Railway Safety (Reporting and Investigation of Serious Accidents, Accidents and Incidents Involving Certain Railways) Bill 2020: Second Stage

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I thank the House for the opportunity to introduce this Bill and for agreeing to take all Stages of the Bill today. This is an urgent Bill and I am seeking the support of the House to ensure its passage through the Oireachtas so that it can be enacted before 31 October this year. The sole purpose of the Bill is to provide a statutory basis for continuation of the powers of the railway accident investigation unit, RAIU, relating to the reporting and investigation of accidents, including the Luas light rail system, heritage railways and certain other categories of railway set out in the Bill. The RAIU is the independent statutory expert body that carries out all railway accident investigations in the State. If the Bill is not enacted before 31 October and in the event that there is an accident on or after that date involving the Luas or one of the other railway networks covered by the Bill, the RAIU will no longer have the power to investigate or report on that accident.

The reason this change is happening to the RAIU's current range of powers is due to changes to the EU railway safety framework that are coming into force on 31 October. The EU railway safety directive 2004/49/EC established a common regulatory framework for railway safety across member states through the harmonisation of safety rules, certification, the role of national safety authorities and the investigation of accidents. Under that directive, all member states were required to establish an independent national investigation body, and to that end, the RAIU was established here. The 2004 directive applied to all categories of rail and the provisions relating to the investigation of accidents were transposed in Ireland by the European Union (Railway Safety) (Reporting and Investigation of Serious Accidents, Accidents and Incidents) Regulations 2014.

These regulations are referred to in the Bill as the "Regulations of 2014."

Under these regulations, the RAIU was given powers and functions in respect of all railways, including heavy rail, as in the larnród Éireann network, light rail, which includes the Luas, as well as other rail systems such as heritage railways metros and private railways. The 2004 EU railway safety directive is now being repealed, however, and it is being replaced by what is known as the recast railway safety directive, Directive EU (2016) 789. This directive takes effect from 31 October 2020. As a consequence of the repeal of the 2014 directive, the regulations of 2014, which were made under the European Communities Act 1972, will also cease to have effect on 31 October 2020.

The recast railway safety directive is part of a package of measures, known as the EU fourth railway package, which has the aims of promoting a single European rail market and achieving the technical interoperability of the Union railway system to support rail passenger and freight transport services. As a result of this, the recast railway safety directive has a reduced scope and it expressly excludes light railways, metros and other local railway systems. In the context of the railway systems in Ireland, it is only the railway operations on the larnród Éireann network, including the DART, that come within the scope of this new directive.

Last week, I made the European Union (Railway Safety) (Reporting and Investigation of Serious Accidents, Accidents and Incidents) Regulations 2020. These are referred to in the Bill as the "Regulations of 2020." These regulations transpose Chapter V of the recast railway safety directive, and provide the RAIU with renewed powers and functions in respect of reporting and investigating accidents on the heavy rail system. The regulations will take effect from 31 October 2020 to meet the EU transposition deadline and will replace the regulations of 2014 but, of course, they will only apply to heavy rail.

If no other measures are taken by 31 October 2020, there will, of course, be a gap in the legislation that would leave the RAIU without a statutory basis to investigate accidents involving any of Ireland's other railways, including the Luas and heritage railways. The measures in this Bill are aimed at preventing any such gap arising. The enactment this Bill will allow the regulations of 2020 to be applied to all of those categories of railway, as well as to heavy rail.

Through the enactment of this Bill, the RAIU will be able to use the regulations of 2020 to carry out its full investigation functions, the same as it has always done in respect of the Luas light rail network and heritage railways and so on.

The Bill also contains necessary saver and continuity provisions that will mean that the current work of the RAIU can continue without interruption. This includes investigations that are under way at present or reports that are in preparation, as well as existing reports and safety recommendations.

The net effect will be that from 31 October 2020, through a combination of the regulations of 2020 and the enactment of this Bill, the status quo will be maintained in relation to the RAIU's powers for investigating and reporting on all railway accidents, including heavy rail, the Luas, metros and other railways such as heritage, tourist and privately owned railways.

