Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

…it’s only just begun

Posted in Customer service, Infrastructure, Ireland, Politics by Chairman Pip on 17 January 2013

The publication of the outline work plan for Control Period 5 by Network Rail seems to have led to others jumping on the “what can we/are we going to do?” express. Actually, that’s unlikely, as undertaking planning work for the publication of a major policy document does take a while. Nevertheless, we not only have the CP5 plan for Great Britain, but now we also have the start of a public consultation by the Department for Regional Development over the future direction of the railway network in Northern Ireland. In announcing this, Danny Kennedy, the Minister in charge, said that while there was a need to carry on maintaining the network as it was, a strategic outlook was necessary to build on what has already been done:

‘Looking forward over the next 20 years, there has to be a strategic direction to determine the priority in which we should tackle new railway projects.

To do this, the DRD has set out in its consultation a range of options for the public to discuss, from vanilla (maintaining as is), through the neopolitan option of electrification, and onto the triple chocolate idea of expanding the network. Of course, the DRD has also set out with these options its cost estimates, which naturally are pretty big – it estimates that the vanilla option would cost somewhere in the region of £620m over the twenty year period from 2015-2035. That being said though, some of the improvement options, while still expensive, would likely turn into fairly cost-effective solutions in the long term. For example, the DRD estimates that electrifying the entire existing network, which is a little over 200 miles in length, would be in the region of £350m. But, we all know that electric trains cost less, both to procure and operate, are faster, have better acceleration, and require less maintenance than equivilent diesel units. Why do you think the British government has sanctioned the upcoming electrification projects? Doing this could well then encourage the Irish government to do the same, at least with certain parts of its network (perhaps most importantly the main lines to Belfast and Cork).

In 2008, Brian Guckian, a transport consultant from Dublin, laid out a proposal for a major expansion of the Northern Ireland network, which involved the restoration of the line from Derry to Portadown, with branches to Armagh and Enniskillen, plus a new cross-border line from Derry to Donegal, and reopening the extant but unused line between Lisburn and Antrim to serve Belfast International Airport. The DRD looks at some of these ideas as well – there is a proposal for the line from Portadown to Omagh and Enniskillen, and another for a line from Derry to Letterkenny and Sligo. Both of these are seen as phenomenally expensive, as they would essentially be the construction of brand new main lines. There may potentially be justification for a new southern route that runs to the major towns in the west of Northern Ireland to be built in stages, depending that is on the public will. A cross-border line would need the cooperation of the Irish government (which essentially means Iarnród Éireann), and, given expanding the rail network to the north-west ‘has not (been) identified as an investment priority’, seems unlikely. However, the DRD consultation also includes the proposal to restore service along the Antrim line to serve the airport. This has been budgeted around the £50m mark, which covers restoring the existing line, creating an airport spur and procuring additional trains. The comment from the DRD on this proposal is that “‘it is highly unlikely’ that a rail link would be ‘more regular or cost-effective’ than buses”, which to me sounds as if they’ve already made up their mind. This is in spite of the fact that airports in Great Britain that look to expand and improve state that a dedicated rail connection in some form or another is a must. We’ve had the addition of Southend Airport station, while Glasgow Airport and numerous major businesses remain committed to getting the GARL back on the agenda. Surely the best way of finding out the “cost-effectiveness” of serving Belfast Airport by train, which would also bring numerous communities on that side of Belfast itself back onto the railway, removing cars from the roads, would be to study airports of similar size and passenger number, including those with and without rail links, to see just how popular/useful/used they actually are.

Future Railway Investment: a Consultation Paper
“Looking into the future of Northern Ireland Railways”



Panem et Circenses

Posted in America, Business, Customer service, Europe, Great Britain, Ireland, Politics by Chairman Pip on 24 October 2012

“Give us bread and circuses” is the cry, or so it seems. In last week’s Sunday Express was a poll suggesting a large majority of the public now want to see the railways re-nationalised, something that must be music to the ears of Spud and his cronies. Not only this, but it also seems that the Labour Party is considering making this official policy for the next election. So this of course should be enough to warn people off it anyway. But there are lots of things that I do think people should consider when it comes to the idea of nationalisation that it feels like aren’t out there. Like first of all the fact that there are European regulations on the liberalisation of rail transport to consider. Were the railways jusr simply nationalised, how would that impact on open access operators? But that’s by the wayside.

