Private Members’ Business.

Rail Freight.

I move:

That Dáil Éireann,

notes that Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions have grown by 25% since 1990, with transport emission growth the highest in any sector;

recognises that emissions in the transport sector have grown by 160% over the same period, with road transport accounting for virtually all of this growth;

acknowledges that to reduce transport emissions we must prioritise the development of sustainable transport modes and must reduce Ireland's dependency on road-based goods transportation; and

notes that the amount of goods carried by road in Ireland has grown by 70% over the last ten years, while that carried by rail has declined dramatically;

calls on the Government to:

urgently address the growth in transport emissions by developing our rail freight sector as a viable and sustainable alternative to road-based freight transportation;

immediately halt the decline in our rail freight sector by preventing the further erosion of rail freight infrastructure and rolling stock;

introduce independent regulation of the rail freight sector, which will also be tasked with promoting and growing the rail freight sector; and

provide State supports to the rail freight sector to promote its growth and to increase the level of goods carried nationally by rail.

I wish to share time with Deputies Shortall and Boyle.

I move this motion on behalf of Fine Gael, Labour and the Green Party. The thrust of the motion is to try to halt the decline in the rail freight sector and to make it into what we believe it can be, namely, a vibrant and growing industry that will contribute to reducing carbon emissions and congestion on our roads. The Opposition is entirely in agreement about this joint motion and that signals how important we consider this issue to be, particularly in the context of the economy and the environment.

Everyone believes that this is a crucial period for rail freight. The latter has, to some extent, reached a tipping point. If people continue to talk down the rail freight sector and if there is any further loss of business, infrastructure or rolling stock within it, the trend against it will become almost irreversible. In other words, the rot is unstoppable. We will lose the entire sector unless we take action of the kind to which the motion refers.

At a minimum, we must stop the complete destruction of this sector. Rail freight has for many years been talked down by CIE, Iarnród Éireann's road haulage division, the shareholder, namely, the Government, and those in the road haulage sector. We have been informed that it is not viable, that the distances in Ireland are too short, that there is too much handling of goods required and that road freight is more flexible and economically viable.

When listening to reports regarding total gridlock on the M50 earlier today caused by two trucks crashing into one another, I could not help wondering whether those trapped on the motorway — in some cases they were sitting motionless in their vehicles for up to two hours — are of the view that the transfer of goods by road is cheap. All the business not done this afternoon — a great deal of it will never be regained — as a result of the incident involving those two trucks shows that road transport does not come cheap. Everyone affected by what happened on the M50 today lost out financially.

Cost lies at the heart of this issue. If one carries out a direct comparison between transporting a container by road and sending it by rail, road is, on the face of it, cheaper. Whether it remains that way is another matter. I am of the view that it will not remain cheaper to transport freight by road. The relative economics of road versus rail transport are changing every day. Petrol is becoming scarcer and more expensive and roads are becoming congested and traffic slower, which adds to everyone's costs. An increasing number of carbon credits will have to be purchased in order to offset the emissions caused by trucks transporting goods. Even on the basis of a straight comparison, it is no longer certain that road will always be the cheaper option.

We must also recognise that the hidden costs paid by taxpayers, private individuals and the Government on our behalf are absolutely enormous. Among these is the fact that the emissions into the environment are infinitely in excess of those associated with rail freight and that people's use of non-renewable carbon-based fuels is incredibly inefficient. Road congestion costs are increasing for all road users as a result of the ever-increasing number of heavy goods vehicles, HGVs, using our roads. The cost of road accidents involving trucks are, relative to the numbers of such vehicles on our roads, are extremely high. For example, trucks represent 10% of all traffic but they are responsible for causing 20% of road accidents. When one is involved in an accident with a truck, one has an extremely slim chance of survival.

We all bear the cost of road transport. The most recent example of this is the Dublin Port tunnel, which cost €1 billion and which was built exclusively for trucks. The Minister has stated that he does not believe in subsidising freight and yet we spent that amount on constructing the tunnel. In addition, millions will be spent each year in order to ensure that it remains operational. The tunnel emerges from a port out of which a number of rail lines also run. However, not a single tonne of freight is transported out of Dublin Port on those lines. No attempt has been made to maximise the value of the existing asset, nor was any attempt made to carry out a comparative value analysis. It was merely a case that we should get rid of the old and get on with the new. The various economic, environmental and social forces indicate that we have been overtaken by events and that we are rushing headlong in the wrong direction.

There are many imponderables regarding the future of transport. For example, there are many outstanding questions in respect of climate change and how best we might deal with it in the context of transport. There are also many outstanding questions regarding trading patterns and how they will develop, how goods will be distributed and how the pattern relating to their distribution will change in the coming years. At a time of such uncertainty, it is all the more important that we should not commit the absolute folly of getting rid of the rail freight option completely and leave ourselves with no choice when the direction we are going to take in respect of transport becomes clear.

The Minister has suggested that it would be outlandish to subsidise the private sector in transporting its goods by rail. I cannot believe that the Minister cannot see that he is already providing a massive subsidy in respect of the transport of goods by road. All Fine Gael, Labour and the Green Party are seeking in this motion is the creation of a level playing field. We want to give the rail freight sector a chance by putting in place a regulator. The latter and the market could then decide what is needed to allow the sector, in terms of its viability, to compete with and overcome road transport in respect of the transport of some goods. We accept that not all goods are suitable for transport by rail. A modest subsidy, be it a capital subsidy or a subsidy paid per kilometre travelled, per tonne or whatever, may be all that is required to kick-start the sector. If the introduction of a subsidy does not work, then so be it. We would, however, lose nothing by trying. The cost of a subsidy would, in any event, probably be more than offset by the cost of the carbon credits we will be obliged to purchase.

With the right regulatory environment and a benign regime of financial supports, rail freight will work in respect of the kind of goods that it is intrinsically unsuitable, unsafe and undesirable to transport by road. For example, bio-fuels would be eminently suitable to be transported by rail freight.

The massive growth in our economy has seen an explosion in the number of HGVs on our roads. The number of such vehicles increased from 140,000 to over 260,000 in ten years. In 1995, Irish railways were responsible for the transportation of 6 million tonnes of freight annually. This represented approximately 10% of all freight carried nationally. At present, just over 1% of freight goods are transported by rail. This goes against all logic. It also runs contrary to the much publicised global priority being given to the development of sustainable and environmentally-friendly modes of transport.

The Environmental Protection Agency recently indicated how the level of carbon emissions has increased in recent years. The transport sector, in the context of its output, is way ahead of every other in this regard. I do not believe it is possible for us to continue to ignore the figures and also to completely ignore the freight sector.