While this Bill now needs to be brought through the Oireachtas as urgent legislation, efforts have been made to try to resolve the problem earlier. In 2018, Iegislative provisions to address this issue were included in the general scheme for a railway safety (amendment) Bill 2018. That Bill went as far as the pre-legislative scrutiny stage and was examined by the relevant Oireachtas joint committee in June 2018.

Since that time, however, despite various efforts, it has not been possible to make any further progress because of the demands of other priority legislation, including those related to Brexit. At the end of last year, the Department explored the option of attaching these provisions to some other priority legislation within the Department's remit that was close to being published and, at the same time, developed the provision into a single-issue Bill. Those options were effectively closed off, however, with the decision to call a general election and, since then, the ongoing impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has removed any opportunity for progressing the matter until now.

I will now give a short overview of the Bill's provisions.

Section 1 is a standard interpretation section. It provides definitions for the specific terms used in the Bill, and where these are existing terms under other Acts, the relevant cross references are given. Section 2 is also a standard provision and provides for the commencement of the proposed Act on 31 October 2020.

Section 3 on reporting and investigation of accidents is the main provision in the Bill. This section provides that the regulations of 2020 will apply to the other types of railway that are not included within the scope of the recast railway safety directive. These include metros, trams and other light railway systems, including the Luas. They also include privately owned rail networks used for freight, to the extent that those railways interface with public roads or with another railway system. As Senators may be aware, there is one such railway currently operating in Ireland and that is the Bord na Móna network, which the company uses for its peat operations. Heritage railways are also included, and there are a number of these throughout the country, including in counties Clare, Donegal, Kerry, Laois, Leitrim and Waterford. The running of vintage steam trains on the larnród Éireann network is also covered.

Sections 4 to 6, inclusive, are also standard provisions. These seek to ensure the continuity of the reporting and investigation work that the RAIU has done to date and is continuing to do at present. Section 4 ensures that any investigation and the preparation of any report already commenced by the RAIU under the regulations of 2014 can continue and be completed under the regulations of 2020 from 31 October 2020. Section 5 ensures the continuity of existing investigation reports or other reports of the RAIU. Section 6 ensures the continuity of any relevant safety recommendation issued by the RAIU prior to 31 October 2020. Section 7 is a standard citation provision.

In conclusion, this is an important and urgent Bill to provide that the RAIU is provided with full statutory powers to enable it to continue, without interruption, to carry out reporting and investigation into accidents and incidents involving all railways. Again, I would like to thank the House for recognising the urgency attaching to the Bill and for agreeing to take all Stages in one day. I hope Senators will support the measures contained in the Bill and I look forward to hearing their views. I commend the Bill to the House.

Finally, I wish to inform Senators that the Government is putting forward a motion for earlier signature for this Bill. As explained, these measures need to be in place by 31 October if the RAIU is to be able to continue its important work without interruption, and an earlier signature is, therefore, considered appropriate and necessary.

I welcome the Minister to the House. Fianna Fáil is happy to support the legislation, which probably does not come as a big surprise to the Minister. We support it because it is technical in nature and is required due to the transposition of the EU directive that the Minister has identified. Like the Minister, I am somewhat concerned that it has taken so long to get the legislation to the House, and that we find ourselves in this emergency situation, considering that it has been around since 2004. However, I certainly do not think that any culpability can lie on the Minister's shoulders, on the basis of the amount that he has had to do since he got to the Department.

Under the changes to the directive, and without this Bill, the RAIU's scope would be limited, and some railways, including the Luas, as the Minister identified, would be excluded. Also excluded would be the West Clare Historical Railway in my constituency, which is one with which I am very familiar. I am also familiar with Jackie Whelan, who has done enormous work to recreate that historical dimension of the much loved and talked about railway. Therefore, it is important we show recognition to those particular facilities at this time.

We all have come to realise that the Luas has been a success. Its on-street activity and high visibility has assisted in that modal shift towards people leaving their cars behind and taking public transport. Therefore, it is important that we give recognition to that now.

