Written Answers. - Rail Services.

Damien English

Ceist:

89 Mr. English asked the Minister for Transport his plans to transfer a greater amount of freight traffic to the railways; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2628/03]

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

123 Mr. O'Shea asked the Minister for Transport if his attention has been drawn to the serious concerns expressed as a result of the decision of Irish Rail to close its freight depot at North Wall, as a result of which freight traffic to Galway, Waterford, Dundalk and Belfast will have to travel by road; if he has raised this matter with Irish Rail; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2738/03]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 89 and 123 together.

I am of the view that an effective rail freight system is important to sustained national economic development. It was in this context of developing a national policy perspective that early last year my Department engaged consultants to undertake a comprehensive strategic rail review of both passenger and rail freight services. The primary purpose of the review is to provide the Government with a basis for establishing a strategic policy framework for the future development of the rail sector including freight in Ireland over the next 20 years. Central to the review is an examination of the potential for rail freight services as well as the associated implications for the environment and the road network. The review is due to be published shortly.

I am informed by Iarnród Éireann that under the terms of its agreement with Spencer Dock Development Company entered into in 1998, it was required to vacate an area in North Wall currently used to operate its container business by 3 January 2003. I understand that failure to vacate the site in accordance with the terms of the 1998 agreement could expose Iarnród Éireann to significant compensation claims from the developer. CIE has advised me that the revenue generated from the development of the Spencer Dock site will allow significant capital investment for the upgrade of rail services.
Recognising the inevitability of this development, Iarnród Éireann has invested €1 million to relocate and facilitate continued container-handling operations in the North Wall area. The facilities on this new site allow 85% of current container volumes to be handled there. I am informed that to retain the balance of the 15% would have required an additional investment of €10 million. Iarnród Éireann is awaiting the outcome of the strategic rail review prior to making any decisions on investment of such a scale.