The Government recently set targets in respect of trying to take action in this area. However, these may lack credibility coming, as they do, so late in its ten-year term of office. The current Administration has completely ignored rail freight and has no ambitions in respect of it. Rail freight has huge economic benefits. It is almost impossible to quantify the costs relating to road congestion but I suspect they are increasing on a daily basis. The cost of congestion to business generally is put at approximately €2 billion, but I suspect the cost has grown since that figure was suggested. An average freight train can remove up to 50 HGVs from the roads. It is madness to ignore such potential at a time like this. Per tonne carried, rail produces approximately 10% of the amount of carbon dioxide produced by road transportation, and yet we continue to ignore it. I mentioned already that such vehicles account for 20% of road accidents but only 10% of the traffic.

The only notable aspect of the Government's action policy to deal with emissions announced this week was that it contained nothing new and nowhere was there any commitment to rail freight. Other EU member states have been quick to appreciate the benefits of rail freight in terms of the environment, economic viability and safety advantages for other road users. They also recognised that until they take drastic steps to reduce their national reliance on motor vehicles of all kinds, the environmental, economic and health damage caused by emissions and congestion will continue to affect quality of life.

Other member states have no difficult with giving subsidies to rail freight. We have always heard the EU does not allow the Government give subsidies to various areas. This is the one area where the EU not alone allows subsidies but encourages and promotes them and believes they can be well justified in terms of the shift from road transport and the reduction in emissions resulting from the shift to rail freight.

Over the past number of years we have seen a significant decline in rail freight in Ireland due to the lack of vision demonstrated by the Government, and yet there has been considerable investment in the rail network. While I understand €1.5 billion has been spent already and billions of euro more is planned to be spent over the next number of years under Transport 21 and beyond, one must ask is it wise to ignore this entire sector and not sweat the asset in which we are investing so heavily, and having invested over the past decade and with plans to do so in the next decade, why we do not get the maximum value and ensure the taxpayer, who is paying for this considerable investment in rail transport, gets more than passenger transport. The existing network is unutilised right through the night, which is the ideal time to transport goods, and without any impact on passenger trains we could have trains running through the night.

The Minister has repeatedly rattled off the same old mantra that there is no future in rail freight in Ireland. He comes in here and states he has never sought to question rail freight and, when analysed in the light of growing carbon emissions, that he believes it cannot make any contribution and is unviable. He does not seem to recognise that it has never been considered and that he always takes his advice from the same source, CIE, which itself is not interested in any way in the rail freight sector.

Tonight's motion by Fine Gael, the Labour Party and the Green Party has as its central aim the reinvigoration of the rail freight sector. We believe rail freight has an important future. We set out the three basic requirements to achieve this aim and we are committed to advancing this agenda.

In the time remaining, I will go through those three elements. The first is that an independent regulator with expertise in the industry be appointed as soon as possible. Since 2006, as the Minister will be aware, the EU rail networks and the domestic rail networks of member states, have been open to outside operators. In essence, this means any EU operator can enter the Irish market and operate freight services on the network. However, to date the Minister has done nothing to attract new operators into the market. If anything, he has prevented and discouraged new entrants by his utterances and his indifference to the freight sector. He is not interested in pursuing this. I am aware of freight operators who have expressed interest in such services and who have been discouraged by the closed door policy operated by the Minister and Iarnród Éireann. This unambitious attitude — to call it that is to be kind — to expanding rail freight underlines the need for an independent freight regulator.

Under the current regulatory system for rail freight the Minister for Transport acts as the regulator but defers to Iarnród Éireann's authority and advice in managing access to the network and, most importantly, in setting the charges to access the rail system, and that is not in anybody's interests. The Minister for Transport's role as acting effective rail freight regulator clearly conflicts with his role as primary shareholder in Iarnród Éireann. While the role played by Iarnród Éireann is not conducive to encouraging outside operators into the market, clearly that company feels such operators would be in competition with it although there is no reason to believe that would be so because the rail network can be used at night for freight and if tenders were sought through a regulator, Iarnród Éireann would be as capable, and probably better placed than anybody, to provide such services. The critical step to kick-start the industry is the appointment of a regulator who would be independent of the Minister and Iarnród Éireann and responsible not only for regulating the industry but for actively growing and encouraging the transport of freight by rail, whether by private or public operators.

The motion also calls for an end to Iarnród Éireann's disposal of freight infrastructure and rolling stock, which has been going on wholesale right around the country. It is heartbreaking to see this happening and to see the potential for development of rail freight services being sold and allowed to disintegrate, and the private sector being allowed build over rail lines ensuring, by indifference and neglect, that the industry cannot be resuscitated. This practice must end today. I do not even want to wait for a change of Government in the next few weeks. We demand and end to the practice on behalf of all taxpayers who see their assets being frittered away by this Government.

We want a dedicated State support for our rail freight sector. I recognise that in order to opt for rail freight and make it commercially viable there will be a need, at least initially, for State support for the sector. This is the norm in most European countries where active promotion of this sector and state incentives have resulted in significant growth in the percentage of goods carried by rail. Our closest neighbour, the UK, has successfully grown this sector by 60% in the past ten years and that is the direction in which we want to proceed.

New economic and environmental challenges will compel all policy makers two adapt. All future State investment must take into consideration the environmental effects of those decisions and the impact on the country's carbon footprint. We cannot afford not to think in the round about all decisions that are being made. Rail freight is clearly a much more sustainable mode of transport, and one which will reap significant benefits for all of us. We cannot ignore the untapped potential of this sector and we should allow its capacity to reap significant environmental benefits and reduce our carbon emissions.

This must be a priority for any government. It will become increasingly important, no matter what government or economy one is speaking of. I urgently ask that the Government consider the motion we are putting before the House. It needs to be addressed, no matter what Government is in power. I am happy to propose this motion on behalf of Fine Gael, Labour and the Green Party.

The Labour Party is happy to jointly table this motion along with Fine Gael and the Green Party. No doubt it will be supported by many other Members because it is a commonsense approach to an aspect of transport policy that is critically important. The proliferation in road freight comes with a significant cost in damage to the environment, as a contributing factor to deaths on the roads, as a major contributor to road congestion, and in the lack of competitiveness for the business community.

Ours is a commonsense approach which pays attention to what is happening in other EU member states. In many ways, it could be described as a "no-brainer". The intention is to encourage action by industry on something that will benefit the entire community on several fronts.