Sadly, it is a fact of life that when a railway is put onto our streets, accidents happen, and they happen regularly. We should not be surprised about that. There is often a big furore when a Luas bumps into a car or a bus, but fender benders and little accidents happen on daily when there is on-street activity. In my view, it is a measure of the success of the Luas, that accidents happen, notwithstanding all the safety measures that are in place. It is important the RAIU is not inhibited in any way, and that requires us to pass the legislation without delay.

To broaden the point, and since the legislation is technical and there is broad agreement on it, I would like to say that I am reminded regularly, when I see the extent to which the State is responding to the pandemic and rightly spending colossal amounts of money, that those of us who advocated for greater investment in public transport down the years, were often rebuffed by the suggestion that the costs were so great that the State could not carry the burden.

If one believes in something and accepts it is the right thing to do, money should and can be found to address, for example, the pandemic crisis, and rightly so. It is my view that money should have been found a long time ago to address the climate crisis that has been identified. The effects are not as obvious-----

I ask the Senator to stick to the Bill before the House, please.

I am digressing a little to broaden the point but I will conclude and bring it all back. The Cathaoirleach need not worry about that.

I will be interested to see how the Senator brings it all back.

I will try to bring it back on track as soon as possible. It is very important to continue our effort to invest substantial amounts of capital moneys in our infrastructure. Public transport is under pressure at present because of the necessity for separation and due to level 5 measures, we have been obliged to reduce to 25% the usage of the facilities but we should be looking to the medium term when we get to the other side of the pandemic. We need to look at electrification of our interurban routes and to get to much higher speeds between for example, Limerick and Dublin and Cork and Dublin. People can then get off the road and on to public transport and we can address, for once and for all, our overdependence on the burning of fossil fuels to power our public transport systems. If people see that as a State, we are serious about putting the infrastructure in place, they will continue with that modal shift. This will happen in the same way as the Luas got people out of their cars to a much greater extent than they ever would have, or did for the bus service. The introduction of the Luas has forced Dublin Bus, over time, to deliver a much better service and to put in place the sort of information points that enable people to know what time the bus is coming, with real-time information. This has sharpened everybody’s pencil, so to speak, within the public transport systems which is all part of this.

In conclusion, I commend the Bill to the House. I hope that we can address the other deficits with the funding that is required. I also hope that the Minister will be back before us very shortly with more emergency legislation about the necessity to invest in infrastructure in places like Clare, where we should have a rail stop at Crusheen, and where we should be addressing the very significant flooding issues that cause the rail line between Limerick and Ennis to regularly flood at Ballycar, which has an impact on the flow of trains and always serves to undermine people’s confidence in that network.

I thank the Cathaoirleach. I will not be using my five minutes as I am conscious that we are under a great deal of time pressure today. I am also conscious of other Members who have substantial issues they wish to bring to the debate.

While I am here, I will not miss the opportunity to welcome the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, the leader of the Green Party, here. It is the first time that I have seen him in the Senate at the same time as myself. I wish him well. I also wish to flag to him my deep concern about the ramming of legislation through the Houses and, in particular, this Bill. While I acknowledge that it is a short, concise and important Bill, I expect more from him and from the Green Party. I sat for many years at home and or in my office listening to two people up here at the back of the Chamber, namely, the Minister and Deputy Catherine Martin, who is a colleague, a friend and an able and capable politician. I heard the arguments and I played them back yesterday of where these Members were being left isolated and left out of the parliamentary democratic process. These are the Minister's own words not mine and I am just repeating them to him.

I do not have a difficulty supporting the principle of this Bill and I accept its importance but this is not something over which he can stand again. I appeal to him to use this opportunity to go back to his group, which people expect a great deal from and give support to, as I have also, and not to allow a situation where all Stages of legislation are rammed through. It does not sit comfortably with me nor do I believe it does with him. The Minister has that privilege and is the leader of his own party and is in government. He is one leg of the three-legged stool that is holding this Government together. Before I conclude, I ask him to use his important influence in government to put a halt to the abuse of the democratic process that we have had to endure in respect of the passage of the Forestry (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2020 the week before last, over the past week it was the Commission of Investigation (Mother and Baby Homes and certain related Matters) Records, and another Matter, Bill 2020 and now it is this Bill. All these have happened on the watch of the Green Party with Ministers of the Green Party. I respectfully ask the Minister to take this point on board and I look forward, perhaps at another time, to having a discussion with him on these matters.

