Cross-Border Transport: Discussion.

It is a great pleasure to welcome our colleagues from the public service, North and South, to the meeting. Táimid lán sásta go bhfuil siad anseo. Táimid bródúil as an dea-obair agus an comhoibriú iontach atá idir na seirbhísí iompair phoiblí ar an oileán seo. Tréaslaím leo ar son muintir na tíre.

Today's meeting will see discussions with representatives of Translink Northern Ireland and Iarnród Éireann on the Enterprise train service and cross-Border co-operation on public transport. It is a great honour for the committee to welcome Ms Catherine Mason, group chief executive of Translink Northern Ireland, and Mr. Dick Fearn, chief executive of Iarnród Éireann. They are very welcome. There is very important meeting next door pertaining to another series of companies on the island and some members who were here, and others who cannot be here, are attending that meeting. They may join us later.

The Enterprise service operates between Belfast and Dublin and is jointly run by Iarnród Éireann and Northern Ireland Railways. A high-speed service is aimed at all travellers, including business people, tourists, commuters and general rail passengers. The Enterprise train has been a key link between North and South for many years and provides mutual benefits to business and tourism on both sides of the Border. It also helps to develop cross-Border trade, as well as providing a much-needed service for commuters.

A number of members of this committee are regular users of the Enterprise service, as are their constituents. We welcome this opportunity to get the views of the chief executives of Iarnród Éireann and Translink on the current operation of the service and plans for the future. The collapse of the Malahide viaduct last year severely affected the Enterprise service and was a reminder to all of us of the importance of having strong and robust cross-Border infrastructure. We were all delighted that the matter was brought to a successful resolution without any injury or loss of life.

Before we commence I advise that whereas Members of both Houses of Oireachtas Éireann enjoy absolute privilege in respect of utterances made in committee, witnesses do not enjoy absolute privilege. Accordingly, caution should be exercised, particularly with regard to references of a personal nature. It is my great pleasure to call on Ms Catherine Mason to make her presentation.

Mr. Dick Fearn

I will start the presentation and Ms Mason will take over approximately half-way through. I thank the committee for the invitation to discuss the Enterprise service, which is a joint operation between Iarnród Éireann and Translink. This is a joint statement.

The Enterprise rail service between Dublin and Belfast is a good example of all-island co-operation. As the Chairman noted in his introduction, it benefits all communities. Development of the modern Enterprise service pre-dated the Good Friday Agreement. I regret that in the 1980s and very early 1990s it was quite difficult to run the service due to security alerts and so on but nonetheless, at the time there was steady support and a growing need for the service.

Iarnród Éireann and Northern Ireland Railways came together to develop a vision and plan in 1990 to upgrade the track, signalling and the rolling stock in order to deliver an upgraded service as a unified product, with joint operation, livery and marketing. By 1992 funding had been secured from the EU regional development and cohesion fund and the project was supported by both governments. The vision became a reality in September 1997, when the Enterprise service was launched. The service operated eight times per day in each direction. With a brand new fleet and upgraded infrastructure it was an early success and a beneficiary of the peace process that would ultimately yield the Good Friday Agreement. The combination of improved services and the peace dividend drove up passenger numbers, which doubled between 1997 and 2005.

We still run eight services per day in each direction on weekdays and six each way on a Sunday. The service is a joint operation, maintained and co-ordinated by both companies on a 50:50 basis. Fleet ownership is 50:50 and the trains are crewed accordingly. Maintenance is organised so that locomotives are maintained by Iarnród Éireann and the carriages are maintained by Translink.

In order to properly manage a jointly owned and branded service, we have regular liaison meetings on strategy and service, operations, fleet engineering or trains, infrastructure like tracks and signalling and safety, which is always a top priority in railways. The service is marketed within each jurisdiction by the relevant companies; we market in the Republic of Ireland and Translink markets it in the North.

I am aware that a number of members of the committee previously raised questions on some differences in that sense, including pricing and so on. Over the life of the Enterprise service, fare levels have differed. We had the Irish punt before the euro and the exchange rates have varied with the euro. From time to time, differentials arise between the various fare structures. Although traditional fare structures can have differentials in that way, there is now a common cause between Translink and Iarnród Éireann in marketing on-line. Members will know that with transport across the board, including airlines, more people are booking on-line. If people go on-line today to book their Enterprise service, the lowest fare is a €10 single from the Dublin end or £8.99 from the Translink end in Belfast. That is exactly the same price and directly relates to the current variation in currency. We are increasingly moving people to the Internet, on which we can be more flexible and keep appropriate levels of exchange.

