Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Questions (63)

Brendan Ryan


63. Deputy Brendan Ryan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he will approve the requests from Irish Rail for additional carriage stock to ensure capacity can be maintained and subsequently increased on the main commuter routes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45931/18]

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Oral answers (9 contributions) (Question to Transport)

Commuter rail routes into Dublin are bursting at the seams at peak times. They are under-resourced and under pressure. Recent timetable changes have not fixed the problem on the northern commuter line. While the number of trains has been increased, the trains have had the number of carriages reduced. Therefore, the overall capacity problem has not been addressed. Overcrowding is not only leaving people stranded on the platforms and late for school, work or hospital appointments, but also creating an unpleasant commuting experience for those crammed into the carriages. Travel on some peak services is reported to me as being unsafe.

As the Deputy is aware, the National Transport Authority has responsibility for ensuring the development and delivery of public transport infrastructure in the greater Dublin area, including, in consultation with Iarnród Éireann, the provision of rail fleet.

Public transport passenger numbers have increased in recent years, reflecting broader economic and employment growth. Rail passenger numbers have similarly increased across the network, in particular on the commuter network in the greater Dublin area. These increases are welcome. However, they clearly place pressure on the capacity of the network and the National Transport Authority, NTA, and Iarnród Éireann are continuing to make service and infrastructure improvements to address these pressures.

In recent years, new services were introduced on the Kildare line using the reopened Phoenix Park tunnel. These services have provided additional capacity on this important commuter corridor. In September this year, the DART moved towards a ten-minute service during the core operating day. Since the introduction of the new services, the NTA and Iarnród Éireann have monitored the impact on the broader commuter network and made adjustments as necessary in response to any identified issues. A number of additional services in the morning peak on the north side of the network have recently been approved and will provide additional capacity. Additionally, by the end of this month all peak-time DART services will be operated using six-car or eight-car train sets, which will provide a moderate increase in capacity. December's revised timetable will see additional off-peak capacity added to the Kildare, Maynooth and northern lines, providing passengers with additional travel options throughout the day.

While these are all immediate measures which will enhance overall capacity, other medium-term and long-term measures are required. Key to these measures is the provision of additional rail fleet. In the medium term, it had been hoped to refurbish a number of older train sets with a view to their reintroduction to service. However, following a tender process the overall cost of the refurbishment tripled as compared with initial estimates and the refurbishment proposal simply does not represent value for money.

The need for additional rail fleet remains, however, and the NTA and Iarnród Éireann have begun a process of identifying the potential of acquiring second-hand rail fleet, either through lease or purchase. The Deputy will be aware that this is complicated by the fact that the Irish rail network operates to a different gauge than those of the UK and most other European countries, and any second-hand vehicles would require modification for Irish use.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

A decision on the viability of the second-hand vehicle option approach will be made by the end of this year, following market availability analysis and procurement options analysis.

In the longer term and as part of the DART expansion programme generally, there is a need to significantly increase the fleet in any event. Work on developing tender documentation and train specifications for the proposed bimodal fleet of rail vehicles is progressing. The formal procurement notice seeking interested train manufacturers is expected to issue before the year's end and a formal contract for the new fleet is expected to be signed in 2019.

As the Deputy can see, a number of immediate short-term, medium-term and longer-term measures are under way which are designed to deal with the increased numbers of passengers availing of rail services. The Deputy is aware that investment in the greater Dublin area commuter rail network is a key priority of the Government, as reflected in the inclusion of the DART expansion programme in the national development plan, NDP, and an indicative funding allocation of €2 billion over the next ten years.

Irish Rail has requested capital investment in its carriage and train infrastructure. A host of other infrastructural works is needed to upgrade lines, provide further electrification and improve signalling junctions, but extra carriages can be provided now. This would help to provide solutions to our overcrowding now and make commuting more reliable and comfortable. Transport in Dublin is at breaking point. If the new fleet is not ordered now and we do not find a solution along the lines alluded to by the Minister, there will be no additional capacity by 2021. Irish Rail is seeking to lease 70 new carriages, which would provide 5,500 extra journeys. It also needs to expand the existing fleet of 629 carriages with the national development plan sanctioning investment in 300 new vehicles. The first order of 100 vehicles is likely to be in place by next year but they will take up to three years to deliver.

Decisions need to be made now as otherwise the Minister will store up problems that will lead to disaster only two years from now. I acknowledge underinvestment has been an issue in the years of the downturn and it is necessary to catch up.

I thank the Deputy for acknowledging that. It certainly has been difficult to play catch-up, especially after the difficult period we had. As he is from the north side, the Deputy might be interested to learn that the main issue that arose concerned capacity around the north side of Dublin. The NTA and Iarnród Éireann responded swiftly to customers' concerns by scheduling additional morning peak services from Portmarnock and Clongriffin. At Portmarnock, it provided an additional 7.29 a.m. service to Pearse Station and a 7.42 a.m. service to Bray and, from Clongriffin, it provided an additional 7.45 a.m. service to Bray. With these additional services, Portmarnock has the same number of peak morning services as it had before the timetable change and Clongriffin has one extra peak morning service. Iarnród Éireann has stated that it believes these changes will address the frequency concerns of passengers from Portmarnock and Clongriffin and the capacity issues that have arisen, particularly at DART stations such as Harmonstown and Killester. The NTA and Irish Rail are considering the potential of acquiring second-hand rail fleet through either lease or purchase. However, the Irish rail network operates on a different gauge, that is, the width between the two rails, from that of most other European countries, including the UK. This means that any second-hand vehicles would require modification.

For the Minister's information, he is rereading his earlier answer.

A decision on the viability of the second-hand vehicle option will be made later this year.

Does the Minister realise he read the same answer twice?

I thank the Minister. If the NTA and Irish Rail can deliver on that second-hand option very quickly, it will be welcome. However, commuters cannot rely on services and are being forced to get earlier trains to get to work on time, leading to overcrowding on trains during peak times. We will have serious problems when commuters start to lose confidence in public transport. In my constituency of Dublin Fingal, necessary and welcome new housing estates are being built in Donabate, Lusk, Rush, Skerries and Balbriggan. Among many other things, the people who buy these houses will be attracted by the fact that they are located near a commuter rail line. At the moment, there is not enough capacity to cope with existing demand. The Minister must urgently provide Irish Rail with the funding for extra carriages and capacity measures. I have raised the fragility of the M1 corridor with him on several occasions. The road and bus network in this corridor has slowed to an absolute crawl, and the M1 cannot take any more. Extra train carriages must be leased immediately to allow for the lead time for delivery. This matter must be treated with the urgency it deserves.

I agree that it is an urgent matter. We are sometimes victims of our own success. The upsurge in commuters in the Dublin area has put a lot of pressure on rail services and public transport in general. In some ways, this is wonderful but in other ways it creates difficulties. Funding of €230 million over the period from 2018 to 2021 has been allocated to mainline rail projects. Further investment includes the Dublin city centre resignalling project to improve speeds through the city centre and the new central traffic control centre, which will enable the DART expansion programme to progress, as well as generally improving national rail movements. The benefits are not just confined to the Dublin area. These investments will be of benefit across the rail network nationally.

As I stated, additional funding will also increase the rail fleet and allow further progress to be made on the electrification of the northern rail line to Balbriggan, which is now expected to be delivered in 2022. We will also commence work on the Maynooth line, which is part of the Dublin to Sligo line.