The Railway Accident and Investigation Unit, RAIU, is the independent railway accident investigation organisation for Ireland. It deals essentially with investigations of incidents and accidents on the national railway network, including the DART, the Luas and industrial and heritage railways. An investigation is carried out for the improvement of railway safety thereafter, establishing the cause of the incidents with the ultimate view of producing safety recommendations that would effectively avoid similar types of accidents in the future. These investigations are entirely independent and are focused on railway safety improvement, which is the most important thing.

Since 2014, the railway accidents investigation powers for categories of rail are provided for in secondary legislation. We have enacted statutory instruments throughout this time. This Bill addresses the point that the RAIU will, from 31 October 2020, continue to have a statutory basis for accidents involving railways falling outside the new EU directive, that is, the Luas and heritage railways. We have a number of major sections within this Bill but one of the points I wish to discuss today is Project Ireland 2040 and how that can significantly influence our railway infrastructure on the island of Ireland.

I got the train from Dundalk to Dublin for many years. The investment of significant money in high-speed rail is part of Project Ireland 2040-----

I remind Members that when a Member is speaking in the House, they should not be communicating with others except by text which is not normally allowed but will be in these circumstances. Please continue, Senator, and I apologise for the interruption.

I was discussing the issue of high-speed rail between the two largest cities on this island, Belfast and Dublin. There are eight direct trains now between those two cities whereas, in comparison, places in the UK involving similar distances, like Liverpool and Manchester or Edinburgh or Glasgow, have between 22 and 32 trains a day. The first train to leave Belfast is at 7 a.m. It arrives in Dublin Connolly, at 8.50 a.m. If one is leaving Dundalk at the same time, it leaves at 8 a.m. and takes 55 minutes. Any train before that time leaving Drogheda, Dundalk or Newry, for example, takes an hour and 30 minutes to arrive. The reason for this delay is that there are so many commuter trains going into Connolly Station at the same time and it does not have the proper capacity. I would like to see a significant investment in high-speed rail infrastructure on the island of Ireland because, as Senator Dooley said a couple of minutes ago, that is one of the best ways to get people out of their cars, off the roads, and on to public transport.

In the context also of the many joint infrastructure projects we want to promote both North and South, these should be at the top of our list of priorities for investment and where we need to go with high-speed rail. It is the future. In terms of rail, we have seen this with the promotion of the M1 corridor in the north east. It is not about dragging everybody into a capital city, like Dublin. It is about providing the infrastructure in order that jobs can go both ways, whether that is a person from north Dublin commuting to a job in Newry or someone commuting to a job in Drogheda or Dundalk. It is about pulling jobs and investment outside of the capital so that we are not all being sucked into it. We do that by providing proper infrastructure, including proper rail infrastructure.

These were the points I wanted to make to the Minister today. This is the way forward and I am aware that Project Ireland 2040 puts great emphasis on it but if we want to make a meaningful commitment to decreasing commuter times and to increasing capacity on trains so we do not have scenes - we do not see them at present in these Covid-19 times - of significant overcrowding where people are sitting in alleyways on trains. This is the way to go and high-speed rail has to be the future for the island of Ireland.

My apologies, a Chathaoirligh. I am sharing time with Senator Gavan.

I welcome the Minister into the Chamber, and having listened to him this morning and having read the Bill, he will be glad to hear that Sinn Féin is happy enough to facilitate the speedy passage of this Bill through the Seanad today.

That said, I concur with what has been said on the legislative process and the fact we have been forced to push through significant legislation over the past number of weeks. Given the loophole in which we find ourselves in relation to the new regulations from the EU, we are happy on this occasion to support today's Bill.

