Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

Halle-bleedin’-lujah

Posted in Business, Customer service, Ireland, Politics by Chairman Pip on 14 March 2012

Back when I started writing this blog, one of the constant themes has been the structure of the railway in Ireland, and how Iarnród Éireann was able to maintain its monopolistic stranglehold over the operation of trains by virtue of the fact that it is also responsible for the infrastructure. I also pointed out that Iarnród Éireann’s monopoly of both passenger and freight rail was in spite of several EU regulations regarding the structure of railways and the provision of access to the rail network, thanks to the Irish government gaining a derogation of these regulations, on the basis that, because the Irish network is small (less than 2,000km), physically isolated (owing to Ireland being an island) and a different track gauge (1,600mm instead of 1,435mm), it is not worth any private rail operator trying to gain a foothold. This is in spite of such bodies as the Irish Exporters Association crying out for an increase in rail freight capacity, while local groups such as the South Eastern Chambers of Commerce protesting at the closure of rail routes that could be used to grow local economies. Finally though, a breakthrough has come with the announcement by Leo Varadkar, the Minister of Transport, that the Irish government, together with the British government (on behalf of the Northern Ireland Executive), is not going to seek a further derogation once the current one runs out in 2013. The ultimate consequence of this is that Iarnród Éireann will be broken up from its current form, with a new body (similar to Network Rail) to take responsibility for managing and maintaining the network, another to deal with access to the network, while someone else will operate the trains. And it’s here that comes the momentous element, because this needn’t just be the operator that used to be a part of Iarnród Éireann – it could potentially be anybody, within the scope of certain regulations:

This essentially means that private operators can apply to use the network to operate domestic freight trains, and passenger trains that cross the border. This could well prove to be a boon for the continuing expansion of rail freight, which has been slowly growing over the last few years, as well as providing for redevelopment of currently closed railway lines that serve both ports and industrial areas. The passenger area is somewhat different of course as a result of the size of the population of the island of Ireland. Enterprise for example have long sought to increase the service to an hourly one, but, because of the cost of the potential subsidy, Iarnród Éireann and NI Railways were unable to afford to increase it. A potential private operator, which I have often called for, could fill in the gap to provide an hourly service between Belfast and Dublin. The problem is that the infrastructure of the Belfast-Dublin main line is of fairly poor quality, with speed restrictions at seveal points, leading to the service provided by Enterprise being not especially well regarded. However, there are other ways for operators to gain access, such as taking advantage of the fact that the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland occupy a Common Travel Area to allow commuters living on one side of the border to work on the other. There are many things to discuss, and many ways things could be done. The lack of suitable rolling stock is a major case in point – any potential private passenger operator would probably have to source new trains, owing to the lion’s share of surplus passenger rolling stock falling victim to the cutting torch. Nevertheless, this decision is one to take with a degree of cautious optimism.

“Vardakar signals Irish Rail shake-up”
“Irish government looks at rail restructuring as derogation ends”
“Changes to Irish Rail on way as Ireland gives up EU exemption”

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  1. […] light of this, I had a thought. In March, I wrote about the Irish government’s decision not to apply for a new derogation from the European […]


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