Seanad debates

Wednesday, 21 September 2022

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Rail Network

10:30 am

Photo of Tim LombardTim Lombard (Fine Gael)
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Are Senators Malcolm Byrne and Casey proposing to share time?

Photo of Malcolm ByrneMalcolm Byrne (Fianna Fail)
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Yes. The Minister of State knows I have enormous respect for her work but I am rather worried that she is the one who is in here answering a question on transport. We fear and already suspect that the answer may contain the same level of obfuscation to which our colleague referred.

We are talking about the east coast railway that runs from Dublin to Rosslare and which runs through the Minister for Transport's constituency. As part of the east coast railway infrastructure protection project scheme review that was carried out by Irish Rail because of the fears of damage caused by coastal erosion and climate change to that particular track, it is now estimated that infrastructure works to simply keep the track open and survive will cost up to €230 million. This is something that has not just been signalled in the short term; this has been raised on a regular basis over the long term.

If we are to look at shifting significant numbers of people into using rail transport, particularly from counties Wexford and Wicklow, then we must ensure that we have a reliable rail service. We already know that the Rosslare rail service is not a priority for Irish Rail or the Minister because we are not getting the additional carriages that are being rolled out on the system. If we do not have the infrastructure, however, we will not have a train track on which even the old trains will be able to run. This report was carried out this summer. We need to know, to be able to give assurances to commuters, that the rail line will continue in the long term and yet we have not heard from the Minister for Transport whether that level of investment will be made available.

Photo of Pat CaseyPat Casey (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister of State. Senator Malcolm Byrne outlined our concerns with regard to the Minister of State's response to this issue.

The Dublin-Rosslare east coast route has probably suffered from the least amount of investment over the 200 years of its history since it was delivered. It has great potential and provides an opportunity to take people off the road but we are not availing of it. The recently released report stated that we need an additional €230 million just to maintain the track that is in place before we try to deliver any additional services. In fairness, with regard to commuters from counties Wicklow and Wexford, once a person leaves Greystones there is an almost non-existent service. I got into my car at Wicklow this morning at 7 a.m. and got to Leinster House at 9.15 a.m. There was only one train that left Wicklow during that period.

Not alone are we talking about investment to try to maintain the rail route; we need significant and far-reaching investment to provide serious train potential for our commuters. If that is what we believe in, we need to invest in it.

The current proposed draft policy with regard to the transport strategy for the greater Dublin area does not do justice to Wicklow once a person leaves Greystones. The line from Wicklow, Rathdrum, Arklow and then on to Wexford is not getting the level of investment that is required. It needs to go further. We need to start talking about putting in lay-bys and double tracks where trains can pass one another freely. We are wasting our time investing €230 million unless we go that step further. The greater Dublin transport strategy does not go far enough in what it is proposing. We need significant investment if we are going to move people out of their cars and onto the train.

Photo of Mary ButlerMary Butler (Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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I thank both Senators. In fairness, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, is currently in the Dáil taking a Private Members' motion on the cost-of living challenges and different issues. He was in situas I was leaving the Dáil Chamber. On behalf of the Minister for Transport, I thank the Senators for the opportunity to address the issue before the House. It is not my area of expertise, to be fair, but I will read out the response.

Coastal railway construction and maintenance have always been challenging and throughout its history, interventions have been required to protect the line from impacts on embankments, water coming over the line and coastal erosion. I understand that Iarnród Éireann has over many years managed the coastal defence of the Dublin to Rosslare line and monitors the coastline erosion rates at key points along the railway on an ongoing basis.In 2015, larnród Éireann, along with Wicklow County Council, co-funded significant erosion mitigation emergency works at The Murrough near Wicklow railway station. These works were prompted by an erosion event that almost resulted in the loss of a section of railway line. This joint collaboration was very successful and prompted the need to undertake a much larger multi-agency study of coastal erosion along this stretch of coastline.

A steering group was established with representatives of larnród Éireann and Wicklow County Council in February 2018, which agreed to undertake a coastal erosion study in accordance with OPW study requirements. It was agreed that larnród Eireann would take the lead role for the tender process to procure a specialised consultant to undertake this study. Within the scope it was envisaged to generate a high-level coastal erosion model for the scope area and then assess the results. Each risk area would then be examined to establish the best solution to be installed, if any. On foot of the consultant's review, a significant body of work was expected on receipt of the final report.