Nothing symbolises the Government's inaction andlaissez-faire attitude to transport and the environment more than its attitude to rail freight. Basically, this Government does not have any policies for rail freight. The latest pan-European statistics on rail freight show that Ireland experienced a significant reduction in the tonnage of goods carried by rail in recent years. Rail freight decreased by 28% in 2005 and a further 47% in 2006, with the result that it has all but disappeared. The latest CSO statistics indicate that the large white van rather than the freight train is now the workhorse of our freight industry. Practically all our transported goods, or 99.5%, are transported by road. That is a serious indictment of the failure of the Minister for Transport and his predecessors to devise holistic transport policies that would ensure freedom of movement and protect our environment. Little or no action has been taken and there has been no attempt to initiate any new policies that might reverse the dramatic downward trend of recent years. In 2005, almost 100,000 goods vehicles travelled 1.4 billion freight kilometres and carried 172 million tonnes of goods. By contrast, rail freight carried only 2 million tonnes in 2005 and less than 1 million tonnes in 2006. That is a further indictment of this Government’s lack of policies.

I can give several examples of where the trend of recent years could be reversed by transferring significant business from road to rail. On various parts of the Dublin-Sligo line, the transport of tar, containers, kegs and bulk oil was discontinued in 2005. Oil and unit-load container services were discontinued in 2005 on various parts of the Dublin-Westport line, while kegs went in 2006. This happened because the Minister took a completely hands-off approach to the issue. On various parts of the Dublin-Galway line, transport of containers discontinued in 2004 and 2005 saw the loss of kegs and cement. Transport of fertilisers was discontinued on various parts of the Dublin-Cork line in 2002, with cement following in 2004, containers in 2005 and kegs and beet in 2006. On the Dublin-Belfast line, fertiliser and cement freight was lost in 2003, while containers and kegs followed in 2004. On the Limerick-Rosslare line, containers were lost in 2005 and kegs in 2006. On the Cherryville Junction-Waterford line, containers were lost on 2005 and kegs in 2006. It appears that much of the lost business will never return. That is an indication of the Minister's inability to realise the broader picture when it comes to transport and the environment.

The Government cannot say it was not warned about this. The strategic rail review of 2003 set out four options for the Government on rail freight, namely to do nothing, to stimulate Iarnród Éireann to improve its position, for the Government to become actively involved in growing rail freight, which is the logical and responsible approach, or to limit Iarnród Éireann's role and introduce new logistics partnerships. Save for complying with a few EU directives, it is clear to all that the Government has chosen to do nothing. Its lack of policy on rail freight has allowed Iarnród Éireann to shed its rail freight operations and dismantle much of its infrastructure. The strategic rail review spelled out in detail the consequences of doing nothing, warning that the disappearance of rail freight could pose serious problems for the future in terms of congestion and the environment. That report indicated the cost of doing nothing was €63 million per year, which must be a significant under estimate of the real cost. In environmental terms, the transport sector was responsible for 33% of Ireland's energy related CO2 emissions in 2005 according to Sustainable Energy Ireland. This was higher than any other sector. Within transport, road transport accounted for 65% of the total fuel consumption. Fuel consumption by road freight was of particular significance, increasing by 264% over the period from 1990 to 2005, or 9% per annum, which makes it the mode with the highest growth rate.

The 2004 road traffic collision fact book, which is the most recent edition, reveals that 19% of vehicles involved in fatal road deaths and 13% of the vehicles involved in accidents where victims suffered injuries were goods vehicles. That adds a significant additional cost to transporting most of our freight by road. Given that the economic cost of every road fatality is estimated as being in the region of €1 million, there are clear economic as well as environmental and societal reasons for encouraging a switch from road to rail freight.

When I raised this issue in a parliamentary question to the Minister a few weeks ago, he could not point to any clear policy initiative undertaken by this Government on rail freight other than the minor EU directives I referred to earlier. He claimed that Iarnród Éireann continues to pursue a policy of growing its rail freight business where opportunities present. That is patent nonsense because, in the absence of a subsidy or some kind of financial incentive, Iarnród Éireann has no chance of growing its rail freight business, as the experience with Norfolkline clearly demonstrates. That company wants to expand its trade in Ireland by moving freight by rail but it is not cost-effective for it to do so because our Government offers no incentives.

The situation could be very different. The Irish Exporters Association claims it has 22 companies interested in rail freight. Significant opportunities would arise for regaining rail freight if the Government made it financially viable. Container transport could be restored to the lines from Clonmel and Ballina to North Wall, Waterford to Cork and elsewhere. The cement business could be reinstated. The current quantities of timber being transported to Waterford could be increased and timber freight could be restored to Clonmel. The Minister has only to observe the practice in many other EU countries. In Britain, a grant is made available to the rail user, with a subsidy offered towards infrastructure and rolling stock. In France, a grant is available to the state operator amounting to a subsidy to SNCF. In Germany, a tax break offers operators a 50% discount on energy taxes. In Austria, a grant is available to rail users and subsidies are paid on infrastructure, rolling stock and training. The Minister should open his eyes to the policies of other EU states on rail freight. If it is to be encouraged and expanded, a system of subsidies must be in place and that is key proposal in the motion. It is also time to lay to rest a number of the spurious arguments against offering a financial incentive to encourage rail freight. The usual argument that such freight cannot survive in Ireland because the distances are too short does not hold water. Two of the most profitable freight flows operated by Iarnród Éireann are Tara Mines zinc ore, for which trains travel approximately 48 miles, while the shale traffic on the Limerick-Ballybrophy route to Irish Cement's factory in Mungret, County Limerick, travels only 16 miles. There are also many examples of short, profitable routes throughout the UK.

The motion, jointly tabled by the three main Opposition parties, is sensible and logical and its proposals could be implemented quickly if the political will existed. They would bring undoubted benefits by improving road safety, reducing traffic congestion and, most important, improving the environment. There are no further excuses for failing to act.

I am pleased to contribute to the debate on behalf of the Green Party. This is one area in which the three main Opposition parties, who jointly tabled the motion, would make significant changes in the way the country is run. The motion also highlights the paucity of Government thinking on tackling one of the most important issues globally, namely, climate change. The motion refers to a rational approach to transport policy. Unfortunately, standing in its away is a Cabinet member who has shown no sanity or rationality when it comes to transport policy and it is unfortunate that he is not present to contribute to the debate. I hope he takes an opportunity to answer a number of the charges we will make against him.

The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has made a hollow boast that the very least the Government has managed to achieve is to decouple economic growth from increases in carbon emissions. Such decoupling has been achieved everywhere else in the world. However, this is an even more hollow boast when one considers that road freight over the same period has increased at a faster rate than economic growth. The other side of that equation is that rail freight has decreased accordingly because of the lack of effective Government policy in this area. Road freight accounts for 96% of all freight transported and that percentage is increasing while the European average is 77%. Ireland once had the most extensive rail network in the world. The bones of such a system remain should the political will exist to invest in rail infrastructure on a par with investment in roads. However, last year the Government spent six times as much on roads than on public transport and, as a result, we are lagging behind in what can be achieved.