The current environment is not without challenges. For example, there is a competitive challenge from the road, although there is not a competitive challenge from the air. There is no Belfast to Dublin air route; people tried it but with a combination of the good rail route and roads, it did not succeed. There is competition from cars as there is a good road between the cities.

There are other challenges. Security alerts are not the issue they once were in the dark days of the Troubles but they are still there. We have interruptions from time to time and there have been security difficulties recently. As mentioned by the Chairman, we had a big interruption between August and November last year with the Malahide viaduct incident. Nevertheless, we worked very hard to restore that viaduct safely and quickly. Since the resumption of services we have worked very hard between the two companies to build up the business again. After the three months of disruption we introduced promotions that have worked very well in encouraging people back to the business.

We have had to reduce fares on-line and I mentioned some of our lowest fares, which are to encourage the business in these more difficult economic times. We have been encouraged by the results. I will ask Ms. Mason to tell us about the future of the route.

Ms Catherine Mason

The service must continue to develop to meet competitive challenges and provide the level of service our customers and potential customers deserve. Both companies aspire to provide an hourly service on the route. Experience has shown, on other Intercity routes with which members will be familiar, such as the Dublin-Cork and Dublin-Sligo routes, that regular headways generate additional patronage.

Translink and Irish Rail are committed to progressing plans for an hourly service and are confident this can be delivered in due course. We will consider possible fleet options, including the procurement of new trains or refurbishment of existing trains, and hope to secure the support needed to confirm a timescale for these proposals in the near future.

A further benefit of an hourly service would be the network it would create through improved connections. This is particularly relevant in the context of Translink's Belfast-Derry line plans. We in Translink are currently working to optimise infrastructure improvements which are being planned and appraised, increase frequency and improve journey times between Belfast and Derry. Our indicative target engineering date of 2012 for these improvements will enable a move to improved all-island connections, boosting economic activity and tourism. An effective Dublin-Derry service would be delivered by schedule coordination with Belfast-Derry services, and further still with the introduction of an hourly Dublin-Belfast Enterprise train.

Our Minister recently announced plans to explore the opportunity for a landmark transport hub at Great Victoria Street in central Belfast, integrating rail, coach bus and rapid transit, and we are currently reviewing development options. This would greatly improve city access for Belfast Enterprise customers.

In the long term, we must look at the projected population development on the island. Engineers Ireland recently published a study which envisages an island population of 8 million by 2030. The major growth area is likely to be along the Dublin-Belfast corridor. This has implications for the development of services. As Irish Rail already has plans for electrification of the route from Malahide, the current DART terminus, to Drogheda, the projected population growth could in time bring the prospect of an electrified rail line between the two cities into play. However, our immediate focus is on frequency, and on examining opportunities for journey time improvements where possible.

We thank the committee for the opportunity to outline our presentation and are happy to answer any questions committee members have.

I thank Mr. Fearn and Ms Mason. We are deeply grateful to both of them for their presence and their contributions.

I join the Chairman in welcoming our guests and thanking them for their presentation. To start on a positive note, I commend Iarnród Éireann on its services. I had occasion to take the train from Dublin to Killarney last Friday. I found the trip very agreeable and the various aspects of the service — the announcements, staffing, and other supports — were top-class. Well done.

My first question is about the overall Translink project, and particularly the Dublin-Derry service, as mentioned by Ms Mason. This is not a direct service. Is a new direct service between Dublin and Derry being considered, or will it remain as Dublin-Belfast-Derry? As the delegates probably know, there are just five counties on the island of Ireland with no rail service — Donegal, Tyrone, Fermanagh, Cavan and Monaghan, the latter two of which I represent. Every other country in Ireland has a rail service. As we look north on the map, we can see there is whole slice of the country that has been plucked out. In my childhood I was almost a daily user of the train service at the time, which was removed in 1957 or 1958. Since then, generations have come into the world and grown up in my community without experiencing rail travel, which is regrettable.

I do not wish to steal the thunder of our two Donegal colleagues, who will reflect on this also, but I was called on first so I will ask my question. Donegal County Council carried out an important study of the infrastructural needs of that county and identified the importance of a Dublin-Derry link — as a link directly from this city to the north west — through many of the counties which, as I have just indicated, do not enjoy a rail service. It also highlighted that despite the advent of the western rail corridor, one cannot travel by rail in a circular route around Ireland. If one starts at Sligo and goes all the way around, one must still transfer to a bus to get from Derry back to Sligo. The Derry-Sligo route was the other pillar — perhaps the principal pillar — of that report's argument. The route would go through County Donegal and make an important contribution to that county's accessibility and to the options available in terms of public transport, which is currently absent from the range of counties I mentioned.

