Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

That’s the wonder…the wonder of you

Posted in Infrastructure, Ireland by Chairman Pip on 6 September 2011

Iarnród Éireann seem to have removed the finger out of their compalcent collective arses and seen fit to explore actually making the railway network fit to use as the economic driver it is supposed to be. Three stories have come to my notice through various means to indicate this:

  • Now that Metro North has been shelved, the plan to extend the DART service to Dublin Airport has been submitted by Iarnród Éireann to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. This will see a new 7km stretch of line branch from the Northern Commuter route at Clongriffin from where it will run directly to the airport. This proposal has been estimated at around €200m, around five times less than the Metro.
  • Iarnród Éireann have also announced plans for a series of infrastructure works totalling in the region of €175m that are aimed at increasing the amount of the network upon which trains can run up to 100mph (160km/h). This would put a significant number of regional cities under two hours from Dublin, increasing the competitiveness of the railway against the expanding motorway network.
  • Iarnród Éireann are apparently looking at the possibility of restoring service to lightly used lines by contacting Parry People Movers to investigate whether their products might be suitable for use on these routes that have either closed or appear to be under threat of closure.

All well and good you might think, but there are things that I (and others) have to say. First off, why is it only now that Iarnród Éireann are looking to increase their intercity speeds? Surely, when they were spending €500m on a massive new fleet of DMUs, which were capable of 100mph when purchased, not to mention a brand new 125mph capable set of intercity coaches for the Dublin-Cork route, wasn’t this upgrade work planned for and undertaken alongside that? In terms of the DART extension to the airport, while I can see the logic in that it will be cheaper than the Metro, and Ireland’s financial situation is (shall we say) weak, so cutting back on public spending is necessary, it is still a case that there are capacity issues at Dublin Connolly, which was the whole purpose of building the Interconnector in the first place. Any airport service will need additional capacity, if it is not to impact on the regular DART service, and so something will need to be done, whether that involves significant capacity enhancement work at Connolly, or transferring the majority of Western route services to an expanded Docklands. Finally, the use of PPMs on the lightly used routes has some degree of potential certainly, but is only likely to be genuinely feasible if the lines were disconnected from the main network, and if vehicles of sufficient capacity could be introduced – while the Class 139 has undoubtedly been successful, do not forget it operates on an almost completely segregated, very short route as a high frequency shuttle; those groups such as SWIFFT that seek to not just reopen those lines that are abandoned or under threat, but potentially operate services themselves (or at least in conjunction with another operator) are looking to operate proper interurban/intercity services (mention has been made of  Galway-Limerick-Rosslare, which was one of the intentions of building the Western Rail Corridor). Given that most of these routes are single track, the idea of operating genuine tram-train services may well give cause for concern. While we should not discount any potential for continued investment, can these three individual stories be counted as truly genuine, or merely another attempt at smoke and mirrors on the part of Ireland’s state railway operator?

“€200m Dart plan for airport is five times cheaper than metro”
“Proposed €175m rail upgrade would allow for European-like travel times”
“Iarnrod Eireann’s Plans to Save Ailing Lines”

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