Representatives of Iarnród Éireann, West on Track and the Irish Exporters Association gave evidence at the Joint Oireachtas Transport and Communications committee meeting on Wednesday, March 4th.
Frank Dawson of West on Track stated that “the true potential of rail freight in Ireland is untapped” and noted that it would cost €25-30m to reinstate the railway line from Athenry to Claremorris, allowing the decongestion of the existing Inter-City route from Claremorris to Athlone.
Mr. Dawson recalled that following West on Track’s initiative, Iarnród Éireann undertook a pilot project in 2005 to charter freight trains to private companies. The pilot was successful and proved the projected demand expressed by the Mayo Industries group was real.
Approximately 10,000 chartered freight trains have operated since to/from Mayo and the Ports of Waterford and Dublin. In 2014 over 1000 chartered freight trains operated to and from Mayo and the Ports of Waterford and Dublin. These are the only inter-modal freight trains operating on the island of Ireland today.
Mr. Dawson noted that the EU has reported in 2013 that Ireland’s Rail Access Charges are 4 -5 times higher than those in Germany, France or the UK. He observed that using the current UK model, a small subvention by the state, as is the norm in other EU countries, would give a return to the state of 4.27 per Euro in terms of carbon and congestion savings. This would enable Iarnród Éireann to lower track-access charges and grow their freight business substantially.
Mr. Howard Knott, representing the Irish Exporters Association (IEA) stated that the IEA “strongly supports the Western Development Commission’s initiative to commissioning the study of potential demand for rail freight serving the West.”
He added, “if you are trucking freight from the West to Dublin Port and you have to wait an hour an a half from the M50 to the Port Tunnel then you need an alternative”.
In response to a question from Timmy Dooley TD (FF), Colmán Ó Raghallagh of West on Track confirmed that plans are under way by private investors to establish a rail freight hub in Claremorris. He noted the recent Dáil statement by Transport Minister Mr. Donohue emphasising the importance of projects which would “add value” to existing infrastructure. The missing link from Claremorris to Athenry was a good example of such a project in that it would afford greater operational flexibility to Iarnród Éireann and reconnect the Ballina freight hub to its traditional source in Foynes as well as allow the redirection of current traffic to Waterford. He also noted that a number of new freight flows had been identified which would use the route.
He added that every tonne of freight carried by rail produces at least 80 per cent less carbon dioxide than if moved by road, less than a tenth of the carbon monoxide, one twentieth of the nitrogen oxide, less than nine per cent of the fine particulates and approximately 10 per cent of the volatile organic compounds.
Earlier Mr. Ó Raghallagh told the committee that passenger numbers on the Galway-Limerick line for 2014 were in excess of 220,000 according to statistics published by Iarnród Éireann, including a 72.5% increase in passenger journeys through the Ennis- Athenry section of the line, the largest annual growth on the rail network. This compares very favourably with the Faber Maunsell passenger projections prepared for Iarnrod Eireann in 2005 which anticipated 169,000 annual trips on the Galway-Limerick Route.
Don Cunningham and Niall Grogan attended from Iarnród Éireann and stated that IÉ are keen to support West on Track’s proposals or any other proposal that utilises their rail network. Mr. Cunningham stated that Iarnród Éireann will soon be running a train over the Athenry-Tuam-Claremorris line in order to protect ownership of the route.
Significantly Don Cunningham of Iarnród Éireann stated that IÉ would “welcome any freight development opportunities and would give serious consideration to any reasonable proposal” and also that “We welcome public or private interest in investment in the rail network”. Mr. Cunningham also stated: “The reinstatement of the western rail corridor would also enhance network flexibility should disruptions occur elsewhere. For example a disruption between Athlone and Claremorris on the Mayo line could be bypassed by diverting trains south to Athenry for connection on to the Galway line”.
Deputies Dooley, Michael Fitzmaurice TD (IND) and Michelle Mulherin (FG) were strongly supportive of the redevelopment of the rail link from Claremorris to Athenry which will allow a north-south freight route from Ballina to Waterford and to the soon to be developed Foynes Port.
There were questions from other TDs; Helen McEntee TD (FG) asked IÉ about their plans for Dunboyne station, while Michael Colreavy TD (SF) and Dessie Ellis TD (SF) pressed for an expansion of the rail network in the North West of Ireland.