I support these arguments — that is, the need for a link from Derry to Sligo, and the development of a direct route from Dublin to Derry, which would prevent dependency on the Translink service between Dublin and Belfast. Where do the delegates stand in this regard? The future economic potential of the counties I have just mentioned and the north west in general, from Monaghan northwards, depends on what Iarnród Éireann and Translink are prepared to do in terms of opening up rail services.

I understand there are plans for further development at Connolly station, which is the Dublin terminus of the Translink route. Could the delegates indicate the nature of these plans and when they are expected to get under way? What impact will this have on the current Translink service? What is the timeframe for these plans?

As an occasional train user and because of my experience last Friday, I have one further comment to make. I do not know whether I dare say this on the record, but one must face up to one's mistakes. I booked my seat on the Iarnród Éireann website — with which I was unfamiliar, not being a regular user — but, not paying the attention I should have, I did not book a ticket for the train journey itself. A customer can book a seat on the train without buying a ticket for the journey. I only discovered my mistake when I got there. That is an embarrassment I do not want to go through a second time. I recommend a system under which customers cannot pre-book seats without first having booked tickets for their journeys. One can imagine the confusion and embarrassment that could arise. The delegates might note this.

The last time we had representatives of transport authorities before the committee — in fact, it was the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, and the equivalent Northern Ireland Department, as its Minister was unable to attend — we heard about the crazy situation that exists in terms of Internet booking. I know it does not come under the ambit of the delegates, but this is an appropriate opportunity to raise it again. We can go on-line to arrange travel by train throughout the island, but we cannot go on-line to book bus transport. One can book bus tickets from Dublin, Cork or any other location in this jurisdiction and end up in Warsaw but one is not able to end up in Belfast.

I know the delegates are competitors and I do not necessarily want to prompt them to take up this matter. However, I raise it for the attention of the committee because the Minister for Transport gave an undertaking before this committee in 2008. I have with me the record of his contribution in which he indicated he would seek to overcome this difficulty which I understand to result from two computer systems not being compatible. I also have his reply to a parliamentary question I tabled last week on 20 April. He responded to me in a single line which runs contrary to what he put on the record of this committee almost two years ago in May 2008. The recent reply stated: "This is an operational matter for the bus companies concerned and not one in which I have any role." That was not what he indicated two years previously and that situation still exists.

This is the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and these are the small day-to-day obstacles that cause some difficulties in the lives of ordinary people. If we cannot overcome a difficulty such as on-line bus ticket availability for travel North-South or South-North, that is a serious problem that must be addressed. A person can book on-line to travel across Europe from here without any problem. It is time such issues were overcome. I appeal to the Chairman and committee members to raise this matter with the Minister for Transport because it is unacceptable to allow the situation to drift. I thank our guests for their time and attention.

I thank the Deputy. In response to what he said, he may be assured we will raise the matter. I remember the debate in question, which was a good, robust one. The Minister gave certain commitments. If the Deputy will give the committee a copy of the parliamentary question and response, we will link it to the committee's documents and re-open the matter.

It will be in the Chairman's pigeonhole this afternoon.

I wish to be associated with the warm welcome to the delegation from both organisations. It is very appropriate and opportune to have them in attendance.

Unfortunately, the significant contribution by the first speaker can be seen as negative in that our only cross-Border rail link predates the Good Friday Agreement. That is not a good news story because although that agreement came into being 12 years ago, as yet we have nothing more symbolic than extra timetables, refurbishments and procurement. I do not take away from the work in progress on the Belfast-Dublin link but this is an indictment of the lack of progress on cross-Border connectivity after 12 years.

We owe more to people on both sides of the Border who, as a democratic majority, bought into the Good Friday Agreement. They believed there would be proper integrated transport strategies because that is one of the elements underpinning the Good Friday Agreement. Others included cross-Border measures in education and health. It is happening and people are communicating, but in terms of transport, people need to see the tangibles.

Opportunities have been missed. I do not believe the argument of the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, that such work is not part of policy or that we should not have a further vision or strategy, for example, by connecting the fourth largest city on the island, namely, Derry, to the national rail network. It is a dereliction of democratic duty because the underpinning of the Good Friday Agreement is for integrated strategy. This is where we, as democratically elected representatives, must rise to the mark and the challenge. There are challenges. There are policies in Northern Ireland where the glove does not necessarily fit the policies of southern Ireland. We must rise to that challenge in terms of the Good Friday Agreement and try to tie up the ends.

