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Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 4 November 2021

Thursday, 4 November 2021

Questions (91)

John Brady

Question:

91. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Transport the plans there are to increase capacity and the frequency of trains on the Dublin-Rosslare rail line; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53621/21]

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Oral answers (10 contributions) (Question to Transport)

This morning, it was reported it is proposed to reduce car journeys by 500,000 per day under the climate action plan to reduce carbon emissions. Key to that is investing in our public transport. In my constituency in Wicklow, we have a 19th century public transport service and infrastructure, the Dublin-Rosslare rail line, which serves through the county down to Wicklow town and Arklow. What plans are in place to expand the capacity and frequency of the rail service through Wicklow?

I thank the Deputy for his question and the opportunity to discuss the issue of increased capacity and the frequency on our rail lines, specifically the Dublin-Rosslare rail line. The Minister for Transport, Deputy Ryan, has responsibility for policy and overall funding for public transport, however, neither he nor my Department have a role in the day-to-day provision, operation, or maintenance of subsidised bus and rail services. That is the responsibility, first and foremost, of the NTA, in conjunction with public transport operators such as Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann, Go-Ahead Ireland, Luas or, in this instance, Iarnród Éireann.

Iarnród Éireann has advised that its operational fleet is fully deployed in the provision of scheduled services at present, in line with prevailing passenger demand across the network. The current capacity is primarily based on demand levels pre-Covid, when rapid growth in passenger demand resulted in the use of 100% of the company's operational fleet at peak times. Post-Covid, demand remains suppressed in the short term, and as we continue to exit the Covid-19 restrictions, significantly altered travel patterns have emerged.

Iarnród Éireann has advised that it intends to undertake an analysis of this new trend in customer habits and adapt its timetable to meet customer demands. It is expected this assessment will take a number of months as travel patterns become established, with a phased return to the workplace over the coming months, depending on the prevailing epidemiological situation. Once this process has been completed, a timetable and capacity proposal will be prepared and issued for public consultation on the Irish Rail website. It is currently estimated that this process will commence in the second quarter of 2022.

The recently announced national development plan will see the introduction of additional infrastructure which will relieve congestion on the network while also delivering new trains to provide greater capacity for increasing passenger numbers into the future. A range of projects are under way which will continue over the next 12 months, such as the national train control centre, track laying and new intercity railcars. These 41 carriages are under construction and scheduled for delivery in 2022.

The Minister mentioned the national development plan in which there is no mention of the Dublin-Rosslare line. I am a firm believer in "build it and they will come". Unfortunately, we have a 19th century rail line through Wicklow, which has received no upgrades for many decades. We have five services out of Wicklow, with two in the morning, one in the afternoon and two in the evening. Coming from Dublin into Wicklow, the first train to leave Dublin is at 9.33 a.m. If we are serious about getting people out of cars, there needs to be a bigger picture in terms of investing in our rail infrastructure. I am hearing absolutely nothing from the Minister of State. We need to see the electrification of the rail line beyond Greystones down to Wicklow town. We need to see the roll-out of battery operated trains as well. When will we see battery-operated trains on the Dublin-Rosslare line? What are the plans to extend the DART to Wicklow town? That gives us a serious opportunity to take people out of cars and put them on public transport.

Iarnród Éireann, supported by the NTA, is at an advanced stage in the tender process to order the largest and greenest fleet in Irish public transport history, for up to 750 electric and battery-electric powered carriages over a ten-year timescale. As well as increasing the Dublin area capacity, it will also see intercity carriages in use on commuter services allocated to intercity routes to increase capacity and frequency of services.

With regard to the possibility of increasing the DART frequency on the Dublin to Rosslare route, between Bray and Greystones, there is an issue with physical infrastructure constraints. The railway between Bray and Greystones is single track, which means only one service can operate between Bray and Greystones at any given time. Journey time between the two takes ten minutes each way, and both of these factors dictate the level of frequency which can be achieved. The DART+ coastal project is in the design and planning phase. One of its key goals is to identify opportunities for capacity enhancement between Bray and Greystones. Public consultation will be under way on those emerging options.

Unfortunately, the Minister of State did not answer the question I asked. I know there are plans to look at the DART between Bray and Greystones.

I asked specifically about extending the DART from Bray to Wicklow Town. That gives us a serious opportunity to deal with the congestion on the N11. On the N11 on a daily basis there are thousands of people sitting in their cars stuck in traffic, when we have a 19th-century rail line. That is where the investment needs to be, if we are serious about getting people out of cars to use public transport. That is where we need to look. I am conscious that the National Transport Authority, NTA, has had some discussions with Wicklow County Council with a view to extending the DART line to Wicklow Town. It is unfortunate that the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, is not here to deal with the questions. My colleague, Deputy Darren O’Rourke, raised that point earlier. It is a serious issue that the senior Minister is not here to answer the specific questions that we as Deputies have put forward, with no explanation whatsoever. It is in the Minister's remit to reschedule if he will not be here to answer the questions that we pose. It is within his remit to change the roster.

The Minister of State might answer the specific questions that I asked, not the issue between Bray and Greystones. I am talking about extending the DART to Wicklow town.

Deputy Leddin wanted to come in.

To follow on from Deputy Brady's question, I point out that it is clear to us all that there has never been more investment in rail. It is therefore a bit unfair of the Deputy to say that.

I do not want to put the Minister of State of the spot, but I ask her to outline similar type investments for our side of the of the country, in Galway and in Limerick. The Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, has announced ambitious plans around the midwest and in Galway. Could the Minister of State comment on those?

I thank the Deputies. Minister Ryan is attending Cabinet this morning. That is why he cannot be in the Dáil to take questions. However, if there are any further questions Deputy Brady wants answered, I can certainly relay them to him. The Climate Action Plan will be published later today, so that is why he could not attend. In relation to-----

In fairness, that is poor scheduling.

The rail services are critical. There is a commitment in the Programme for Government to invest in public transport, including in rail. Part of that is the national rail review. This is a both North and South rail review and it will be completed next year. All of the issues that the Deputy has raised about what the NTA is looking at will be considered and examined as part of that process. That is the correct process to ensure we take an all-island approach to rail services in looking at what is required. I will come back to Deputy Leddin on his other questions.

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