Other elements of policy need to be put in place. Ports such as Rosslare, Waterford, Foynes and Cork should be used more because they have rail links, which could be connected to the national system, thereby providing for more freight to be carried. The State should move away from a radial rail system, which comprises only lines in and out of Dublin, and restore the remnants of the rail system, which covered all points north, south, east and west. For example, the rail corridor between Cork and Limerick is still in place. It passes through Patrickswell into Limerick city and would obviate the need to travel through Limerick Junction. The western rail corridor could be opened sooner and could be extended further than the Government proposes. Last weekend I read a book on the Letterkenny to Burtonport railway line, which was still in operation in 1935 when my father was a young man. These decisions had a negative effect on the promotion of our rail infrastructure.

Sinister decisions relating to rail freight have been made in recent years. For example, in my constituency, the freight hub in Cork depends on the Norsk facility, which has been put up for sale. In recent years, the rail turntable, which allowed freight trains to change direction, because Cork is a terminus, was dismantled. This was an attempt to disentangle the rail freight infrastructure. Previous speakers are correct that incentives must be provided to achieve a balance between road and rail freight. Under the current system, however, significant subsidies are provided for road freight. The motor tax paid by commercial vehicles on the basis of road space used, the weight of vehicles and the consequent damage done to the road surface is out of proportion with the tax paid by private car users. As the playing pitch in this regard is not level, commercial road freight is subsidised significantly. If the same principle were applied to rail freight, I would be confident that we could begin to turn the current statistics around.

The Minister for Transport has stated he has been informed by Irish Rail about difficulties in expanding rail freight. When I was first elected as a councillor in Cork city in the early 1990s, I asked the manager of Kent Station in Cork about the future of the Cobh suburban line, which was under threat. Thankfully, that is no longer the case. The attitude of the manager, who has since moved on, was that the Cobh line was not worth preserving and when I pointed out that the town had a similar population to Mallow, which is on the Cork to Dublin line, it was news to him. That reflected an attitude that not only existed in Irish Rail but also in the Department of Transport. As a result of biases in perceptions, which are not backed up by statistics or potential, policy decisions have been made that rail freight should go the same way as the rail network in the 19th century. This is not a smokestack industry, as it offers future potential and hope to deal with problems that we have yet to grapple with as a society and on a global level. Rail freight deserves more than the indifference the Government and the Minister are showing towards it.

If rail freight is incentivised effectively, it has the potential to create significant employment growth. Its environmental potential would also be unleashed if we managed to reverse the imbalance between road and rail freight in Ireland. I have run out of hope for the Government in the remaining weeks of this Dáil and, therefore, the next Government should at the very least seek to achieve the same balance between road and rail freight as other European countries, which is 77% by road and 23% by rail. A timeframe of ten years should be set down to achieve that. It will mean investment and a reversal of policy but, in the long run, the country can achieve something it used to when it had the largest network in the world. Until we start believing that and putting such policies in place, rail freight will become a footnote in history. That is not something my party is prepared to allow happen in Government following the next election. Given the track record — to use the pun — of the Government, I cannot see it giving solace in achieving these policy goals.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:

"—notes that Transport 21, which provides for an investment of €16 billion in public transport, is focused on the delivery of a state-of-the-art transport system that will,inter alia, promote sustainable transport solutions, including a modal shift from private to public transport;

welcomes the unprecedented capital investment of over €12 billion by the Government since 1997 in upgrading and expanding the capacity of Ireland's transport infrastructure;

welcomes, in particular, the Government's demonstrated commitment to the revitalisation of the rail network and services over the last ten years as evidenced by the fact that:

we currently have the fastest growing rail network in Europe;

Luas has been an unprecedented success;

new rail lines and railway stations are being continuously opened up; and

Transport 21 represents a major commitment to conventional rail as well as light rail and metro to meet our future public transport needs;

notes the commitment to deliver a sustainable transport action plan to guide national policy."

Ba mhaith liom mo chuid ama a roinnt leis an Teachta Glennon.

I am pleased to address the House on this issue and outline the significant achievements of the Government in upgrading and expanding the capacity of the transport system with a view to enhancing sustainability. Traffic volumes have grown in line with the population and growth in the economy. There are now over 2.1 million registered vehicles carrying more people and freight than ever before. Our economic success has created major new transport needs. We are victims of our own success. We have created an economic atmosphere conducive to investment. However, the Government has responded to these needs through the national development plan and continues to do so.

I take the opportunity to outline in detail, particularly from a public transport perspective, what has been achieved since 1997. Over €2.5 billion of Exchequer funds was invested in public transport capital projects between 1997 to 2006. Nearly €600 million in Exchequer funding was invested in public transport in 2006 alone.

In Iarnród Éireann which is at the heart of the motion we now have one of the fastest growing rail network companies in Europe, carrying a record 43 million passengers in 2006. Significant investment has taken place in rail infrastructure to match this. There has also been a major rolling stock investment programme. In December 2004 Iarnród Éireann placed an order with Mitsui for the manufacture of 120 intercity railcars at a cost of €263 million. Delivery of the new railcars has begun and they will operate on the Galway, Waterford, Limerick, Westport-Ballina and Tralee routes. In 2005 Iarnród Éireann placed an order for 30 intercity railcars — additional to the 120 already on order — to be deployed on the Rosslare and Sligo intercity routes. The addition of these new units will see the removal from service of all older rolling stock and the provision of clock face timetabling on all intercity routes. The order has been further enlarged by Iarnród Éireann following recent approval of funding for a further 33 railcars to serve Portlaoise, Athlone and Carlow.

The motion is about rail freight. Does the Minister of State have anything to say on that issue?

Some 67 new carriages have entered service on the Dublin-Cork route at a cost to the Exchequer of €117 million.

A targeted investment in the development and enhancement of the Dublin suburban rail network has been ongoing since 1997 in recognition of the role played by rail in providing a real alternative to the use of the private car and tackling congestion and related environmental problems. The development of the Luas system at a cost of €718 million was a major achievement and success story in this regard. Both Luas lines have progressed from planning and statutory approval stages to construction and opening of the lines within this period. Some 25 million passengers were carried on the system during 2006, exceeding expectations and creating the cultural shift towards the attractiveness of rail-based systems which was a critical success factor in securing the commitment to the enhancement of suburban rail and Luas networks under Transport 21.