I offer the example of Midleton. This summer will see the opening of the great train service from Midleton to Cork city. Midleton has a population of 16,000 to 20,000, the same size as Letterkenny. Derry is the fourth largest city on the island. Cork is the second largest. Why are we not looking at the possibility of linking the fourth largest city of the island to a population centre similar to Midleton? There are question marks here and some sort of blockage. Something is preventing joined-up thinking in transport, even though the Good Friday Agreement is on the table and which says we voted for such joined-up thinking.

At the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, chaired by Deputy Blaney, Scottish, Welsh, English, Northern Irish and Republic of Ireland politicians of all parties passed a motion stating the necessity of looking at the feasibility of having all-island rail connectivity as a priority. Where does that democratic voice tie into Northern and Southern policy? That is another problem we have.

There was mention of a population of 8 million in Ireland in 2030. Nonsense is spoken by so-called educated people — lecturers — who say that all these people will live on the east coast. All the people who live on the east coast will provide for all the infrastructure to be built there and will live there in consequence. That will happen if we keep following the problems with the money and we say that, for 2030, the projection is that 8 million people will live on the east coast of this island. Of course they will live on the east coast if we electrify the Belfast-Dublin line, continue to invest European money in the Belfast-Cork link and spend sums, such as the €10 million that came from the TEN-T project in Europe and was spent on the Inchicore feasibility study, under the heading of cross-Border funding. It is the case that cross-Border funding was spent in Dublin on the pretence that it was linking Cork to Belfast. I do not accept that and have raised the issue.

Some 500,000 people live in the five counties not serviced by rail, as Deputy Ó Caoláin pointed out. We have heard the argument of the Iarnród Éireann spokesperson, Barry Kenny, who says it is not economically feasible to link them. That argument is nonsense and, as politicians, we should not accept it. The two good people present today are voicing policy. They are the messengers and I am not in the business of shooting messengers.

My message is for the parliamentarians in power on both sides of the Border to see sense and do one thing. They should not build rail infrastructure just because it is in their own back yard but should consider feasibility for once and see whether linkage is possible. If it is not possible or proves to be a worthless exercise, I shall accept that but let us try first to put together a cost-benefit analysis. There are 1.9 million people living in Northern Ireland and, without duplication, 500,000 people living in the five Southern counties not serviced by rail, yet linking that number of people is deemed not to be economically viable. I do not accept that.

The blockage exists and it is for us to challenge it, under the direction of the Chairman of the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. His was a strong voice on the motion I tabled at the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly regarding tying in the western rail corridor. Great work has been done by the campaigning group for the western rail corridor to bring rail to Athenry, where it now stands. Those people want to bring the line first to Claremorris and then to Sligo. They are now talking to their Northern counterparts. There will be a consistent campaign and it will deliver rail. We must also be realistic. It will not happen today or tomorrow. It might be a 20-year plan but let us get the homework done and let us not neglect the region west of the Bann which has been neglected on both sides of the Border for a great number of years and since long before I was born.

I thank Deputy McHugh for his passionate contribution and call Deputy Blaney.

I welcome the delegates from both organisations and thank them for their short and frank presentation. Like other speakers I have a particular interest in the north west. First and foremost, reference was made in the presentation of the Belfast to Dublin and the Belfast to Derry rail service. I welcome the stated improvements and the future plans. However, in an overall context I do not see anything in the current plans for the Dublin to Derry route to get too excited about. The only way a Dublin to Derry or a Derry-Belfast-Dublin route would work for Donegal people travelling to Dublin is if there were an express service alongside the existing services, and the delegations have no such plans.

Since it was set up, the committee has worked well in respect of cross-party judgment on different ideas and I support the sentiments of my two colleagues, Deputies Ó Caoláin and McHugh, in respect of access generally in the north west. I recall 1999 or 2000, shortly after I was elected as a councillor. At that point, the national development plan came into being along with the whole concept of motorways. However, there was a blank as regards Northern Ireland. As a result, the rest of north-west Ireland was forgotten about in terms of major infrastructure. Rail transport was not touched either and it still has not been touched. At that stage, a battle got under way which I led and have led since. Through my colleagues at the time in Donegal County Council, I pushed very strongly for motorway status for the road from Dublin to Derry with connections to Donegal. There has been such neglect of the area west of the Bann over the years that I see no change in the circumstances at present. The pressure was so intense from my colleagues at the time but we did not get any support across the Border in pushing for the road infrastructure, with the result that the Government spent half a billion euro on upgrading that road. We now hear a good deal from Northern politicians about paying for it and it is the talk of the day. I call for the feasibility study to which Deputy McHugh referred to be carried out.