With the frequency and severity of impacts increasing, with climate change causing more impacts in the past 20 years than in the previous 100 years, larnród Éireann has proactively commenced a major climate resilience programme to ensure the long-term protection of major sections of the Dublin to Rosslare rail line from the effects of climate change. Following the climate resilience studies undertaken by larnród Éireann in 2018, the east coast railway infrastructure protection projects, ECRIPP, was developed to ensure an effective preventive approach to the protection of the line. ECRIPP is funded by the National Transport Authority under the National Development Plan 2021-2030 and through a range of interventions along the route, with a particular focus on the area between Merrion Gates in Dublin and Wicklow town, it seeks to secure the future of the line for generations to come.

The Minister is advised by larnród Éireann that detailed design and planning works, including environmental assessments and statutory submissions will be delivered under the first phase of the programme, for which Jacobs has been contracted as multidisciplinary consultants. Options such as breakwaters, beach nourishment, onshore revetment strengthening and other interventions will be subject to detailed design in the first phase of the programme, which will also focus on planning and approvals. As well as the requirement to protect rail infrastructure, noting that a number of locations are designated with special area of conservation and Natura 2000 conservation status, the protection of the sensitive environments involved will be central to the philosophy of the project.

I trust the Senators can see that this matter is being taken very seriously and that remedial action is under way. I am not sure whether it answers their specific questions, but I take on board the point Senator Casey made that he left Wicklow this morning at 7 a.m. and got here at 9.15 a.m., yet there was only one train on the track during that time.

Photo of Malcolm ByrneMalcolm Byrne (Fianna Fail)
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We are going to share the response time. It is a little more hopeful, given that there is work being done and at least a plan has been put in place but, before anything else, we must ensure there is funding for the plan. It is about being able to guarantee commuters that we will have a rail line in place because the report this summer said the rail line may not be in existence by the end of the decade if remedial work does not happen, and so it must happen. As Senator Casey has said, it is about more than simply improving the rail line, it is about the delivery of quality of service. We do not believe that Iarnród Éireann has been doing that for commuters and travellers in Wexford and Wicklow in recent years.

Photo of Pat CaseyPat Casey (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister of State for her reply. I know she is only the messenger. I served on the council when the event occurred in 2015, which goes to show that we are not taking the east coast rail line seriously if it took a severe weather event to create an emergency intervention to protect the line. We have known all along that the rail line on the east coast is vulnerable and we have done nothing about it. It took a storm event to get the issue resolved in 2015. Unless we deliver in this regard, realistically, we are wasting our time. We must protect the rail line and we must develop additional services on it. I thank the Minister of State for her time.

Photo of Mary ButlerMary Butler (Waterford, Fianna Fail)
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On behalf of the Minister for Transport, I thank both Senators for their comments and interest in the important issue of rail infrastructure concerning their counties of Wexford and Wicklow. If we are serious about climate change, rail infrastructure must be important.

I have further news. Iarnród Éireann has been monitoring this line and the effects of coastal erosion on it for many years. Noting the increase in severity and frequency of erosion impacts, Iarnród Éireann has developed a series of infrastructure protection projects known as the east coast railway infrastructure protection projects. ECRIPP, which has indicative costs of €230 million, was included in the National Development Plan 2021-2030. It is planned that it will be delivered over the coming seven years under a series of work packages for each location, including Bray Head to Greystones north beach, Newcastle to Wicklow, Dalkey tunnel to Killiney station and Rosslare.

Apart from ECRIPP, there is ongoing funding for the protection and renewal of the rail network, otherwise known as the infrastructure manager multi-annual contract, IMMAC. The IMMAC is a requirement of EU and Irish law and is a five-year agreement under the Minister for Transport. The current contract covers the period from 2020 to 2024, inclusive. I reassure Senators, on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, that measures are being taken to protect and maintain the rail network generally and specifically with regard to the Dublin to Rosslare rail line. Iarnród Éireann will engage with local authorities, regulatory bodies, local communities and interest groups to ensure this programme is delivered in a sustainable and cost-effective way.

Photo of Tim LombardTim Lombard (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State for her commitment to the Seanad this morning. It is no easy task to respond to four Commencement debates.

Cuireadh an Seanad ar fionraí ar 11.16 a.m. agus cuireadh tús leis arís ar 11.30 a.m.

Sitting suspended at 11.16 a.m. and resumed at 11.30 a.m.