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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 2 Nov 1993

Vol. 435 No. 3

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Railway Lines Upgrading.

Jim Higgins


9 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications if he proposes to make finance available to Iarnród Éireann to modernise the rolling stock and improve the permanent way for the Dublin to Westport/Ballina line; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Jim Higgins


17 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications if he proposes to make finance available to Iarnród Éireann to modernise the rolling stock and improve the permanent way for the Dublin to Westport/Ballina line; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Enda Kenny


20 Mr. E. Kenny asked the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications if he will give the proposals, if any, he has to upgrade the Dublin to Westport rail line; the amount it is proposed to spend on carrying out works on this line in 1993; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Liz McManus


100 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications if his attention has been drawn to the poor quality of the rolling stock on the Rosslare/Dublin rail line; if he has received any request from Iarnród Éireann to deal with the problem; if he will allocate money for the upgrading; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

John Connor


103 Mr. Connor asked the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications if he will give the full implications for the Athlone, Westport/Ballina railway line which is designated in the National Development Plan 1994-1999 of the decision that it will only receive non co-financed funding for any proposed improvement to this severely deficient line.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 9, 17, 20, 100 and 103 together.

Deputies will be aware that the National Development Plan published recently and submitted to the European Commission includes provision for an EC assisted investment programme of £185 million in the period 1994-1999 on the upgrading of the mainline railway network. In addition, a further £90 million approximately of uncofinanced investment is proposed over the period of the plan subject to the resources available to CIE. The investment programme, which covers all the major lines on the interurban mainline railway network, will include expenditure on track renewal, new signalling systems and the provision of modern rolling stock.

Finalisation of the investment programme, as regards specific expenditures on individual lines, will follow from consultations over the coming months between my Department, CIE and the European Commission.

Is the Minister aware that this is one of the two lines not targeted for cofinancing? Is he also aware that this is one of our most viable and overcrowded lines? Is he also aware of the fact that unless something is done shortly we will have another Hills-borough at Heuston Station some Friday evening? That is no exaggeration as I have witnessed it at first hand, hundreds of passengers are kept back for the 6.05 p.m. train and corralled like animals until such time as the tape goes up and there is a massive stampede. Recently I witnessed two nuns being knocked to the ground. I urge the Minister to ensure that something is done——

This is a series of questions Deputy Higgins.

——(a) to upgrade the facilities at Heuston Station and (b) to upgrade the line.

Concern about the Dublin-Westport-Ballina railway line may stem from the fact that both these lines have not been included for development with the assistance of EC funding under the National Development Plan. Deputies may feel this is evidence of an attempt to downgrade their significance but this is not the case. The lines proposed for EC assisted investment are contained in the various trans-European networks and only lines contained in such networks can qualify for assistance from the Cohesion Fund. In discussions with the Commission on the various trans-European networks we have sought the inclusion of the maximum possible number of lines. Inclusion of the entire Irish network was not possible. The Thames network is intended to include links with major community interests and the major criterion was the level of traffic and patronage on the lines concerned. There are no proposals to downgrade or close any lines on the existing mainline rail network. Finalisation of the investment programme, proposed in the National Development Plan, as regards specific expenditure on individual railway lines will follow from consultations over the coming months between the Department, CIE and the European Commission. The possibility could arise that the Commission may not agree to provide EC funding for particularly lightly used lines or may request the substitution of other lines in the expenditure programme. We must await the detail of the operational networks. The people using that line can be assured of an investment programme.

The Minister made a particularly trenchant speech on behalf of the Government on the vote of confidence motion last Thursday. Why did he not direct that the Dublin-Westport-Ballina line be included in the national plan for funding from the EC? Why is this line one of only two which will be non-cofinanced for development? I accept there is no intention to close the line but will the Minister confirm it is not intended to allow the line to deteriorate further? Further, will he confirm that the insurance available to Iarnród Éireann covers passengers who have to stand on that train until they reach Roscommon and the stampede, referred to by Deputy Higgins, every Friday evening at Heuston Station is most unseemly if not downright dangerous to many people? If the Minister checks the records he will find that Commissioner Flynn, while Minister, travelled on the train announcing at every station on the route that the developments to take place would provide the best super-trains to Ballina and Westport——

He is gone.

