
Particularly at a time when Rosslare Europort is growing to the extent it is, something that is very welcome post Brexit, much of the focus is on freight at present but we are going to see increased passenger traffic. There is a concerted effort to attract more visitors into Rosslare Europort, with new sailings to France and Spain. If we want people to use rail when they get off at the port, we will have to ensure the facilities are there.
For the most part, it is all the same rolling stock. Generally, what happens is that when the stock is updated on other lines, Rosslare is the poor relation that gets the stock that has been left over. I am a great believer in the expression "build it and they will come". If we provide the rail services for the people of Wexford and Wicklow, they will use them. The railway staff along the line are excellent, but not enough services serve our county to ensure a significant transfer from the use of car to that of rail.
I hope the Minister of State will reflect positively on this and convey our views to the Minister for Transport.
I thank the Minister of State for taking this matter. As my colleague identified, we are talking about investment in public transport and, specifically, in the Dublin-Rosslare route, which passes through County Wicklow. Whatever additional services can be provided to Rosslare will directly improve the facilities in Wicklow. The service to Wicklow town and Arklow at the moment is a joke. It is not worth even considering it as a mode of public transport to get into and out of work. Rosslare Europort has 34 sailings going into it weekly, whereas there are only 26 or 27 train departures from the town. The service does not even match up with the ferry services that are coming in, so realistically something has to be done.
My colleague mentioned tourism. Rail has significant potential for tourism all along the east cost by getting people into our counties. I refer to towns in County Wicklow such as Rathdrum, Arklow, Wicklow town and Greystones, where people can disembark and enjoy the countryside. County Wicklow is being strangled by a lack of investment in public infrastructure, one part of which is rail. We have to stop mickey-mousing around with what we are doing. We are talking about one additional train service between Greystones and Dublin, and perhaps with hybrid technology, that could reach Wicklow town. Either we are serious about public transport or we are not. On top of all this, there will be no further investment in the upgrade of the N11-M11 in County Wicklow for another year. The national planning framework clearly indicates Bray as a growth town for Wicklow of 33%. There is no connection between national policy and what the National Transport Authority, NTA, is saying in respect of both public transport and rail transport.
I acknowledge this issue does not relate to the Minister of State's brief but he might relay our concerns to the Minister for Transport. The rail service to County Wicklow is unacceptable, both from a commuter point of view and from that of the tourism Rosslare Europort could open up for the county.
I welcome the opportunity to discuss this important topic with Senators on behalf of the Minister for Transport. I understand that the Senators' question relates to improving the service and rolling stock on the Rosslare-Dublin rail line. I have been advised Iarnród Éireann's operational fleet is currently fully deployed on scheduled services, in line with the prevailing passenger demand. The current capacity on the rail network is primarily based on demand levels pre-Covid, when rapid growth in demand resulted in the use of 100% of larnród Éireann's operational fleet at peak times. I am also given to understand there are currently four services each way on the Rosslare-Dublin rail line on weekdays and three services each way on weekend days.
Further, the National Development Plan 2021-2030, which was launched by the Government in October 2021, will see the introduction of additional public transport infrastructure which will help to relieve congestion on the network while providing for new rolling stock to result in greater capacity for Iarnród Éireann, increasing passenger numbers into the future. An initial order of 95 electric and battery-electric carriages for the DART+ fleet was placed in December 2021, with up to 75 carriages to be ordered over the coming decade. It is expected the first 95 carriages will arrive from mid-2024, entering service on the rail network from 2025. These 95 carriages will comprise 30 electric carriages, which will be deployed on existing DART services, and 65 battery-electric carriages, which will be deployed on the northern commuter services. This additional rolling stock will free up existing commuter and intercity carriages for use on other routes on the rail network.
As the Senators will be aware, the strategic rail review, undertaken in co-operation with the Department for Infrastructure in Northern Ireland, will inform the development of interurban, interregional rail on the island of Ireland over the coming decades. This will be one of the most significant reviews of the rail network on the island in many years, providing a framework to develop an improved rail network for our future. The review will consider the scope for improved rail services along various existing and potential corridors of the network, including the potential afforded by disused and closed lines such as the western rail corridor. This report is due to be finalised in quarter 4 of this year.
I will convey both Senators' views to the Minister.
I appreciate that the Minister of State was reading from a pre-prepared reply, but that would be fine if we were representing the southside of Dublin and we would be glad to know about the improvement of the DART line, which is not what we asked about. We asked about improvements to the Rosslare rail line and clearly what has been provided by the Department of Transport and Irish Rail once again shows they do not understand the question we are asking. I know for a fact that of the 41 intercity railcar carriages that the Minister of State mentioned, not one of them is going to serve the Rosslare rail line, unless he can correct me on that. On the basis of the response we have received, it is clear there is no interest on the part of the Department of Transport or the Minister in the Rosslare rail line.
I, too, understand the Minister of State was handed a written reply and this issue does not relate to his brief, but the answer is totally unacceptable. DART+ does not yet exist and I do not think reopening the western coastal rail line will have much impact on Wicklow and Wexford, so it is disappointing. As my colleague said, the new carriages have not even been identified for this route. The Minister of State might relay our frustration to the Minister that Wicklow and Wexford are again being forgotten about, even in the context of this Commencement matter we submitted, which has not been satisfactorily answered.
I will certainly convey the Senators' views to the Minister. Nevertheless, subsequent fleet orders for DART+ will be deployed in line with infrastructure development under the DART+ programme. I have been advised the public consultation on DART+ Coastal South, which seeks to enhance capacity on the southern coastal route, will commence later this year. This consultation will examine options for the southside DART line to facilitate improved frequency, which will benefit Rosslare-Dublin rail services, as I mentioned.Senator Byrne rightly said we are coming closer to France. I see the French embassy on Merrion Square has a banner up saying "France, your closest EU neighbour". There are nearly 41 direct services between Ireland and the Continent now. It makes sense for the foot passengers and people coming on bikes and so on to have a service from Dublin to Rosslare. The Senators make a very strong case and I will bring their views back to the Minister.