In addition, a range of incremental improvements in the DART and suburban rail systems have been effected, for the most part without significant disruption to services. Some 78 new DART carriages were delivered since November 2000 bringing the DART fleet up to a total of 156 units, just short of double the initial fleet of 80. The DART upgrade project was completed at an outturn cost of €174 million, making it the single largest investment in Iarnród Éireann's Dublin suburban rail services since introduction of DART in 1984, and completes a process which has seen peak capacity on the service doubled since 2000. In conjunction with the DART upgrade project, the DART refurbishment project provides for the complete mid-life overhaul of the original DART fleet of 76 units, allowing each set to be fully compatible with the rest of the DART fleet. While the refurbishment programme has been delayed due to difficulties with the contractors in achieving the planned programme for the works, the first eight of the refurbished cars have now been delivered.

In regard to other suburban services, incremental improvements in capacity and frequency have been introduced progressively in recent years largely due to Iarnród Éireann's rolling programme of commuter railcar acquisition. In total, 116 new commuter railcars have been introduced to the Iarnród Éireann fleet since 2002 at a cost of €179 million.

Investment has also been directed at improving facilities at railway stations and opening new stations such as at Monasterevin and the docklands. Facilities at stations have also been upgraded for passengers. This investment has rescued the rail network from a slow and terminal decline. The revitalised rail service is now carrying more passengers than ever before and is well placed, with the benefit of the investment by the Government to date and that to come under Transport 21, to grow and develop its passenger and freight business further. This is a record of which the Government is very proud.

There has still been no mention of freight.

We would not have the problem had the Deputy's party not been in government.

Since 1997 over €177 million has been provided for Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann for the expansion and modernisation of their fleets, resulting in improved fleet quality and reliability, as well as providing for increased services. It has also facilitated the upgrading of many stations throughout the Bus Éireann network and funded the construction of a state-of-the-art garage in Harristown to facilitate the expansion of the Dublin Bus fleet. In September 2006 the Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, announced that the Government had decided to provide up to €30 million to enable Dublin Bus to buy 100 additional buses for delivery in the period 2006 to 2007. Over €15 million is also being provided for Dublin Bus to part fund the replacement of 100 buses.

In addition, there has been significant investment in initiatives such as the rural transport initiative, traffic management grants, quality bus corridors, green routes and accessibility.

Why does the Minister of State not speak to the motion?

In 2006 alone over €40 million was allocated to these combined projects.

Please allow the Minister of State to speak.

He has nothing to say about freight.

The Deputy had an opportunity to speak and I ask her to allow the Minister of State to speak without interruption.

He should speak to the motion before the House.

I ask the Deputy to resume her seat and allow the Minister of State to continue. She will have another opportunity to contribute tomorrow.

Transport 21 will build on our achievements since 1997.

The Minister of State has nothing to say about freight.

The Deputy is in a democratic chamber now, not a school room.

In the greater Dublin area it will put in place an integrated public transport system, to which there are a number of elements. Two metro lines are planned, metro north and metro west. Metro north will be completed six years from now in 2012 and will make it possible to travel from Dublin Airport to the city centre in 17 minutes. Metro west will be a western orbital route around the outer suburbs of Dublin, linking with metro north and extending from there to Blanchardstown, Lucan, Clondalkin and Tallaght. Metro west will be completed in four phases by 2014.

The two very successful existing Luas lines carried over 20 million passengers in 2005, their first full year of operation. Transport 21 will fund seven new Luas projects extending and expanding the existing Luas network. The green line will be extended in the city centre to meet the red line and onwards to Liffey junction in the north of the city. Subject to developer contributions, the red line will also be extended westwards from Tallaght in 2008 to serve the Citywest area. Negotiations with developers are at an advanced stage.

Iarnród Éireann operates an extensive suburban rail system in the greater Dublin area. A fleet of over 100 modern diesel railcars operate commuter services from Dublin to Drogheda, Maynooth, Kildare and Wicklow, while the DART operates as far north as Malahide and as far south as Greystones.

Transport 21 will eliminate the capacity problem through a number of major projects, with which the House is very familiar. Two dedicated commuter lines will be provided on the Kildare line as part of the Kildare route project. Most important is Iarnród Éireann's interconnector project. This project involves the building by 2015 of an interconnector rail tunnel between Heuston Station and Dublin's docklands and has been described as the missing piece of the jigsaw that is Dublin's rail infrastructure.

In addition, the old Navan railway line will be reopened in two phases. Phase one will see a spur reopen in three years' time, in 2009, from the Maynooth line to Pace, which is just beyond Dunboyne. This will terminate at the Docklands station, pending completion of the interconnector project. Phase two will see this line extended in 2015 to Navan and the reopened Navan line will also form part of the greater Dublin area DART network.

The integrated rail system planned under Transport 21 has been designed to have integration at its core. It is designed in order that it will be possible to travel throughout the greater Dublin area rail network with no more than one change. I believe this will transform commuter transport systems in the greater Dublin area.

By the end of 2015, when the transport infrastructure funded under Transport 21 is completed and fully operational, I expect a fourfold increase in DART and suburban rail passenger numbers to 100 million per annum. I also expect 100 million passengers to travel on the Luas light rail network and metro lines.

The national strategy will also see significant enhancement of public transport services throughout the country. The upgrading of the national rail network will be completed under Transport 21. Apart from the inter-city network, Transport 21 will also fund new and expanded commuter rail services for Cork and Galway cities. Galway city will have its first dedicated commuter rail service from Athenry, while Cork city's commuter rail services will be expanded with the reopening of the Midleton railway line. The western rail corridor from Ennis to Claremorris will also be reopened in three phases and work on the first phase from Ennis to Athenry has already begun.

I have set out in detail the plans for public transport investment under Transport 21 to emphasise the major rebalancing that is taking place in transport investment. The major proportion of Transport 21 investment is devoted to roads, reflecting their importance to our transport and economic system. Such investment in roads will have a positive impact in respect of the elimination of congestion and bottlenecks. However, it should be acknowledged that Transport 21 is a balanced and integrated package of investment in both public transport and roads that will provide Ireland with a sustainable transport system.

The position regarding rail freight is that Iarnród Éireann has sought to return the rail freight business to a more sound economic footing. To help achieve this turnaround, Iarnród Éireann withdrew from loss-making groupage, palletised and single container rail transport. Iarnród Éireann has made progress in growing the rail freight business in areas in which it holds a competitive advantage over road haulage, such as in handling large volumes or trainloads over long distances.

