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Priority Questions. - Rail Network.

Tuesday, 26 November 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 558 No. 1

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 52. Mr. Connaughton Information on Paul Connaughton Zoom on Paul Connaughton  asked the Minister for Transport Information on Seamus Brennan Zoom on Seamus Brennan  the reason the railway system is being allowed to deteriorate, in view of the importance of rail travel and freight transport in the provision of a balanced and sustainable regional development policy. [23830/02]

Mr. Brennan: Information on Seamus Brennan Zoom on Seamus Brennan The Government is committed to the ongoing and future development of the rail network as a critical element of a strategy for sustainable economic growth. Under the national development plan, €2.8 billion has been committed to public transport projects, with a significant proportion of this allocated for the development of the rail network. Exchequer capital funding of €1 billion will have been invested in public transport under the national development plan by the end of 2002. This historically high level of funding will be maintained in 2003 with the provision of in excess of €400 million in Exchequer capital funding.

I fail to see, therefore, how the Deputy can argue that the railways are being allowed to deteriorate. Significant progress has been made to date in developing the rail network, with 333 miles of track renewed, 192 miles of safety fenc[21] ing erected, 282 bridges renewed and 489 level crossings improved or permanently closed. There has been a 100% increase in the capacity of the Maynooth line and a 50% increase in the capacity of the DART network. A major upgrade of Heuston Station is well under way and this work is scheduled for completion in June 2003.

This progress will be maintained in the coming years. I recently approved Exchequer funding for 67 new mainline carriages, 36 additional DART units and the DART upgrade project to allow the operation of eight carriage DART trains. This latter project will result in a 100% increase in the capacity of the DART between 2000 and 2005. In addition, all mainline passenger lines will have modern continuous welded rail and the signalling system on the Galway line will be upgraded by the end of 2003.

My Department has also initiated a strategic rail review of the entire network and I expect to publish that report by the end of January 2003. The review is designed to determine a strategic approach to the future development of the railways in Ireland as part of the overall delivery of the objectives of a public transport policy. Those objectives are to ensure the provision of a well functioning, integrated public transport system which enhances competitiveness, sustains economic growth and contributes to social inclusion; a defined standard of public transport at reasonable cost to the customer and the taxpayer; and the timely and cost effective delivery of the accelerated investment in infrastructure and facilities necessary to ensure improved public transport provision.

Additional information.The consultants undertaking the study have liaised closely with Irish Rail in considering options for the future development of the network. I recently conveyed my views to the chairman of CIE that no decisions should be taken on the withdrawal of freight services until the completion of the strategic rail review. The board of CIE at its meeting on 6 November 2002 agreed to postpone any decisions in this regard. The review will provide the Government with a basis for establishing a strategic policy framework for future development of the rail sector in Ireland for the next 20 years.

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton Zoom on Paul Connaughton The Minister must know more about railways than me. I do not like saying this, but the Minister is anti-rail. There is a Dublin bias in road investment, as was outlined to Deputy Naughten. If Ireland was a boat, it would sink because the population is so unbalanced.

Mr. Brennan: Information on Seamus Brennan Zoom on Seamus Brennan We are talking about trains, not boats.

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton Zoom on Paul Connaughton I am talking about regional development. Is it true that 90% of capital investment is in and around Dublin city? If the Minister is as pro-rail as he says, why did he and Iarnród [22] Éireann cut the lines on the LimerickClaremorris line at Athenry last week? In my time as a Deputy, I have never seen track that has been lifted being welded back. Before the strategic review was announced, why did the Minister axe this part of the rail system? Will he give a commitment to the House that planning and resources equal to those being put into roads will be put into rail travel and freight to take into account of towns and cities outside Dublin? Will those towns and cities be integrated with the mainline railway to Dublin? There is no trouble with the intercity lines but if the Minister wants to solve the problems on our roads, he will not do it without putting more resources and planning into the rail network.

Mr. Brennan: Information on Seamus Brennan Zoom on Seamus Brennan I am a strong supporter of the railways and I will continue to demonstrate that.

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton Zoom on Paul Connaughton The Minister has a long way to go.

Mr. Brennan: Information on Seamus Brennan Zoom on Seamus Brennan For many years I campaigned for the re-opening of the Harcourt Street line. In a growing country, railways are essential for the future. It is short-sighted to close railway lines.

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton Zoom on Paul Connaughton Why did the Minister let it happen?

Mr. Brennan: Information on Seamus Brennan Zoom on Seamus Brennan My information about Athenry shows that, as part of the CTC signalling upgrade on the Galway line, Irish Rail removed the points to the Claremorris line. That will result in an improved service on the Dublin-Galway line when it is completed next year. These points can be replaced easily and quickly. There are currently no services on the Claremorris route, which has been the case for some time. The strategic rail review report will comment on these issues and no other track work will be disturbed. That hardly amounts to an assault on Ireland's national rail network.

We have invested heavily in the rail network. Yesterday we signed an order for new carriages. There is significant work going on at Heuston Station. The 333 miles of track does not apply just to Dublin, it includes 192 miles of safety fencing, 282 bridges, 490 level crossings and continuous welded track being put in place throughout the country. These are not just Dublin issues. I am a Dublin Deputy but I have other connections in the west.

Mr. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton Zoom on Paul Connaughton What about freight? The Minister has turned his back on that.

Mr. Brennan: Information on Seamus Brennan Zoom on Seamus Brennan I will look after Galway.


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