I supported the proposal at the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly that such a feasibility study should carried out. I have no wish to do anything that would harm the plans afoot for the motorway and such an occurrence is unlikely at this stage because they are far enough advanced. However, I remain concerned about the situation and that our request for rail in the north west will be paid for by the Irish Government as well because the political will in Northern Ireland does not exist to part-fund it. That is a sad reflection on politicians in Northern Ireland. Perhaps it is not right to say as much here today when they are not here to defend themselves, but that is my view. I believe the feasibility study should begin. As I have stated at other venues, any study should recognise the existing infrastructure in place and should be carried out with due consideration for existing bus transport and airports.

Any dilution of these services as a result of the development of rail services must be considered in the broader context. There are very valuable airports in the region, namely, the City of Derry Airport and Donegal Airport in Carrickfinn. These services must not be lost and there must be a balance in the whole plan. It must not only consider railways. There should be a balanced study into all rail infrastructure in the north west and we would welcome that. I am sorry if I have taken the presentation out of context. I am pleased to hear of the upgrades planned for the routes mentioned. However, as someone who come from the north west, they would not be enough to entice my constituents to use the service.

I welcome the delegation from Iarnród Éireann. I welcome the movement that has taken place on the line from Dublin to Pace in Clonee. That is very welcome and I understand there is a possibility it will be open at the end of this year, which is welcome, as is the proposed continuation to Navan.

I recall my youthful days when I used to hear the train going to Oldcastle from Dublin. There was a rail line the whole way and there was a rail line to Athboy. There was a rail link from Navan to Kingscourt and from Navan to Drogheda to Laytown and Bettystown as well. We would very much like to see trains running to all of these areas. As a politician, I could be shouting and roaring at meetings and calling on Ministers and Iarnród Éireann to reinstate these trains for the people. Unfortunately, the population is not sufficient in these places anymore. The development of the train line to Navan will be beneficial and will be a great boost to commuters, especially in Meath and Cavan. I understand there will be a park-and-ride facility and this will facilitate people from well beyond the Navan region, which is very welcome. The opening of the M3 next month will be another benefit to the whole area, extending into counties Cavan, Donegal, north Leitrim, Enniskillen and so forth. It will be very beneficial. I welcome the link to Navan that will come eventually. It is well progressed. The opening of the station in Pace at the end of the year is more than welcome. I thank the staff in Iarnród Éireann for the way they have moved matters along. I hope the opening of the Navan line will not be much longer. I understand plans have progressed well and that it could be up and running in the next few years, which would be very beneficial. As a result of the massive explosion in population, especially in Navan, my home town of Kells, Athboy and all these areas, it is welcome news for the hard-pressed commuters at the present time.

I warmly welcome Senator Carroll, I congratulate him on his recent election to Seanad Éireann and I wish him well.

I thank the members of the delegation and I welcome them to the committee. As a user of the Enterprise train who comes from Drogheda, I thank Iarnród Éireann and Translink for the successful service. I am sorry I missed the beginning of the presentation. How has the recession affected numbers and consumers? What plans are in place to deal with this issue? I refer to the current operation of times and I note there are eight services each way daily. What is the position if certain times suit or do not suit? Do the companies regularly assess this or how have they decided on the times? Will a service be needed after the recession? Is there any liaison with other public transport services? How does that work? Does the delegation envisage mutual benefits for consumers as the focus of all public transport and as the key market?

I thank Senator Carroll. I pay tribute to both organisations for the contribution they are making to transport in our country, especially rail transport, which we value, as well as the partnership, co-operation and their close commitment to improving the transport services for train customers. That is very important.

I received an e-mail from Senator Cecilia Keaveney who is at the Council of Europe. She has consistently complained at this committee of distortions in exchange rates for consumers, especially those she describes as euro customers. Will the delegation examine this situation to determine what can be done to resolve same? I support what Deputy Ó Caoláin said pertaining to the co-ordination of on-line ticketing. It may be possible to address that; it has been raised in this committee on several occasions. I endorse what Deputies McHugh, Blaney and Brady, and Senator Carroll have said. We value the co-operation and the investment made.