I record Sinn Féin's thanks to the Railway Accident Investigation Unit, RAIU, for the diligent way it conducts investigations into accidents. Its assistance ensures confidence in the public who use the service and the smooth running of the network. Public transport plays an increasing part in people's lives and many people look back in envy at the rail network that once flourished in Ireland but which over the decades was left to deteriorate and was replaced by the car, in particular. Now transport by train is being looked at with a fresh eye and rightly so. It has the benefits of getting commuters where they need to go, whether it be for work or pleasure, cheaply while making a significant contribution to protecting the environment, which I am sure Senators are all familiar with.

It is time this Government had a fresh look at its policy in relation to the rail network. Successive governments have neglected it and presided over a deteriorating service for many years. The deterioration is across the entire island. I listened to my colleague, Deputy O'Rourke, in the Dáil a few days ago when he said that 81% of people in his county of Meath work outside the county and commute daily by car because the rail infrastructure is in such neglect. I have often heard others reference, in particular, the total absence of rail network in the western region and my colleague, Deputy Mac Lochlainn, has referenced that on many occasions.

A few days ago, as the Minister will be aware, the Assembly in the North held a special meeting in relation to bringing rail infrastructure into the north west. My party colleagues, Martina Anderson and Karen Mullan, along with all the other political parties, backed a proposal to work with the Government of this State.

I welcome the announcement the Government made a few weeks ago on a feasibility study of the potential of high-speed rail going in from Derry to Cork. I look forward to working with the Minister and his officials on that and the sooner it starts the better. The stark reality faces us all in relation to the neglect, particularly in the north west. Derry's rail station is the second most isolated station on the entire island. The Minister has referenced the fact that we need to look at the possibility of bringing rail into the north west but I would like that work to be made concrete. The sooner that can happen, the better.

I will finish on that but I emphasise the need to ensure the piece of work the Minister has committed to doing becomes a reality. I look forward to working with him and his officials.

I welcome the Minister; it is good to see him here. When we are talking about railway safety, investment is very much linked to that. As my colleague said, we will be supporting this important technical Bill.

I will highlight the situation in Limerick and, in particular the Ballybrophy-Castleconnell-Limerick line. The Government has invested in that line and upgraded the track but it has not given permission for the trains to go any faster. It still takes two hours to get to Ballybrophy from Limerick and it takes 40 minutes to go from my village, Castleconnell, to the city centre in Limerick. We need progress on that. It comes up in the headlines in terms of how much it costs each year for the taxpayer. The point is that if we get it right it will be useful and progressive way of getting in and out of Limerick city, not just from County Limerick but from County Tipperary as well.

On a related point, this Bill covers light rail networks. Sinn Féin has championed the cause of the light rail network for Limerick. The reason is that Limerick is uniquely qualified because CIÉ still owns track right around the city. I am surprised we have not seen Green Party support so far for this initiative. I call on the Minister to investigate that because we are planning for the population to double in Limerick between 2020 and 2040. A light rail network is justified and we need to be ambitious for our city.

I thank the Senator and I call Senator Moynihan.

My party supports this Bill but we will not be speaking on it.

I welcome the Minister to the House and wish him well in his portfolio. I have no doubt he has a huge interest in the railway network. Rail safety is a hugely important issue. I come from a county where we have had our fair share of tragedies at level crossings over many years. Some of those level crossings have been upgraded to automated level crossings.

There is one in my area, Kilnageer crossing, between Belcarra and Castlebar, where a tragedy nearly happened a number of months ago. The community are up in arms in relation to work that should be carried out. They are looking for this to be either automated or the implementation of a scheme the council have put forward where traffic would go over the railway line. In any event, it will take a considerable period to carry out the works, particularly if it is roadworks or a bridge over the railway line. I cannot see why level crossings cannot be automated quite easily and I ask the Minister to look into this as a matter of urgency. I appreciate major strides have been made in recent decades automating many level crossings, particularly in County Mayo. We have a considerable rail network in the county from Westport to the Roscommon border and from Ballina to the Roscommon border. We hope the southern route will be extended from Athenry to Claremorris, which could take some time but it is something the Minister should look at.

