Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

Even if your standard isn’t the standard, it’s still a standard!

Posted in Infrastructure, Ireland, Metro by Chairman Pip on 15 April 2010

Back to my favourite topic – the Irish. But not this time the colossal annoyance that is Iarnród Éireann. Instead, I’d like to talk about Dublin’s super-duper LRT system, the Luas. Luas is similar to the light rail systems operating in Great Britain, in that it operates both on street and on disused rail alignments. However, as is often the case, there are significant problems with it, first and foremost being that the two current lines are completely seperate from each other – there is a 10 minute walk between their closest points. Clearly, this is a fundamental problem in the construction of an integrated transport system like Luas is supposed to be. It is only now, with the start of major extension work, that interchange will be possible, but at a significantly elevated cost to when the system was originally opened. In this, it can only be hoped that Ireland’s severe financial difficulties do not get in the way of the necessary work to connect up the Luas, even if the other planned extensions cannot be achieved immediately.

Of course, there is the matter of gauge. In their infinite wisdom, the decision was taken that the Luas should be built, not to the Irish gauge of 5ft 3in, but to standard gauge, which completely prevents any interoperability with the railway network. Now, this is not a problem if linking two networks together would be, if not impossible, then certainly difficult and extremely expensive – a good example is the Glasgow Subway, which operates on 4ft gauge, but is completely self-contained. But, in an instance where the LRT could potentially be utilised to improve services (a la tram-train), freeing up heavy rail stock to strengthen other services, it seems evidence yet again of lack of foresight not to build the new system to connect with the old. Of course, the excuse would no doubt be that it is less expensive to build vehicles to standard gauge, since everyone else uses it. Indeed, this is the excuse used for the decision to build Toronto’s new LRT lines to standard gauge. But the cost saving would surely be minimal, especially given that Iarnród Éireann have to purchase specially built rolling stock. Operating the Luas as a tram-train operation would also give impetus to other potential LRT schemes around the country, as these could also connect to the existing rail network. Not only then would it allow Iarnród Éireann to use its rolling stock better, but it would also allow the national rail operator to focus investment, given that the cost of running many local services would be assumed by the operator of the tram-train, which would likely be the local county council (which would contract out to a transport operator). Of course, this would require the cooperation of Iarnród Éireann, which, given my reading of its corporate mentality, is unlikely; I’ve said before (many times) that it doesn’t like running trains. Of course, it doesn’t want anyone else to run trains either. So there we are.

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