For example, Iarnród Éireann has reintroduced the trainload pulpwood business by modifying surplus wagons and providing additional services for Coillte between the west of Ireland and the south east. It has altered its rail schedules and at present provides three additional trains per week for Tara Mines with a potential to carry an extra 85,000 tonnes of lead and zinc between Navan and Dublin Port per annum. It has modified surplus platform wagons to provide a trainload service for containers between Ballina and Waterford Port.

The Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, has introduced the European Communities (Access to Railway Infrastructure) (Amendment) Regulations 2005, SI 780 of 2005, to implement EU Directive No. 2004/51 on the development of the Community's railways. These regulations open the freight market to competition from both domestic and foreign operators from 1 January 2006 in the case of international freight and from 1 January 2007 in the case of domestic freight operations.

Iarnród Éireann has undertaken extensive engagement with industry and transporters nationwide to try to identify long-term sustainable business opportunities. However, it has had genuine difficulty in identifying business opportunities that offer reasonable volumes of business on a regular basis. It is not feasible to run trains with one or two containers and Iarnród Éireann has not identified sufficient business, with the exception of the Ballina to Waterford stream, to group together a number of separate activities to form a viable trainload.

Most Irish industry is focused on "just in time" transport and as our road network continues to expand and improve, the role of rail freight becomes more problematic because all rail journeys involve road movements at each end of the logistics chain. Furthermore, distances in Ireland are short. The experience across Europe is no different in that rail freight activities are most economic when distances are long, there are large volumes to be transported or the freight to be carried is not time-sensitive.

As part of the engagement with industry, Iarnród Éireann works closely with port authorities to increase rail-based freight such as the transport of lead and zinc to Dublin and container traffic to Waterford. The Government's ports policy statement recognises the need for the integration of ports with other transport modes, including rail, as a fundamental link in the supply chain.

In the absence of opportunities or proposals for viable long-term rail freight business, the development and use of fiscal incentives has not been considered. While the Government is open to any views on how rail freight can be expanded, the business environment is such that I have not seen the identification of any real opportunities. The market for rail freight is now fully liberalised and if opportunities exist, I would welcome expressions of interest. Although the movement of goods by rail offers environmental benefits over the movement of goods by road, the real issues are distance and type of goods to be moved. Ireland has little heavy manufacturing industry. Moreover, distances are short and in this context, road scores over rail in terms of reduced journey time and less handling.

As for the issue of greenhouse gas emissions, it is important to put Ireland's performance into an overall context. In the past 15 years, Ireland's economy grew by more than 150%, while its greenhouse gas emissions grew by 25%. Consequently, for every unit of GDP, Ireland now produces emissions at 48% of their 1990 levels.

That is nonsense.

This compares well with an EU-15 average of 78%. Ireland will also meet its Kyoto target for 2008 to 2012. We will keep emissions to 13% above 1990 limits.

It will do so by buying credits.

While this will be done in a way that requires all to act, it will not be done, as some would do, in a manner that would undermine Irish employment. Progress on meeting our Kyoto obligations involves a range of measures. For example, our major industries were one of the first to become part of the EU emissions trading scheme. The greener homes grants scheme has been an outstanding success and the purchase of carbon credits is also an instrument recognised in the Kyoto Treaty. It is a strategy followed by many of our EU partners and it brings real benefits to the developing world through investment in environmental projects.

Although Ireland is making progress on decoupling economic growth from emissions locally, the pace of climate change globally has increased very significantly. In response, the EU is ready to commit to deeper reductions in emissions and one proposal is for the EU to agree unilaterally to a 20% reduction in the 1990 level of carbon emissions by 2020. Regardless of the final target to emerge, Ireland will play its part in meeting the obligations to be agreed nationally with each member state.

The publication of the bio-energy action plan by the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources is one example of the greater emphasis on emissions reduction and the imminent publication of the White Paper on Renewable Energy will demonstrate how we will move Ireland to a low carbon economy. The growth in emissions from the transport sector reflects the growth in the economy, a larger population and a below average rate of car ownership.

In all developed countries the reduction in emissions from the transport sector is seen as a particularly complex challenge without a single easy solution. The Government has already taken steps to reduce emissions from the transport sector. These include a national bio-fuels obligation on fuel suppliers of 5% by 2009, generous tax breaks for hybrid and bio-fuel cars, a tax system through VRT and motor tax that is already heavily biased towards smaller engine cars that emit fewer emissions, a commitment announced in December's budget that VRT and motor tax will be further refined to reward more efficient cars in the future and fiscal supports to encourage the growing of crops for bio-fuels.

The investment in Transport 21, which I outlined, will make a significant contribution to a more sustainable transportation system. Overall, €18.5 billion will be invested in the national roads programme, which will upgrade national roads, remove bottlenecks, reduce congestion, improve journey times and, consequently, improve competitiveness. Furthermore, €15.8 billion will be provided for public transport projects, in a significant rebalancing of public expenditure, which will encourage commuters to switch to public transport.

The transport sector has a key contribution to make in meeting our Kyoto obligations and I already announced the preparation of a sustainable transport action plan to address this contribution. This action plan must consider a range of innovative measures and policies, which will guide the transport sector to 2020. It will affirm our support for EU proposals to reduce carbon emissions of new passenger cars to reach an average level of 130 grammes per kilometre by 2012.

I recognise the preparation of this sustainable transport action plan will take some time and will necessitate full consultation with stakeholders and the public. As an indication of our commitment to this policy we took a number of recent initiatives to demonstrate practical steps which can be taken to improve sustainability.

The Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, asked Dr. Lynch, the chairman of CIE, to move the Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus existing fleets to a 5% bio-diesel blend and to plan to achieve a 30% bio-diesel blend in all new buses. It is intended the projects will demonstrate a viable, reputable green transport module for Ireland. The project represents a further commitment by the Government to fulfilling its obligations under the bio-fuels directive through encouraging the indigenous bio-fuels industry and providing market incentives.

I stress these new incentives are a further demonstration of commitment to sustainable transport. The proposed sustainable transport action plan is intended to go further and offer a vision and framework to ensure sustainability in transport is mainstreamed across all areas of Government.

This is a time of great opportunity for transport change. More clearly than ever we identified what needs to be done. Unlike the opposition, we have clear policy and funding frameworks to guide us in achieving our objective of a state-of-the-art transport system which will be sustainable in economic, social and environmental terms.

The strategic rail review commissioned by the Department of Transport contained a comprehensive examination of the rail freight business and its realistic potential to support economic development and contribute to sustainable development.

Iarnród Éireann, in responding to the challenges contained in the review, developed a business plan with regard to freight and continues to pursue a policy of growing its rail freight business where opportunities present such as in bulk and trainload traffic.