I welcome the legislation. It is not before time that rail safety was made an issue. I wish the Minister well with the Bill.

I welcome the Minister and congratulate him on his appointment. I have not had the opportunity to do that. This Bill is a technical one and deserves the support of the entire House. Two points occur to me. On cross-Border railway operations post-Brexit, will there be special arrangements for the extension of these EU powers or will this have any implications for that? I would like to hear the Minister on that. I will not ask him about metro underground. I will save that for a more relevant occasion. However, may I stray slightly into the area of irrelevance?

As it is Friday, we will let you.

I was just warning the Cathaoirleach that I was about to do it.

I ask the Minister to look at the problems for emergency workers which are now being caused by the additional restriction of spaces on public transport at the moment and the hardship that is causing to nurses and people going to work. Is it really necessary as part of level 5 that the number of people able to travel on a bus is reduced by 50%? Is that an overreaction? It is causing much misery in Dublin for lower-paid workers who do not have their own transport and depend on public transport.

I welcome the Minister to the House and congratulate him on his appointment. I have found to be extremely courteous over the years. I often felt he was ahead of his time in some of his ideas but now time has caught up with him and he has a great opportunity in government for the next three or four years to deliver on some of his great ideas. We look forward to exciting times ahead in that regard.

As somebody who does not drive because of my eyesight difficulties, I use Iarnród Éireann on weekly travelling to Dublin. I have got to know all the staff on the railways over the years and they do a fantastic job for Irish Rail and being ambassadors for our country with tourists. Since he took over as CEO of Irish Rail, Jim Meade, has made a significant difference and we see the work taking place at Limerick Junction which will speed up the times on the Cork to Dublin rail line.

In that vein, I concur with other speakers on the necessity to invest in rail.

In terms of rail safety, the Department must upgrade the capital programme and buy out the network of level crossings in order to increase train speeds. The rail journey from Ennis to Galway takes about an hour and a half but it should not take so long. One will get from Ennis to Galway by bus a lot quicker. The problem is that there are many level crossings along that route which create speed restrictions. I would like the Minister to consider an investment programme aimed at taking over many of the level crossings on our railway network.

I also wish to refer to the Crusheen railway station campaign which has been ongoing for a long time in County Clare. Given that so many railway stations are automated now, there is no reason not to reopen the station at Crusheen. Perhaps the Minister could influence his Department which is not favourably disposed to this project.

I travel several times a week from Ennis to Limerick but for several months of the year every year, bus connections form part of that journey because of flooding at Ballycar. The Oireachtas committee dealing with rural affairs prepared a report on this some time ago and asked Clare County Council to come up with proposals to address it. There is an opportunity now for the Department with responsibility for transport to provide funding to carry out the necessary capital works to ensure that such flooding does not happen again. There is also logic in increasing the speed of trains travelling between Ennis and Limerick. That journey takes about 35 minutes but it should not take so long. Again, a capital investment programme to take over some of the level crossings on that route would address the issue. The train journey from Ennis to Limerick should be much quicker.

In terms of this legislation, rail safety is extremely important. It is worth pointing out that the railway network in this country is extremely safe. There have been incidents involving Luas trams periodically but overall our trains are very safe by international standards, with very few crashes. Full credit is due to Iarnród Éireann and the operators of Luas and the DART service. This legislation is important because safety should always be our number one priority and I know it is the priority of the team providing public transport in this country. I am glad to see that there is all-party support for this legislation.

Of course, it is very important to put safety first. In terms of light rail, heavy rail, walking, cycling and so on, everything must be safer. My own mother has stopped using trains because of the gap between the platform and the trains which frightens her. Perhaps we should look at that if it is proving prohibitive for older people because safety is key.

For too long we have been designing for cars. If one designs for cars, one gets cars which is why we still have gridlock in all of our major cities and towns. If one designs for people, one gets people and that is what we need now, more than ever. We need people back on our streets, in our villages and towns. I look forward to working with the Minister in his current role and I am really glad we have somebody in the role who understands transport.

