Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Kite flying at Iarnrod Eireann

The last week has seen a flurry of short newspaper articles about rail services in Ireland. On Monday, Tuesday and Friday we were treated to regurgitated press releases about investments in intercity lines to reduce travel times and a spur to Dublin Airport from the northern commuter line. Then to top it all off on Saturday we were treated to an editorial summing up the week's propaganda.

Now as regular readers will know, I'm all in favour of rail as a mode of transport. In an ideal world I would have most commuting, much freight and a substantial amount of inter-urban travel done by train. However, these announcements are not realistic proposals to improve the rail service in Ireland. They are kite flying exercises by Iarnród Éireann in the hopes that some scraps of funding will be sent their way if sufficient projects are proposed.

With regard to the Inter City improvements, the logic here seems to be that
  1. Trains used to be faster than cars
  2. We spent loads of money on motorways
  3. Road trips between cities are now faster than the train
  4. We should spend loads of money on trains to match (or beat) road travel times
While I would advocate investment in our heavy rail infrastructure it has to be for the right reasons and losing market share to buses and cars is not a valid reason. Colm McCarthy, of Bord Snip fame, also had a go at this plan recently. Written for the Farmers' Journal it has to get in swipes at the jackeens living in Dublin, and he makes some unfair comparisons to make his points. Comparing a road trip from the Red Cow to Dunkettle is not the same as one from Heuston to Kent stations. He needs to add at least 30 minutes to his trip time, and during rush hour you could easily make that over an hour. All of a sudden the train starts being competitive again.

The second proposal, linking Dublin Airport to Connolly via the existing rail line from Clongriffin is daft. It has already been rejected several times by commentators, planners and even Iarnród Éireann themselves as unworkable. If just the spur was built, the journey would take approximately 40 minutes, already longer than bus journeys via the Port Tunnel and would run at most once every 15-20 minutes due to existing congestion on the mainline. The way round this bottleneck is to quad-track the line from Clongriffin to Clontarf but that would involve substantial engineering works, not to mention CPOing swathes of back gardens through Clontarf, Killester and Raheny.

As always with Dublin transport it boils down to two issues - Interconnector and Metro North. At this stage I know I'm starting to sound like a broken record but, despite the recession, they are no brainers. Just do it! When the economy picks up again in the future, McCarthy will be the very one giving out about Dublin traffic and how it is killing the economy.

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