The company also sought to return the rail freight business to profitability. To help achieve this turnaround, Iarnród Éireann withdrew from loss-making groupage, palletised and single container rail transport. This resulted in the deficit on rail freight being reduced by 50% in the past three years.

Since 1999, Iarnród Éireann invested more than €1.6 billion in rebuilding the railways, with Government and EU support for the investment programme. I must state as a regular user of the commuter rail service, the improvement during this period is there for all to see on a daily basis. This investment programme delivered improvements in new trains, upgraded infrastructure and customer facilities. While such investment primarily focused on improving passenger services, the investment in improving rail infrastructure also had a direct beneficial impact on freight activities.

Iarnród Éireann has no plans to eliminate capacity or freight infrastructure. Iarnród Éireann has made progress in growing the rail freight business in areas where it holds a competitive advantage over road haulage such as large volumes or trainloads over long distances. The company re-introduced the trainload pulpwood business by modifying surplus wagons and providing additional services for Coillte between the west and the south east.

The company altered rail schedules and provides three additional trains per week for Tara Mines with a potential to carry an extra 85,000 tonnes of lead and zinc between Navan and Dublin Port per annum. It also modified surplus platform wagons to provide a trainload service for containers between Ballina and Waterford Port.

Regulations to open the freight market through EU Directive 2004/51 to competition from both domestic and foreign operators, from 1 January 2006 in the case of international freight and from 1 January 2007 in the case of domestic freight operations, were also introduced.

I support Iarnród Éireann's extensive engagement with industry and transporters throughout the country to try to identify long-term sustainable business opportunities. The company had genuine difficulty in identifying business opportunities which offer reasonable volumes of business on a regular, ongoing basis. Unfortunately, it is not feasible to run trains with one or two containers and Iarnród Éireann has not identified sufficient business, with the exception of the Ballina to Waterford stream, to group a number of separate activities together to form a viable trainload.

Most Irish industry is focused on what is known as "just in time" transport and as our road network continues to expand and improve across the country the role of rail freight becomes more problematic because all rail journeys involve road movements at each end of the logistics chain. Furthermore, in Ireland distances are necessarily short. The experience across Europe is no different. The simple fact is that rail freight activities are most economic where distances are long, large volumes are to be transported and the freight to be carried is not time sensitive.

As part of this engagement with industry, I understand Iarnród Éireann also works closely with port authorities, including in Dublin relating to transport of lead and zinc and Waterford relating to container traffic, to increase rail based freight. I look forward to the company working closely with the Drogheda Port Authority on the proposed development at Bremore which is blessed with the existing rail service running straight through the proposed site for the new development. As such, it will be able to link directly with minimum capital outlay and negligible work to be done to the port project.

The Government's ports policy statement recognises the need for the integration of ports as a fundamental link in the supply chain with other transport modes including rail. In the absence of opportunities or proposals for viable long-term rail freight business, the development and use of fiscal incentives would be difficult to justify.

It is interesting that during the debate on this motion we have not heard any particular proposals on how the situation can be changed. Any worthwhile suggestion which anybody has on how rail freight can be expanded within the business environment in which we operate should be considered. The market is now fully liberalised and if opportunities exist let us hear them and provided they are valid I have no doubt the company and everybody would be delighted to see the resurrection of the rail freight business.

I propose to share time with Deputies O'Shea, McEntee and Kehoe.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion. I immediately noted the Minister of State's speech overwhelmingly dealt with Transport 21 and the Government's suggested achievements in public transport. Only in the final third did he turn to the specific issue of rail freight. The Minister of State's speech contains some very dangerous phrases on the future of rail freight. For example, he states:

I am open to any views on how we can expand rail freight but the business environment is such that I have not seen any real opportunities identified. The market for rail freight is now fully liberalised and if there are opportunities I would welcome expressions of interest . . . . . In the absence of opportunities or proposals for viable long-term rail freight business, the development and use of fiscal incentives has not been considered.

There has been an appalling neglect of freight and although I have only five minutes I wish to make a few points with regard to, for example, the West on Track movement. CIE is in possession of a site of 14.75 acres in Galway city centre. It has decided to address its use of that site rather in the mode of a property development company than the public transport company it is under its basic Act. CIE is governed by legislation which established it as the public transport company, and when it was split up the right to acquire and dispose of property existed. What is referred to as the O'Rourke letter emerged, a letter from the then transport Minister suggesting that an evaluation of sites should be made so that their value might be realised.

In the Galway case a misleading presentation was made, presided over by the Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, and assisted by the CIE board and chairman, Dr. John Lynch. This mooted a €1 billion proposal for Ceannt Station, but the €1 billion was the value of the site. As the presentation went on, it became clear that a proposal for 800 apartments and a retail street was being put forward. There were to be three platforms, with an increase in the number of bus lanes, but they were all pointed towards the wall in such a way that none of them could ever get out. It is outrageous but reflective of something else.

We have some interesting bodies in this country. An example is the National Roads Authority but because of the ideological opposition to rail and public transport, we do not have a national transport authority. What we needed in the west was a regional transport authority which would adopt an integrated approach to public transport.

The price we have paid for our homage to roads above rail is appalling and has been identified in the speech made by my colleague, Deputy Shortall. She indicates that the impact of road freight is of particular note, with fuel consumption by road freight increasing by 264%, 9% per annum, over the period 1990-2005, making it the mode with the highest growth. How can any of us elected in the west suggest at a time when the forests are maturing and logging is to take place that it makes sense to close down rail freight and start the transport of cut logs across the country from the north west to the south east? It is outrageous and irresponsible.

Again buried in the Minister of State's speech is no doubt what he will have received from Dr. Lynch. He argues that we do not go looking for trade for freight and we have told our existing customers that we cannot guarantee we will be there. Having frightened them off, we now argue there is no point in offering fiscal incentives to try to develop rail freight. There is a pattern all over Europe where people have wanted sustainable transport policies. People are being turned from road to rail freight, and it makes sense.

It is very interesting that Iarnród Éireann continues to pursue a policy of growing its rail freight business where opportunities present, which the Minister of State for Transport stated in answer to Deputy Shortall some time ago. We have seen the derogation by CIE of its duty and we have seen the Minister presiding over a "roads only" policy. We have seen total hypocrisy in attempts to achieve an environmentally justifiable and sustainable policy.

It is time for the light to shine on the betrayal of public transport by this Government, CIE and the people we have trusted to provide a public transport system into the future.

Tá áthas orm go bhfuil seans agam labhairt sa díospóireacht thábhachtach seo. I compliment Deputies Shortall, Mitchell and Eamon Ryan on bringing this very important motion before the Dáil on behalf of their respective parties. Essentially the issue centres on the largest problem facing mankind currently, global warming, climate change and the consequences.