We need to make the areas outside schools much safer. I worked with school children for 13 years trying to get them out of cars but sometimes they had no choice but to be driven everywhere all of the time. When people move around in a metal box, they are detached from everyone around them. We need to link up with people again. I know we have to think about Covid at the moment but we need to see each other at least. Travelling everywhere by car is not the solution, particularly in the context of rising obesity levels among children and adults in Ireland. We do not want to go the way of the USA which has become so car addicted that people there consider those who walk anywhere to be freaks.

I really look forward to this being a positive time for the transport sector. I appeal to the Minister to make sure his Department ringfences proper funding for rural transport. It was mentioned in the programme for Government and the recent budget but it is not clear how much funding will be provided to rural transport providers including Local Link. That is key. I am speaking on behalf of people like my son who will never be able to afford car insurance, my elderly neighbours who do not drive anymore and people with disabilities. We need to consider them first because the rest of us have choices whereas they do not.

Another issue of concern is the lack of urban designers in most local authorities. We have road engineers who have a really important role but it is very different to designing spaces for people to move around, be it by car, truck, bike or on foot. We really need to review how we are designing our towns and villages. If we are going to invest in infrastructure, we must make sure it is done properly so that people can engage with other people, no matter what mode of transport they choose. I must commend Dublin which has done very well with regard to cycling infrastructure. I look forward to similarly amazing infrastructure being rolled out all across the country. I welcome the Bill before us and wish the Minister the best of luck with it.

I will respond to some of the comments and questions. I thank Senators for their support for the Bill. Senator Dooley does not need to apologise for focusing on the local, be it in Crusheen, Ballycar or anywhere else because all politics is local and all safety is local. I assure the Senator that I will be looking at extending that line from Ennis up to Galway and not stopping at Athenry. Consider the potential if we develop a rail freight connection at Foynes and develop a section of rail from Athenry to Claremorris. That could open up the west of Ireland to enormous development opportunities. That line could carry freight as well as additional commuters and long-distance travellers.

In accept the point made by Senator Boyhan. It does not sit comfortably with me that we are presenting this Bill in the timeline set out. I have outlined the reason for that but that is not an excuse and I accept his point. We need to give the Oireachtas time to debate and consider legislation in detail, even technical Bills like this one. I will attempt to avoid similar circumstances arising in the future.

I absolutely agree with Senator McGahon on the issue of a high speed connection to Belfast and Derry. Our colleagues at the North-South Ministerial Council made the case for not stopping at Belfast but connecting on to Derry, which is important. We need to be really ambitious now because we have incredibly challenging climate change targets. They are beyond compare and will require us to radically change our entire transport system beyond anything anyone expects. Project Ireland 2040 is no longer an option; it will have to be Project 2050 and massive investment in sustainable modes of transport if we are going to do what we have committed to do, which is zero net emissions by 2050. I would love to hear how Senators think that might best be done. One of the projects for next year is working out how we will reach our targets. We will have to go way beyond Project Ireland 2040. We will have to draw up a new Project Ireland 2050 and net zero emissions and regional development, including the development of cities like Derry, would be centre-stage in my own ambitions.

In response to Senator Gavan, I would say the same about Limerick but would argue for heavy rather than light rail. The Foynes line is already in existence and Iarnród Éireann could develop it relatively quickly. We could put a station into Adare at the same time as building the freight connection to Foynes. We could put stations in Patrickswell and Crescent and run the line right into the centre of Limerick. The Senator knows those areas which have growing populations. Such a development would transform Limerick.

Hear, hear. Well said.

There is nothing in the current plans for rail in Limerick and that has to change.

The Minister is right.

That is not agreed Government policy yet but it is certainly my policy. I hope we can get support for that from all parties because this does not belong to any one party.

In response to Senator Burke I again cite that section from Athenry to Claremorris. As I said when I was speaking in the Dáil on this Bill, the potential for freight connectivity is so important. In my mind the line will run from Ballina, if not Sligo, all the way down to Waterford which will open up the whole western region. I am talking here about a western rail corridor from Waterford through Tipperary, Limerick Junction and up through Clare, Galway and Mayo.