One of the major moans that the unions have is the fact that the franchise system in the UK allows what they describe as the “nationalised railway companies” in other European companies to procure UK franchises, while rail operations are “closed” to British operators. First of all, I’m sure Deutsche Bahn would object to being called a nationalised railway company, as it isn’t. It is an Aktiengesellschaft, which in Germany is the general equivilent of a plc, a company whose shares can be publically traded on a stock market. So even though the German government owns 100% of the shares, it can at any time sell any amount of the company’s shares. But also is the claim that operators in other countries have monopolies over their networks, when again that isn’t true. It is certainly the case in some countries that operations across all sectors are run by nationalised organs, with the one that I most often think of now being Iarnród Éireann. IÉ is a subsidiary whose shares are 100% owned by a statutory corporation, and is thus a truly nationalised operator. And those of you that are regular readers will know how I feel about the way IÉ runs its operations. Having no competition means that they are essentially free to do what they want, and if it means they have no desire to run a route any longer, they can simply reduce the service level to a point where no one wants to use the train any more, and then claim that the service is unporfitable and withdraw it. Which is what British Rail did with any number of significant routes, not least of which was the eventual closure of the line into London Broad Street (which, I’m sure you have all noticed, has now reopened).

While the big and flashy main line operations, especially the high speed networks, tend to be run by those companies that were formed out of the old nationalised railways, the local operations, the ones that we would think of as commuter, or suburban, or rural, are controlled locally, by French départements or German länder, who tender out the operation of services commercially, in much the same way as TfL and Merseytravel do. And there is the interesting thing. Because both London Overground and Merseyrail are, to all intents and purposes, nationalised rail companies, as all the important decisions in regards to management and investment are taken by the PTEs, with the actual operation of services and revenue collection contracted out to private companies. As a consequence that the PTE takes the risk, the PTE keeps the bulk of the revenue. Similar to this are virtually all of the light rail operations around the country, with only Blackpool and Tramlink owned and operated by the municipal body. This method of doing things has been adopted by some of the newer commuter rail operators in the United States – both the Coaster and Sprinter operations of the North County Transit District in San Diego are run this way, with the actual operations contracted out. So, there is the possibility, as suggested in the newspaper article that accompanied the poll, that people might be prepared to accept this type of arrangement, in ensuring that a public body retains control, but contracts out its operations. Nationalisation? No. Concession? Maybe.

OK, I get it now

Posted in Customer service, Great Britain, Ireland, Politics by Chairman Pip on 9 October 2012

On my way home from Edinburgh back in August, rather than getting a train direct from Waverley to Kings Cross, instead I took the train from Edinburgh to Glasgow, from where I then got a service back to Euston. The train that I got from Edinburgh to Glasgow was via the North Clyde Line, which includes the recently opened section between Bathgate and Airdrie. The service was made up of a pair of Class 334s, making the train six cars long (along most of the other Edinburgh-Glasgow routes, trains tend to be 3-4 cars). This was a train at just before 11.00am on a Monday morning, and it was virtually deserted. And it was on my journey between Haymarket and Queen Street, watching the train stop at empty station after empty station, having a significant amount of time to think, that I finally understood Iarnród Éireann’s dislike of running trains. Because Scotland and Ireland are fundamentally similar in being small countries with small populations that are concentrated in a handful of areas. And running trains in areas with low population density does not make for an especially good business model (hence the rationale for Beeching). Running trains like the one I used to travel between Scotland’s two major cities probably costs the Scottish Government a fortune in subsidies. So I can see why Iarnrod Éireann wants to duck out of all of the Irish network’s lightly used lines and concentrate on core services within Dublin and between the capital and other major centres. Of course, it is still the case that Iarnrod Éireann makes the case for withdrawing services by making what services there are as terrible as possible and driving passengers away. If they did run better services on the network’s lightly used lines, they may well get better patronage. But that’s another matter. The fact is that the Scottish rail franchise is one of the most heavily subsidised in Britain (only the Welsh franchise recieves more public money, according to this article in the Scottish Left Review), but it can afford to be because the Scottish Government has guaranteed income in the form of the grant from Westminster. It wouldn’t have this guarantee if it were in Ireland’s position, as the Irish government, which obviously has to raise all of its own revenue (being an independent nation) has been slashing rail subsidies, meaning ticket prices have to rise. If the SNP gets its way, how long will it be before ScotRail decides it doesn’t want to run services in isolated rural areas because it can’t afford them?