Would he consider that the just claims of the people of the west are not being met by the National Development Plan, which has received such heralding from the Government during the past three weeks?

I have explained in my reply to Deputy Higgins that it was not possible to include the entire Irish network in the trans-European networks. It does not suggest that there will not be investment in these railway lines. I would point out that there is already a capital investment programme and that some remedial works have been carried out on lines which are causing problems. It is clear that large amounts of money are available for our rail network for the first time in many years subject to the approval of operational programmes under the National Development Plan. The Westport-Ballina railway line on which I have often travelled, will be one of those lines.

Does Europe stop at the Pale?

A number of Deputies are offering. I want to facilitate them if they will be brief.

Will the Minister accept that something must be done in the short term? Will the Minister agree it is unacceptable that on a Sunday evening, on a train travelling to Dublin — this happened last Sunday, the previous Sunday and on 8 October — that every passenger boarding at Ballyhaunis, Castlerea, Roscommon, Athlone, Clara, Tullamore and Portarlington had to stand in the aisles all the way and that it is exactly the same on a Friday evening? Will the Minister accept that if I buy a ticket from Iarnród Éireann for £20 I am entering into a contract with Iarnród Éireann to give me a seat and at the very least there should be a token acknowledgment of this and some concession given to these passengers?

I will certainly bring to the attention of CIE management the complaints and concerns Deputies raise. I am aware that problems arise on some routes at particular times on certain days. That is within the context of the total resources available to the company. It is important that the consumer gets a fair deal. If passengers boarding at Ballyhaunis and the following stations have to stand, it points to the need for reserved seats for those boarding at Clara station.

What provision, if any, has been made for investment in the upgrading of services from Galway to Dublin? Will the Minister give an assurance that this service will be continued?

If the Deputy puts down a separate question, I will supply the full details. There has been some investment already on that line.

Order. This question deals with the Ballina-Westport to Dublin line.

It is part of the same line from Athlone to Dublin.

Part of it is.

The Deputy should put down a specific question.

I thank the Minister for his reply, in which there is a reference to the fact that the Ballina-Westport line will be included under the operational programme and moneys will be available to finance it.

I did not say that.

Is the Minister going to change his word?

Let the Deputy not be misleading.

The managing director of Iarnród Éireann confirmed by letter of 18 October 1933 that there has never been sufficient investment available for rolling stock over the past number of years and that the stock in use is overage. Will the Minister confirm for the House and for people west of the Shannon that the Dublin to Westport-Ballina line will receive priority investment out of funds available under the non co-financed fund?

I am the first Minister to be in a position to do something about the complaints Deputy Kenny raises.

What about the former Minister, Commissioner Flynn?

I am the first Minister with direct responsibility to be in a position to do something about it. We are going to address the issues within the constraints. For the first time an investment programme will be brought forward for the railways.

Deputy Kenny's party was in Government in better times and could have done something about this problem but did not. The fact is that on a number of lines complaints are longstanding but historically there has not been sufficient investment in the railway. The need for new locomotive rolling stock and signalling systems is a priority with my Department. By the combination of assistance from the Operational Programmes and our own resources we are now in a position to deal with the priority issues on all the networks, and this includes the Westport-Ballina line.

Tá Gaeilge agus Bearla agamsa ach nír thuig mé rud amháin a dúirt an tAire.


Tá mé ag éisteacht. From the point of view of linguistics will the Minister clarify what he means when he says the Dublin-Ballina line is not part of the trans-European network? If that is the case, what continent does the line traverse?

The ability to come up with flippant answers to flippant questions escapes even me at this stage. It is on the continent of Europe, if that is not a flippant answer to a flippant question.

How can the Minister say it is not part of the trans-European network?

I have been seeking to explain to Members that in our discussions with the Commission there are certain criteria for eligibility and, as I have pointed out, it has not been possible to include the total Irish rail network. It does not matter at the end of the day where the funds come from once the funds are committed. That point has been made by Deputies Jim Higgins and Enda Kenny. If Deputy Sargent is prepared to read my reply——

——he will see that it is not included and I am giving the reasons, Non-inclusion does not denote non-investment.

Europe stops at the Shannon.