On what Deputies McHugh and Blaney have referred to, I had the privilege of being Minister of State at the Department of Transport when the genesis of the restoration and renewal of the western rail corridor was put together. We worked very closely to examine all the options. We needed political leadership to achieve the current situation. I hope we can circumnavigate the situation by having a unilateral, unified, semi-circular rail system around the island. That is our goal, the achievement of which will depend on political leadership, capital, co-operation North and South, support from the European Union, validation by local authorities in whose functional area the system will have to go through and validation by the regional authorities in whose functional areas the system will operate.

At the end of the day, it will have to be the subject of detailed market research that would be able to prove to the European Union and the Irish and British Exchequers that there was a sustainable, viable need for the service. I agree with Deputy McHugh that its achievement is a two decade challenge. However, without that type of co-operation and consumer demand to justify it, it will not be achieved.

I pay tribute to Mr. Fearn and all those in Iarnród Éireann and CIE for the massive investment of €106 million which has been put into the western rail corridor from Limerick city to Athenry. It has been very much used and is very popular. The commuter services to Galway city, in particular, from Ennis, Gort, south Galway and Athenry parallels the massive consumer demand which has been proven from Athlone to Galway city. We hope that will continue. As a result of that customer demand, we hope to be able to continue from Athenry to Tuam and Claremorris by 2014. We hope to move on to Sligo and by then all of us will have been able to ensure that we will have achieved the necessary co-operation to make sure the Derry-Sligo link is put into operation.

That is very important. It is feasible and practical. It will ensure there is an option for customers, but it will very much depend on the prevailing economic situation North and South, and in the United Kingdom during that time. I pay tribute to the delegations. We very much value their co-operation. We will give them an opportunity to respond to the questions and comments.

Mr. Dick Fearn

Thank you. I will start and will ask Ms Mason to assist with some of the issues regarding Derry-Dublin. Most of the questions asked by the Deputies and the comments of the Chairman relate to new railways, in particular where there are no railways at the current time in a number of counties, or restoring railways which were there in the past. I will deal with this issue first.

As a railway man all my career, 30 years of which have been spent across the water and seven of which were spent here, I am very enthusiastic about restoring and re-opening railways. They have a huge part to play in modern society, in urban and rural areas. I felt very privileged, since I came to Dublin in 2003, to be able to put into practice the policies which have been in place here under the Transport 21 programme to restore and re-open railways. As the Chairman mentioned, we have just re-opened the western rail corridor to link Limerick and Galway, which has been a great success. We are delighted with the numbers we carry. It underpins the policy of bringing back railways.

We are also very pleased with what we did in Cork. One Deputy referred to the Midleton line, which has also been a success. We are also excited about the line to Dunboyne initially and, in due course, to Navan. All of those schemes are part of the Government's Transport 21 capital investment programme for rail. As chief executive of Iarnród Éireann, my job is to implement the rail aspects of that policy, which is what I have done with all my endeavours, with my team, to move quickly, to get on with it and to deliver these schemes on time and on budget.

I do not believe those schemes are the only ones. I am sure there will be more in the future. Developing schemes to bring railways back to those areas which have not had them for some time will require policy decisions which I am not able to take. My task is to implement policy decisions. Policy decisions will need to be taken to move the agenda beyond the existing programme. Being realistic about timescales is very good and I am pleased to hear that people understand these things cannot be done in two or three years. It will be a longer-term programme. If the policy decisions are in place, railways can be delivered, as we have proved, and they can be successful, in terms of the business they can generate.

However, there are things we can do in the meantime with the existing network. Such work will not be done instead of developing extensions to the network, but to develop the existing network. That is why, working jointly with Translink, we are examining a future expansion of the Enterprise service to Belfast. In our presentations I and CIE mentioned the move towards an hourly service. I will ask Ms Mason to contribute in a moment to re-emphasise the developments on the Derry-Belfast route, which offers the opportunity for Derry-Belfast-Dublin.

The development of the existing routes does not need to replace the opportunity for new routes, rather, it is something which can be done more quickly than the longer-term development of new routes. Nevertheless, the message with which I would like to leave the committee in the context of railways is that we have proved so far, with the developments we have achieved in recent years in the Republic, that it is worthwhile. We have developed the western corridor, the Midleton line and the Navan line — the line to Dunboyne and Pace will be open before the end of the year and if we carry on at the present rate it will be ready by the beginning of October. We are very keen to continue the work on the extension to Navan. It offers further opportunities beyond that in due course.

