Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

That’s the key

Posted in Ireland, Rolling stock by Chairman Pip on 16 July 2010

The rail network in Ireland could well be analagised (is there such a word?) to a locked room. Ireland’s physical isolation from anywhere else, coupled with its unique (in Europe) rail gauge, and Iarnród Éireann’s vertical integration, make it extraordinarily difficult for anyone else to come in and operate passenger trains, even if they wanted to. The key to potentially unlocking the door to the room, at least in my own view, is rolling stock. The success of the open-access operators in Great Britain can’t be denied, even by Iarnród Éireann, and the fact that open-access is starting up for passenger trains in mainland Europe (with Nuovo Trasporto Viaggiatori only the beginning) will show that it’s entirely possible for more than one operator to be a success in the competitive passenger market. The key to it is getting hold of trains. Grand Central had well publicised difficulties sourcing rolling stock for its initial service from London-Sunderland, as the Class 222 units it planned to lease ended up with other operators before a deal could be agreed. Grand Central were further hampered by the fact that the paths they’d agreed on were for 125mph services, and thus they had to get 125mph capable stock, of which all that was available was a handful of stored Class 43 power cars and ordinary (rather than HST) Mark 3 coaches. However, once the difficulties of refurbishing the power cars and adapting the coaches to work with them were (eventually) sorted, Grand Central have gone on to build a good reputation, to the extent that the company now has two routes and a fleet of eight trains, at a stroke becoming the major open-access operator. But, none of this would have been possible if it had not been able to source rolling stock of a reasonable quality, which even then was a stretch, given the amount of time and money spent on preparing it for service. But, thanks to the way the rolling stock supply is managed in Great Britain, with the ROSCOs and spot-hire companies owning masses of what were thought to be redundant passenger vehicles in good condition, Grand Central, as well as Wrexham & Shropshire were able to find the trains to get going. In Ireland though, Iarnród Éireann owns all of the rolling stock, and is thus able to do what it likes with it. The huge €500m investment that has seen the purchase of a total of 63 22000 Class DMUs, in addition to the eight rakes of new coaches for the Dublin-Cork service, for InterCity services led to all of Iarnród Éireann’s Mark 3 coaches (over 150 individual vehicles) being withdrawn and offered for sale or sent for scrap. With the British market crying out for more stock, those that are sold for continued use will probably end up in Britain, converted to Standard Gauge. Because building trains is so expensive, it is easier for start up open-access operators to source existing rolling stock rather than attempting to procure new build. But Ireland’s unique gauge, coupled with Iarnród Éireann disposing of most of its unused stock, both coaches and locomotives, makes it proportionally more difficult for any potential competitor to get started.

“The curious case of Irish Rail”

Ireland has a large quantity of redundant Mark 3 coaches that are being offered for sale overseas or sent for scrap, making it all the more difficult for a potential open-access operator to get started

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