Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Questions (1)

Robert Troy


1. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if his attention has been drawn to the considerable disruption and inconvenience that has been caused to commuters by changes to the Irish Rail timetables; and the steps he will take to address this. [38002/18]

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Oral answers (10 contributions) (Question to Transport)

I ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if his attention has been drawn to the considerable disruption and inconvenience caused to commuters on the Maynooth line, M3 Parkway line, northern commuter line, Newbridge and Hazelhatch line, Heuston commuter line, my own line from Mullingar and the Longford and Sligo line as a result of the introduction of the new Irish Rail timetable on 9 September. Could he advise the House what measures his Department will take to address the long delays?

I thank the Deputy for his topical question. As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have responsibility for policy and overall funding in relation to public transport. I am not involved in the day-to-day operations of public transport. As the Deputy is aware, the operation of Iarnród Éireann services, including the new timetables on the DART, is a matter for the company with oversight by the National Transport Authority, NTA.

One of the features of Dublin's future transport infrastructure that is proposed in the NTA's transport strategy for the greater Dublin area 2016-2035 is implementation of the full DART expansion programme. The DART expansion programme is a series of projects that will create a full metropolitan area DART network for Dublin, with all the lines linked and connected. While interlinked, the projects will also have benefits as stand-alone projects. The National Development Plan, NDP, 2018-2027 includes delivery of the priority elements of the overall DART expansion programme.

Also, by optimising the delivery of both passenger and network benefits through a large NDP capital investment that builds first on optimising the existing rail infrastructure, there should also be better value for money for the taxpayer.

As part of the DART expansion programme and the move to a ten-minute frequency for DART services, Iarnród Éireann introduced a new timetable on Sunday, 9 September to provide for enhanced DART frequency. Iarnród Éireann has stated that the new timetable provides for a 28% increase in overall DART capacity and moves from 156 services per day to 195 services per day. The company also indicated that the more frequent off-peak DART was introduced as a direct response to market research which showed greater demand for off-peak services.

As sometimes occurs when new timetables are introduced, some teething issues arise that need to be reviewed and adjusted in order to ensure that the new arrangements reasonably address customers’ needs. I understand that while the vast majority of this new timetable has provided a much enhanced service to DART commuters now and enables the provision of additional off-peak commuter services from December of this year, some capacity issues have arisen. I am assured that Iarnród Éireann is working with the NTA to iron out those problems.

The main issue that has arisen is around capacity on the northside of Dublin, and Iarnród Éireann has responded swiftly to customer concerns by scheduling additional morning peak services from Portmarnock and Clongriffin.

From Monday, 17 September there has been a 7.29 a.m. service from Portmarnock station to Pearse station and a service from Portmarnock to Bray. Clongriffin has had an additional service provided by Iarnród Éireann at 7.45 a.m. which runs from Clongriffin to Bray.

In summary, with these further services now added by Iarnród Éireann, Portmarnock now has the same number of peak morning services as it had before the timetable change and Clongriffin has one extra.

Iarnród Éireann has stated that it believes that these changes will address the frequency concerns from passengers from Portmarnock and Clongriffin and the capacity issues that have arisen particularly at DART stations such as Harmonstown and Killester.

I am hardly surprised the Minister is not taking responsibility because that is a general trend of his. He Minister described teething problems. Charlie Weston tweeted this morning that he takes the train every morning and it has not been on time since 9 September. The Minister alluded to DART frequency, with trains now arriving every ten minutes, but there are shorter trains so there is no increase in capacity. This is at a time when, as a country, we are failing to meet our emission targets and are trying to encourage people to migrate from their cars to public transport.

Can I ask the Minister's opinion on the example of a commuter from Mullingar? The person said they used to get the former 7.31 a.m. train from Mullingar, which got them into work for 9 a.m., but which now leaves 15 minutes earlier and is scheduled to arrive five minutes sooner than the current train. The train for the person's return journey leaves at 5.10 p.m. and arrives in Mullingar ten minutes later. We have a situation where the busiest train in the morning is leaving 15 minutes earlier to arrive five minutes sooner while in the evening, it takes ten minutes longer to get home. That is an extra 20 minutes a day for a commuter who pays €3,600 per annum for the benefit of that service.

When was the last time Irish Rail purchased rolling stock and when will that rolling stock be delivered? I heard the Minister on "This Week" at the weekend talking about his budget priorities and I was surprised he did not mention a priority for an increase in spending on public transport.

The Minister's responsibility is to ensure the funding to Irish Rail is returned to what it was in 2008-09.

I thank Deputy Troy. I do not believe the Deputy would expect me to intervene specifically in relation to the Mullingar route. Indeed, he might be the first to criticise me if I did so. If the Deputy has a particular problem with that route, and it appears he has, the appropriate place to go is elsewhere, and he knows that. It would be wrong for me to step in and say that Deputy Troy has made representations and that I want to ensure his particular area is looked after in that way.

Having said that, I sympathise if the passengers in his area are being discommoded by these changes. It would be reasonable for the Deputy to go to the NTA or to Iarnród Éireann to make that case and I hope he has already done so.

As the Deputy can see, the changes that have taken place have not been universally successful in certain areas and further changes have had to be made as a result of what has happened. One of the features of this change in the DART expansion is that the NTA and Iarnród Éireann have been extremely flexible. One of the qualities of a good transport service is that when measures of this sort are introduced, as for example with the Luas, one is prepared to be flexible in the face of passenger movements and changes, and this is what has happened.

My guess is that in the case of Mullingar, which the Deputy mentioned, it will come under the same sort of criteria and scrutiny and will get similar responses to the one regarding Clongriffin and Portmarnock.

I used Mullingar as an example and at the outset I listed every commuter line that is experiencing serious disruption. The reason we are experiencing serious disruption is that quite simply we do not have sufficient rolling stock in our ownership to expand our services. That is a fact. I asked the Minister a specific question about the last time Irish Rail ordered new rolling stock. When can we expect the delivery of new rolling stock?

In regard to the Minister's interview on the "This Week" programme this week, I asked about his budget priorities for public transport. He seemed to go through many different areas but failed to acknowledge the responsibility he has for public transport, and with which he is fortunate to be charged. What can we expect in terms of an increased budget so the person I used as an example, who is paying €3,600 a year, is not going to be left with a journey time of 20 minutes longer a day, as a result of the changes in Irish Rail? Would the Minister take public transport if it meant that he was going to be 20 minutes longer a day getting to work? I seriously doubt it.

The Deputy is aware that despite his prognosis and prophesies of doom passenger journeys on Irish Rail increased by 6% in 2017. The DART and commuter rail services, to which he referred, carried almost 33 million passengers in the Dublin region in 2017, which is also an increase of 6%. It is booming.

In answer to the Deputy's question about procurement, the procurement process for additional DART fleet is expected to commence this year, with a contract for approximately 300 new rail carriages expected to be awarded in the second half of 2019. Some 28 refurbished carriages are to re-enter service in 2019. This will add capacity to a number of services. Iarnród Éireann and the NTA are currently assessing the availability of additional fleet that could be introduced to passenger services on the rail network across Ireland in the short term. The Deputy need not tell me that these agencies are not considering these issues. We will have 300 carriages and we have 28 carriages being refurbished.

When are they going to be delivered?

The Deputy asked me about when they are being ordered and the procurement-----

I asked about when they are being ordered and delivered.

I will answer the Deputy's other question about public transport priorities. There is an Estimates process going on, which the Deputy may not be aware of. I will be making my public transport requirements quite clear during that Estimates process. The question I was asked about at the weekend was in a completely different capacity and the Deputy knows this perfectly well.