I will ask Ms Mason to comment on Derry services, but first, I will answer a number of other questions. A Deputy asked what will happen in terms of Connolly station. The development there concerns the DART underground network. The northern commuter services which currently have to share Connolly station with the Enterprise services and so on will go down to the DART underground at the Docklands, underneath Pearse station, St. Stephen's Green, Christchurch, Heuston station — with a direct interchange with the intercity service — and emerge in our yards at Inchicore, and then out on to the main line. This will create two DART lines linking at Pearse station.

The surface DART will go from Greystones and Bray, through Dún Laoghaire, as it does at the moment, to Connolly station and Maynooth. The underground DART will comprise the existing northern lines from Malahide and Howth, underground to the Docklands, under the city centre and linking to the lines out of Heuston station. That will create more capacity at Connolly station. As we expand the Enterprise service in the way we would like to, we will not be constrained by capacity at Connolly station. It will always be a critical terminus for the service from the North, but there will be a separation of the commuter services, which will go underground. It is a good programme.

A Deputy asked when it would happen. Construction will start at the end of 2011 and continue during 2012. The precise date of completion has not been fixed, but it will be some time in 2016 or 2017. Nevertheless, it will integrate the railways at Heuston and Connolly, which has long since been a problem since we inherited the railways from those who built them 100 years ago.

Deputy Ó Caoláin asked how it was possible to have a seat ticket without a travel ticket. When we started the on-line booking system, people booked a ticket and were given a seat. Many people who already had a ticket such as old age pensioners who had the free ticket for senior citizens asked how someone who had booked on-line had been given a seat, while they were not able to book a seat using their travel pass. We wanted to do something about this. Others who had bought a ticket in advance decided that they should have booked a seat. For €3 people can book a seat on-line. We have a reminder on the ticket that it is only a seat reservation, but I agree that we should remind people on the on-line screen that they have only booked a seat and do not have a ticket. The system is designed for those who already have a ticket.

The return seat price looked to represent good value; however, the problem was that train travel was not part of the deal.

Mr. Dick Fearn

Many have found the system beneficial. We value our senior citizen customers. They use our services a lot and we are delighted to have them. Many of them like to book a seat and €3 is not much to ask for. They do not have to go on-line, they can book it over the phone.

Buses are not my responsibility, but our sister company, Bus Éireann, works closely with us. I know its chief executive well and will refer the Deputy's comments about on-line bookings to him.

Ms Catherine Mason

I am incredibly heartened by the passion the committee has shown for the development of railways across the island. This is wonderful to see and we want to respond when possible. In the North there is a renaissance on the railways. The railway line had become substantially degraded, but in the last decade there has been huge investment to ensure substantial growth in numbers. We passed the 10 million passengers in a year mark last year, a substantial achievement.

We have invested in fleet and rail replacement. Work has been done on the Derry line in the last 12 months between Ballymena and Coleraine. The next step is to relay the line between Coleraine and Derry. We are developing an economic appraisal of the work and hopefully it will start in 2012. It will make a difference in terms of comfort and journey times and secure the future of the line.

Under the current Minister, the part of the line that is used less and was at risk of falling away is being rejuvenated. This opens up opportunities, similar to the ones members have brought to our attention, in keeping the Coleraine to Derry element of the network in place. As we develop the infrastructure and fleet, we are making investments. An hourly Enterprise service would require investment on a joint basis. These two investment frameworks open up a number of opportunities. As we look at them, we must look not only at the end to end opportunities but also at the intermediate parts of the network, identifying the greatest opportunities in terms of numbers of people and a desire to travel, to ensure we maximise use of the infrastructure. It is the case that on both sides of the Border there are plans that give us great hope for our future prospects.

I acknowledge the strong case my colleagues from County Donegal have made for what we collectively share, the need for the development of a direct Dublin to Derry link. I mentioned the two primary recommendations of the Donegal County Council sponsored report. I would like to have some idea that this was at least an issue for consideration. I would like to have the comfort of knowing that we made that point in today's engagement and would like to have some commentary on the creation of the western corridor and the fact that one cannot complete a circumference of the island without transferring to another mode of transport at Derry or Sligo because they are not linked by rail. It was not specifically referred to but in terms of a broad brush approach as regards ideas that will be looked at. May we have a response on a Derry to Sligo link? Is there additional information on the provision of a direct Dublin to Derry route, serving each of the five counties that currently do not have a rail service: Monaghan, Cavan, Fermanagh, Tyrone and Donegal?

With regard to future plans and the aspiration that there will be an hourly service, can the phrase used, "in due course," be defined? What timelines are in place?