It opens up the opportunity for us to go to the rest of the world and ask whether they are looking to invest in a location which has clean power, as the west has now with wind power, clean water, which is increasingly a rare resource in the world, world-class workers who are highly skilled in advanced manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, biomedical devices and industrial processing - we are world-leading experts on it - and key infrastructure connected to deep sea ports such as Foynes, Waterford and Cork. If we went out to the rest of the world with that as an investment proposal, I believe we would see the west rise with significant economic development opportunity. Those small sections between Foynes and Limerick and between Athenry and Claremorris would transform the system.

In response to Senator McDowell, the Department has been working for more than a year and a half to make sure post Brexit, irrespective of what happens in the negotiations in the coming weeks, we are confident we have the regulations and mechanisms in place so that cross-Border rail and bus journeys will be able to proceed.

The Senator's second point is valid and well made. We have seen, in the experience of people yesterday morning and again this morning, the real constraints when restricting public transport to 20% capacity. We are running full services. It is not a shortage of buses or a shortage of trains. On the Senator's behalf and on my own behalf, I will contact the National Transport Authority, NTA, later today for an updated assessment as to what is happening. There is a difficulty here. We are adhering to health protocols ahead of other objectives. The mathematics of that are such that sometimes one wonders.

It is unfortunate.

One could apply that to so many of the restrictions that are in place but we must heed the health advice. I will see if there are any ways in which we can improve. One of the ways of addressing it might be to stagger starting times. It would be an alternative way, particularly in the case of emergency workers who need to get there.

I was taken by Senator Conway's knowledge of the staff and his contact in his everyday experience. I agree with the Senator. My sense of the staff, management and board of Iarnród Éireann, led by Mr. Jim Meade, the CEO, is that they are ready for this. What I am seeing is a huge call on them to step up to the plate. It is not only in Limerick. We should be looking in Cork, for example, Midleton to Cork, where we could put in a station in Tivoli which would be hugely beneficial to the development of Cork city. In Galway, for example, twin-tracking from Athenry into the city would see development concentrate in Ardaun and those areas where we could put housing beside new rail infrastructure. The whole key is transport-led development. In Waterford, I believe even moving the station further up the Suir to the north quays would transform the development of the city at a relatively low cost. It would see a significant transport-led development opportunity of the city of Waterford on either side of the Suir and that would be transformative. I would not stop there. There is real merit in the rail line to Navan and real merit in looking at further DART and metro extensions.

I say to Senator McDowell that we will not leave south Dublin alone. We are proceeding with a study looking at the extension of metro to either Rathfarnham through Terenure direction or else through UCD towards Sandyford which would address the capacity issues on the metro line and avoid problems having to dig that up which would close the line for two or three years. Every area needs to be considered, I believe, as part of expansion of rail in this country. That is why this legislation needs to go through.

What of Crusheen railway station?

I would ask Members not to interrupt the Minister, but all politics is local and I will allow it.

There are three Clare Senators here and I do not want to be unfair to the others. Certainly, that is the sort of project we should look at. I am more concerned about Senator Garvey's mother and how we get her across the gap in the platform.

She is a formidable lady.

It would take a lot to stop a Garvey making a jump.

It is not a plan anyway.

Accessibility is everything. I was on the Dublin Transportation Office advisory committee for a number of years and the then director, Mr. John Henry, was a superb engineer. He and others always said if we design for accessibility, we improve the service for everyone. A disability can be a parent with a buggy and two children trying to figure out how to keep them from falling into a hole or whatever.

To go back to where I started with Senator Dooley, it is right down to the personal. This is one of the reasons we need this legislation. The Luas, on which there are regular accidents, is a great example of that because it was designed for accessibility in every way. Sometimes it is bit too accessible, but it works. It is hugely popular. The way forward is designing accessible public transport for all as part of the transportation we need. We need to make it safe. That is why I very much appreciate the messages of support for the legislation today.

Question put and agreed to.

When it is proposed to take Committee Stage?

Is that agreed? Agreed.