It isn’t just me then

Posted in Ireland, Rolling stock by Chairman Pip on 21 August 2012

I’ve related often in the past my views about the policy of rolling stock disposal in Ireland, which seems to continue unabated with the news recently of both the offer of sale for scrap of Iarnród Éireann’s 90 Mark 3 coaches, and the final withdrawal of its 2700 Class fleet for storage. Given comparison with the withdrawal and storage of rolling stock on the British network, it often seems that IÉ, and NI Railways too, act as if they have had firecrackers inserted up their backsides. In this view, I have sometimes been accused of seeing conspiracies where there are none, something that is not easily levelled at me, as I hold no truck with conspiracy theorists – men have definitely walked on the Moon, it was the Titanic that sank, and Barack Obama was absolutely born in the United States. And yet I have concluded that the rapid fire disposal of rolling stock is part of a plan (conscious or otherwise) to maintain a monopoly on rail transport in Ireland in the face of approaching deregulation as per EU directives. I have commented on the fact that the size of the market in Ireland means any open-access operator would likely face significant costs and that, to keep these down, would likely look to procure second hand rolling stock. Given the unusual track gauge, sourcing this would be difficult, with virtually the only realistic option being the two operators on the island of Ireland. Thus, it simply makes good business sense to try and make it as difficult as possible for any competition to come in.

Additionally, IÉ have invested heavily in a brand new fleet of intercity DMUs that now forms the lion’s share of its rolling stock. Because they seem to have gone overboard on buying these new trains, they have put them seemingly onto as much work as they possibly can. Not only is the 22000 Class used on virtually every intercity route from Dublin with the exception of the flagship service to Cork, but it is also used increasingly on a number of interurban and commuter services. Most modern DMUs that are used on interurban services in Britain are fitted out internally for long distance travel, but have bodyshells that resemble commuter/metro trains, with double doors at 1/3 and 2/3 length, rather than single doors at the ends. Indeed, there has been large scale criticism of the decision to replace the specially built Class 460 trains on the Gatwick Express with Class 442s, as the single leaf end doors increase dwell time and make it more difficult for passengers with heavy luggage.

Had I been the only one saying things like this, then perhaps I could have been labelled “whacko”. But it seems that I’m not. Mr Mick O’Gorman of Ballybrittas in County Laois has written to the Irish Times suggesting something along the same lines. Indeed, he suggests that the scrapping of the Mark 3 coaches, a type that is still used extensively on the British network, is evidence of IÉ deliberately attempting to prevent competition once the Irish government’s rail derogation expires:

…as Ireland is under pressure quickly to put in place EU directives allowing competition in domestic passenger rail services, Irish Rail is adopting a “scorched earth” policy to rid the island of any rolling stock that might be available to other operators.

Every point that Mr O’Gorman makes in his letter – the overbuying of 22000 Class DMUs (“vomit comets”), the unique rail gauge in Ireland, the costs of procuring new trains for a prospective operator – I have stated before. It surprises me that not a single bid for any of the 90 Mark 3 coaches came in, even if it was to have them as spares caches, especially given that the British network is forever crying out for more trains. We have the Scottish Government planning to invest £100m in the Caledonian Sleeper, with the promise of new rolling stock; Mark 2 coaches still in use on commuter routes as a result of a lack of multiple units; Chiltern Railways the first to refurbish its Mark 3s with plug doors and retention toilets (amongst other features). Hell, both IÉ and NIR have expressed ever more fervant desires recently to increase Enterprise’s service frequency, which would be a lot easier to do if they didn’t have to go out and source new trains themselves. Is there more to this than meets the eye? I’m not the only one that thinks so clearly.

“Irish Rail to sell old carriages for scrap”

Not in my lifetime

Posted in Ireland, Rolling stock by Chairman Pip on 3 May 2012

While I know that the likelihood of anyone coming up with a viable proposal for open-access passenger operations in Ireland will remain significantly unlikely, it certainly helps if any prospective open-access has an option of gaining some rolling stock immediately so that it can start straight away, while it looks at its more long term options. But, as I’ve said time and time again, and even in spite of the upcoming end of the derogationIarnród Éireann and their co-conspirators NI Railways will do everything they can to prevent any kind of competition. The latest wheeze is NI Railways’ almost immediate disposal of its now redundant Class 450 units, the first two of which have been sent for scrap. Admittedly, this is not as much of a problem for an open-access operator as it would have been a year ago, what with IÉ in the process of storing its 2700 and 2750 Class units. Nevertheless, it still reduces options. NIR’s rationale is:

 The cost of repairing and continuing to run them would not have been economically viable.