One of the statistics which made me sit up and take notice was that there has been a declining market share of rail freight from 5% in the 1980s to less than 1% today. Ireland had a fine rail system until the 1950s, but we are essentially now down to the Dublin commuter lines, the rail links between Dublin and the main urban centres and some other links beyond those.

The Government has set its face against the whole area of fiscal incentives. If we approach the issue of global warming and its consequences purely in the context of market forces, a situation which is deteriorating will only get a good deal worse. As both my colleagues, Deputies Shortall and Michael Higgins, have pointed out, possibly up to eight of our EU partners provide some kind of financial or other assistance to rail freight operations.

The benefits accruing from switching a significant amount of freight from road to rail are self-evident. They are so rooted in common sense that we are inclined to pass them by without their really registering. The wear and tear on our roads comes to mind immediately, and there would be safer roads, less congestion and gridlock.

Other issues arise from the transfer of freight to our railways. For example, approximately 19% of accidents involve a heavy goods vehicle. On the other side of the House the financial and economic aspects of this issue, as against the social, environmental and other virtuous aspects, seem to be of major importance. I understand the economic cost of each fatality is of the order of approximately €1 million. This is clearly very insignificant at the end of the day when one considers lives that are lost.

From the environmental perspective and taking into account greenhouse gases, the transfer of freight to our rail system is imperative. The Government is looking for people to make suggestions, but good government is about going out and developing vision, putting measures in place which achieve the objective. To leave our solution to the freight issue only to market forces is a route that will lead to disaster.

A great deal of work needs to be done by all sides regarding how we could achieve the transfer and the measures required to do so. If we do not act, the clogging of our roads and the damage done to them, along with the cost of wear, tear and maintenance, will have to be dealt with.

I support this motion, one of the most important to come before this Dáil, the days of which are drawing to a close.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this debate because I was brought up on a farm split in two by a railway line that carried freight from Gypsum Industries four times per day. The cows used to go under the line in the morning and across it in the evening. Due to a dispute 15 years ago after the then Minister, Senator O'Rourke, spent a fortune improving the line between Kingscourt and Navan, it closed and has never been re-opened. As it went from Kingscourt through Navan, Duleek and Drogheda to the line called for by Deputy Glennon, I wish to speak on what he called a "possibility".

Since the close of the Kingscourt-Navan line, several industries have taken over and there is a need for a freight railway. In County Meath, particularly in Nobber and Kilmainham Wood, Gypsum Industries is stronger than ever. It imports raw material by road to sustain itself, material that leaves the next morning in a different manner. All of the raw materials used by College Proteins, one of the largest and most up-to-date rendering plants in Europe, arrive by road, which is grand at this time of year, but is not as nice during summer, as Deputy Johnny Brady across the road from me knows. This is another way in which rail freight could improve the area. Further down the road, Thornton's Recycling and another company have set up recycling plants to which thousands of tonnes of materials are brought, while Kingspan and Kingscourt Brick Limited are in Kingscourt. There are several areas where a freight railway could be introduced.

The line in question is intact, but it is never mentioned when we discuss the lines from Dublin to Dunboyne and Navan. Every rail crossing in Wilkinstown, Kilberry, Castletown, Nobber, Kilmainham Wood, Gypsum Industries and Cabra Castle could be re-introduced. People do not know the line exists and our county manager was flabbergasted to see it. The industries have destroyed our roads. It is a difficult situation for the contractors and lorry industry, members of which I have met several times. They will go out of business because of the time it takes to get from A to B. Their business could be put elsewhere if we placed stop lines in the areas where the raw materials are used.

In Nobber, the railway's edge has seen a significant historical find, namely, a crannóg. Dug up 20 years ago, we have learned it is older than Newgrange, Knowth or Dowth. While I may not see it, I intend to get the ball rolling to bring more visitors in by railway rather than road.

I ask the Minister for Transport and his colleagues to plan for 50 years from now. As Ireland will have 6 million to 7 million people, many of whom will be on the east coast, we will need freight railways. The 22-mile stretch between Kingscourt and Navan is lying idle despite the millions of pounds spent on it and the then Minister's good work. This issue must be examined and put on the agenda sooner rather than later.

We cannot all travel by car or lorry. Freight trains travelling from one end of the country to the other will be the solution. It will reduce a great deal of congestion on our roads and leave them like the Drumcondra Road in Dublin, that is, with no lorries on them. Too many businesses are going out of business because of the length of time they must spend on the road. The 22-mile stretch in question is ready to go and is an example of what could be done. With so many industries in the north Meath and Cavan area, a survey on the profitability of the line would be worthwhile.

I thank the spokespersons of Fine Gael, the Labour Party and the Green Party for tabling this motion. It is nice to have an opportunity to speak on this important matter.

Deputy O'Shea hit the nail on the head when he stated the Government must develop a vision, but the Government has failed to do so for many years. This evening, I learned the Government has not developed rail freight since 1997. Rather, it has dismantled rail freight. Deputy McEntee referred to the many companies in his area and the dedicated freight line running through his county that serves many industries. The Government has not helped to develop rail freight. The heavy vehicles clogging up towns, villages and cities could be taken from our roads and their loads could be put on dedicated rail freight services. While the Minister of State said he would welcome ideas or visions, no one who steps forward with sensible ideas is listened to.

County Wexford has a fine port that is the gateway to Europe. The service it provides could be explored as a means of taking a great deal of freight through Rosslare to France, England, Italy or elsewhere. Many ships leave the port on a daily basis. That this service is not being regularly used is disastrous.

In the early 19th century, there were more rail services than currently. Many railways have been dug up and taken away by successive Governments, but those opposite have been in Government for longer than any other party. The Wellingtonbridge station on the Cork-Wexford line was threatened with closure when the beet industry was removed. We should examine whether the Wellingtonbridge depot could be used as a base for rail freight from Waterford, Cork or elsewhere.

The Tánaiste is muttering under his breath, but that is all the Government has done in recent years. I call on the Government to carry out a feasibility study in respect of re-opening the Newross line, which would benefit the local area by creating many jobs. An unused rail line passes through an industrial area in the town. Regarding the daily train services between Dublin and Rosslare, there are few freight transports.

In my younger days, freight carriages were used daily, but they are never used now. Instead, heavy vehicles are on our roads causing accidents and gridlock. I want to see the Minister of State working closely with Iarnród Éireann to encourage more rail freight. He referred to Transport 21, which does not contain much on this matter and left it to the end. The Government has not actively sought companies to use rail freight on a more user-friendly basis. I hope the Minister of State takes on board the many points raised.

Debate adjourned.