Mr. Dick Fearn

I cannot give a firm commitment today about a Sligo link or a direct link between Derry and Dublin. I made the more general comments because I wanted to demonstrate my support for the concept of redevelopment of railways and we have succeeded so far. If in due course there is a policy introduced by the Government to extend the railway north of Sligo to County Donegal and on to County Derry, as a railway man, I would be very keen to make it a reality. I am not, however, in a position to give a commitment that this will be a policy.

In my experience, across the water and here, development is incremental. If the first few succeed, there will be further increments. Straight away people say to us, that because of the success of the Galway to Limerick line, the next phase, to Claremorris and on towards Sligo, should be the goal one should push to achieve. We should get on with this and start to put the pieces in place. The first section of the line, to Tuam, is very much part of our current programme. We are doing the necessary groundwork — the surveying and so on — in order that we can go to the Government shortly with firm costs and timescales.

Once the momentum builds, there is no reason sections of the State that have not had railways for a very long time should not ultimately have them. It is not within my gift to say this will happen and I cannot give such a commitment to the committee, as I have no power to do so. However, incrementally, there is no reason it should not happen.

Ms Mason might like to say something about similar development concepts at the Derry end.

Ms Catherine Mason

Like Mr. Fearn, I am not able to make any firm commitments. Translink sits within a regional transportation strategy, as Iarnród Éireann does here. We must consider elements of policy and budget availability.

In the North we have carried out a study of the northern corridors, moving on into County Donegal. People in the north west are lobbying passionately to ensure we have that level of connectivity, particularly through to Letterkenny. Some work was undertaken in that regard last year, in which I am sure Donegal County Council would have been involved. Pieces of work are being done on both sides of the Border.

There is passion for the renaissance of the railways, but the work will, as Mr. Fearn said, be incremental. An element of timing will be involved in ensuring it happens.

Mr. Dick Fearn

In answer to Senator Carroll's second question on what "in due course" means in relation to the expansion of the Enterprise service, it means the timescales for the acquisition of new or refurbished rolling stock. We currently have three Enterprise trains, given the way in which they are formed, although there are some spare carriages. The logistics are such that the three trains allow us to provide a service at roughly two-hour intervals. The services do not run precisely at two-hour intervals because they are timed to fit in with other services. If we were to move to hourly services, we would definitely run the trains at even intervals in order that the services would run at the same time each hour. To move to an hourly service, we would need six trains. We would either have to get three new ones, or refurbish some of the carriages Iarnród Éireann no longer uses on some of its other services. An extensive refurbishment would be needed to bring the carriages up to modern standards and ensure they would comply with current safety criteria. There is a case for capital investment. We are working jointly on the business case because the business is run on a 50:50 basis. That is why we cannot give a timescale, although I believe we will in due course run Enterprise services at hourly intervals. There will be a good business case to do so, but capital funding will be needed.

Ms Catherine Mason

It is fair to say revenue funding would be needed.

I ask the Chairman whether we will return after the vote. I have an issue to discuss under any other business.

As we will not return, I will give the Deputy an opportunity to speak now. I believe Mr. Fearn has finished speaking.

Mr. Dick Fearn


If necessary, the Chairman can rule that I am out of order. Given that the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement represents both sides of the Border, North and South, I propose a motion that we call on the Financial Regulator to expedite his decision to allow Quinn Insurance Limited to write insurance in Great Britain and Northern Ireland as a matter of urgency. The current action is crippling the company and will have huge ramifications for all of us. I ask the Chairman as a matter of urgency following the meeting to make direct contact with the office of the regulator. I ask him to present the details of the motion, if it is acceptable to committee members, and highlight our genuine concerns.

I second that proposal.

Is that agreed? I see that members agree. I will transmit the motion to the Financial Regulator immediately after lunch.

I thank everyone for coming, especially our guests, Mr. Fearn, chief executive of Iarnród Éireann, and Ms Catherine Mason, group chief executive of Translink. I thank them for their contributions, leadership and vision. I also thank all their staff. The protection and strengthening of the economic corridor between Belfast and Dublin are of benefit to all the people on the island of Ireland. We hope that, through close co-operation between the two rail companies, consumers and businesses on both sides of the Border will be able to enjoy an even more reliable, affordable and convenient service.

I hope our guests understand we rushed the end of the meeting because of a vote in the Dáil.

The joint committee adjourned at 12.55 p.m. until 11.30 a.m. on Thursday, 3 June 2010.