Entirely possible I suppose, but then NIR has its fleet of shiny new trains and has no interest in keeping its old rolling stock, and so will obviously play down the condition that they are in. To illustrate, an NIR driver interviewed by the BBC had this to say:

The engines lasted a good 40 years and kept going. The trains were basic and uncomplicated.

For quiet rural journeys, basic and uncomplicated is ideal. Otherwise why do the TOCs on the British network not get hold of shiny whizzbang units for their quiet, rural services? No, as far as I can see, the only reason for sending them for scrap now is so that no one else can get hold of them.

“Northern Ireland Railway’s farewell to old trains”
“End of the line for old trains”

With the Class 450 units now it seems destined for the cutting torch, there is that much less choice for any prospective open-access operator in Ireland

Be a little bit wiser baby…

Posted in Business, Infrastructure, Ireland, Politics by Chairman Pip on 1 May 2012

A story caught my attention last week that, to the best of my knowledge, didn’t get much national coverage. It seems that Translink, the state owned public transport company in Northern Ireland, will likely go into the red next year, with the probable result that bus and rail fares will go up by around 3%. This is in spite of the Department for Regional Development providing the company with additional funding, as apparently there are a number of factors pushing Translink towards deficit – rising costs (both fuel and wages), increasing numbers of subsidised fares and less income from its school transport operations, due to falling numbers of pupils. Given the size of Northern Ireland’s population, and the fact that, along with the rest of the UK, it is getting older, the chances of the situation reversing itself is unlikely. Which means that Translink will have to come up with ways to aggressively keep its costs under control while at the same time maintaining its service level:

Per capita funding for public transport from the public purse is lower in NI than any other region on these Islands yet service provision is higher. We will be working with the DRD to understand the future public transport policy in light of this reduced funding. Our current operational model is efficient and has made over £12m of savings over the last few years.
Translink spokesperson

In 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 directives on open-access on the railways. Well, the British government has decided to do the same thing in regards to NI Railways (as it was the British government, which remains responsible for all foreign policy, that did this for Northern Ireland). This means that NI Railways will have to be split up, with one body responsible for the operations and another for the infrastructure. While setting up a company solely to deal with maintaining the infrastructure would seem to be the logical thing to, given that the network in Northern Ireland amounts to just over 200 miles it would likely be the sole responsibility of the DRD. So, the way I see it, there are two options to avoid it this;

  • Transfer the infrastructure management to Network Rail; NR could set up a Northern Ireland subsidiary that could be part funded by the DRD. This would potentially allow a degree of integration with NR’s management of the British network.
  • Form a new, All-Ireland infrastructure body, paid for in proportion by the DRD and DTTS, which has the responsibility for the entire rail network on both sides of the border. This body (Gréasán Iarnróid Uile-Éireann?) could then have responsibility for track access to the entire network, which potentially could lead to improvements to most importantly the freight infrastructure, both north and south.

The question I suppose is how committed the governments on both sides of the border are to removing the derogation and allowing genuine open-access. Of course, this is unlikely to happen for passenger services to any great degree, as the population of the entire island is too concentrated in a handful of areas to be especially profitable. Of course, this could change if someone were to come up with a (privately funded of course) idea similar to that espoused by Brian Guckian that opened the north-west to rail. But to have increased freight in the Republic, as well as restoring rail freight access to Northern Ireland, could well be economically valuable.

“Bus and rail fares may rise again as Translink faces huge loss”

Import, export. Mostly import

Posted in Customer service, Great Britain, Ireland, Rolling stock by Chairman Pip on 21 March 2012

For six weeks from the beginning of January, Direct Rail Services, one of the country’s freight operators, has been running a trial passenger service for workers at the Sellafield nuclear site. This is due to the fact that both DRS and Sellafield are owned by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, who naturally have an interest in getting their workers to and from the facility swiftly and with style. While workers on later shifts are able to use the regular services provided by Northern Rail that run between Barrow and Carlisle, those on the early shift were unable to utilise the train due to the service level on the Cumbrian Coast Line. So, DRS applied to operate one train per day in each direction, leaving Carlisle at 06:15 and arriving at Sellafield at 07:55, with the return leaving Sellafield at 16:48 and getting to Carlisle at 18:32. Utilising their own rolling stock, DRS were able to provide a four coach train, with three reserved for Sellafield workers until after Sellafield, hauled by one of their own locomotives. This trial seems to have had a degree of success, with patronage numbers around 100 per day. However, the fact that a locomotive and coaches has been used has been a source of debate. Of course, rail enthusiasts have enjoyed the fact of seeing passenger trains hauled by a locomotive, a sight that is rare in this country nowadays. And, using this has been an expedient way of getting the trial off the ground, seeing as multiple units are virtually impossible to source for outsiders like DRS. Indeed, when Wrexham & Shropshire ran its timetable trial to Wrexham it used the EWS Company Train, because it was available. It never intended to run its services using loco hauled stock. But, if DRS is given permission to run a Sellafield service on a more permanent basis, it will likely need to source multiple units from somewhere. This is certainly the view of Today’s Railways – in the editorial of issue 124, features writer Robert Pritchard makes the point that:

…average loadings of between 70 and 90 on each train (even with Class 37 enthusiasts) are simply not enough to pay the high costs associated with loco haulage. Use of a DMU would reduce costs to an acceptable level but there are none available!

That opinion is of course based on only looking at the rolling stock available in Great Britain. But as we know, both NI Railways and Iarnród Éireann are in the process of withdrawing rolling stock, with NIR replacing its Class 450 units with the brand new Class 4000s, while IÉ are simply storing their 2700 and 2750 Class units. Now of course there are issues I hear you cry. First of all, both of these types have been built to different specifications than trains that operate on the British network. The wider track gauge in Ireland means that trains can be built to a bigger loading gauge – Irish trains will have slightly wider bodyshells. True, but the Class 450 is a British design, built as part of the Mark 3 family. As a consequence, it is likely that converting it for the loading gauge on the Cumbrian Coast line for not be overly expensive. Then of course there is the reliability issue, what with the Class 450 units having 25 year old bodyshells but 45 year old power units. But what is to stop power units from being salvaged and refurbished from the myriad English Electric powered stock that is being sent to be cut up? If Island Line can keep its ancient rolling stock running, then why couldn’t DRS. Of course, it would be better if the more modern 2700 Class could simply be re-gauged. Unfortunately, because it seems to be a state secret, I can’t find out the dimensions of the 2700 Class, and therefore I can’t tell you whether they would fit the loading gauge! What would of course be ideal is if the traction and power equipment from the 2700 Class could be fitted to the 450 Class. But there I think we’re delving into the realms of fantasy. Nevertheless, if DRS is serious about running a service or services like this, it perhaps could do worse than think along these lines. Indeed, it might even be worth thinking about taking over the operation of the whole line between Carlisle and Barrow with its own dedicated fleet. The less intensive service provided on a route like the Cumbrian Coast could suit the elderly Irish trains, and also allow Northern to reallocate the stock it uses elsewhere, easing overcrowding on other, more intensively used routes. It’s certainly a thought.

“Direct Rail Services launch trial for Sellafield Special”
“The Sellafield Express”

A Class 450 DMU - how hard would it actually be to convert these for use on a route like the Cumbrian Coast?

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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”

End of the line rodent!!!

Posted in Customer service, Ireland, Rolling stock by Chairman Pip on 16 February 2012

It seems then that the story I first posted about back in November, that will see Iarnród Éireann withdraw its fleet of 2700 and 2750 Class DMUs is true, as can be seen here in an article in the latest Railway Herald. These are units that are less than a decade and a half old and, although having had initial reliability issues, seem to be working well following their transfer to deal with the majority of services originating out of Limerick, while Iarnród Éireann have given the class a refresh and external modifications (deleting the gangway) only recently. And yet they’re to be put into storage, most likely because IÉ decided to take the Oliver route when it came to buying its super duper 22000 Class, now finding itself overstocked (though not on Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm Flailing Tube Men, perhaps fortunately), with it being the most numerous class of train currently in service in Ireland, and needing to justify the significant expenditure of buying them, whether they are actually suitable for the work IÉ intends to use them for or not. Presumably (and I’m only guessing here) IÉ continued purchasing more and more 22000 Class trains in the belief that all of the infrastructure investment it intended to carry out under Transport 21 would get the go ahead, and did not envisage the end of the Celtic Tiger and the Irish economy tanking – taking that idea a step further, it likely believed that it would be able to find employment for its existing fleet as well as the new 22000 Class. Now, given that not only will there be nothing new done to the heavy rail network that hasn’t been started, but that IÉ seem to be after closing even more lightly used routes, they have too many trains and not enough services to run. So, it plans to store its twelve 2700 Class and two 2750 Class units. The Railway Herald piece goes on to suggest that, because they are being stored, there is the potential to have them returned to service at some point, or sell them to an alternative operator. However, the last paragraph makes ominous noises:

…although this would obviously be outside of Ireland, and the added problem of track gauge and issues with loading gauge could be a preventative factor…

The way it uses the word “obviously” means that IÉ appear as intractable as ever at the prospect of anyone else operating passenger trains on the parts of the network it doesn’t want to. Which presumably means a death knell for a group like SWIFFT if it can’t get access and it can’t get trains. So, given that operators in Great Britain are crying out for additional rolling stock, then perhaps it would be worth one of the ROSCOs investigating the loading gauge issues and the cost of converting them from Irish to Standard Gauge to see whether they would be capable of operating here. Then we can have a wry chuckle should there come a time when Ireland is looking for more trains of its own, and it has to go out and buy yet again.

It's the end of the line for Iarnrod Éireann's 2700 Class DMU, despite them being in service for only 14 years

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If true, then this would seem to be symptomatic of the Irish malaise

Posted in Commuter, Ireland, Rolling stock by Chairman Pip on 23 November 2011

It’s been a while since I commented on Ireland. This is in spite of the recent statement on public spending that has essentially but an emergency stop on the vast majority of capital spending projects, and which has led to the Interconnector and Metro North being officially put “on hold”. Only the Luas BXD line, intended to link together the existing Red and Green lines through the centre of Dublin (finally), has been given the green light, probably in no small part due to it being the cheapest of the three. However, that’s not what I want to comment on. Looking through the Irish Railway News message boards as I do from time to time, I came across a thread entitled “End of 2700s?”. The 2700 Class is a DMU type used predominently on commuter services outside Dublin, and rural services – the entire fleet of twelve 2-car sets (plus a pair of single car 2750 units) is currently based at Limerick, operating the majority of services from Limerick Colbert. The 2700 Class, constructed by Alstom, are just over a decade old, and have in the last 18 months undergone a refurbishment. So imagine my surprise when I read the following:

Yes, there is plans to place the 2700s into storage (probably permanent storage) in the coming months but it hasn’t been finalised or signed off on yet, the plan if it goes ahead will see the 2800s going to Limerick to replace the 2700s, the reason why the newer 2700s are in for the chop instead of 2600s is because the 2600s and 2800s share a majority of identical parts and are cheaper to maintain and more reliable than the 2700s. Ballina branch will most likely be worked by 22000s instead of 2800s with the set swap done using existing Westport services and Drogheda will gain some 22000s also! Basically the 2700s will be a casualty of IE buying too many 22000s!

While you can understand the logic of Iarnród Éireann looking to save money by basing its commuter fleet around related types (as the 2600 and 2800 Classes are), why spend the money on refurbishing a fleet of trains only to withdraw them almost immediately? Would not the more logical thing to do be to refurbish the trains that they intended to continue with, and use the ones to be discarded until the job was finished? Further to this is the idea of using the 22000 Class on these kind of commuter/rural services that they aren’t especially suited for. The 22000 Class can be likened to the Voyager family in use in Great Britain – a DMU optimised for long journeys, where distances between stops are not 3-4 minutes, but 10-20 minutes (at least), and the stops tend to be major centres. There is a reason that British TOCs that run long-range commuter services didn’t choose Voyager type trains, instead either going for the Desiro or Turbostar/Electrostar, which are high volume types, but configured for longer journeys. If it is true that the withdrawal of the 2800 Class is simply to give more things to do to the overpurchased 22000 Class, then I think it’s time for a wholesale clearout of those running Iarnród Éireann, as they evidently are yet to learn anything in regards to not just saving money, but spending it wisely.

One could say that the withdrawal of the 2700 Class though could be an opportunity, as this would make available a fleet of relatively modern DMUs, all of which are cleared to operate pretty much throughout the whole Irish network. Compared with NI Railways’ soon to be withdrawn Class 450s, these would be a much better option for any potential open access operator to obtain. If anyone was bothering to try and do that now. Which they don’t seem to be, based on the total lack of news on that score.

A 2750 Class unit - the 2700 and 2750 Class have recently been refurbished and now seem to be on the way out. Is this really a good use of Iarnród Éireann's limited resources?

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