Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Ceisteanna (42)

Robert Troy


42. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the status of plans to increase rail capacity; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22272/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (8 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Transport)

Could the Minister update the House on his plans to increase rail capacity? When can we expect additional carriages and trains to be ordered and delivered?

I thank the Deputy for his question and his interest in this issue.

We are all aware that the number of people choosing to make rail part of their daily commute has increased in recent years. Last year, there were 48 million passenger journeys on the heavy rail network, an increase of approximately 5.5% as compared to the number in 2017. To provide some context to that growth, as recently as 2015 the passenger number was approximately 39 million per annum. This increased demand across the network is a sign of continued economic growth and is welcome. It brings challenges, however. As the Deputy will be aware, there are pressures on the rail network to match current demand with available capacity, particularly in the greater Dublin area.

The National Transport Authority, NTA, and Iarnród Éireann are addressing this issue of additional capacity through a mixture of short, medium and longer-term responses. The backdrop to those responses is the substantial funding for public transport that is being provided by Government under our Project Ireland 2040 programme.

In the short term, increased PSO funding has allowed for an expansion of services, for example, through the Phoenix Park tunnel, the introduction of ten-minute DARTs and new off-peak services on the Maynooth, Kildare and northern lines. While there is probably some potential for additional measures on the busier commuter lines in respect of off-peak capacity, the fleet is currently fully deployed at peak times.

We have also significantly increased funding for the maintenance and renewal of the network, meaning that it is now funded at so-called steady-state level, as measured annually. It means that Iarnród Éireann is able to better plan for issues such as track relaying, ballast cleaning and signalling renewal, and that means an improved passenger experience and potential journey time improvements on key sections of the network.

In the medium term, the challenge is to source additional rolling stock as efficiently and effectively as possible, and ensuring value for money for the taxpayer in that regard. Accordingly, the NTA and Irish Rail have been exploring two options: the purchase or lease of second-hand fleet and the purchase of additional carriages for the existing Intercity rail commuter fleet.

Regarding second-hand fleet, the NTA recently advertised for expressions of interest and is considering the responses received. There is an added complication associated with that option given the different rail gauge we use in Ireland. A decision on which of the two medium-term options will be pursued will be made shortly.

What I am talking about is capacity on the trains. If the Minister talks to any of his colleagues, on any side of the House, he will learn that the services are bursting at the seams. My specific question relates to when the additional rail carriages will be in use. Despite what was said in January 2018 by the Taoiseach, when he promised 30 or 40 refurbished carriages, it never happened. As recently as April this year, the Taoiseach stated additional carriages were being renovated and that others were on order. That is factually incorrect. No carriages are being renovated and none has been ordered. I submitted a parliamentary question on this and received the reply from the NTA. When can we expect additional rail carriages? When will the order be placed and when will the new carriages be delivered? I want a time and date.

The time and date are matters for the NTA. The Deputy knows that as well as I do. I can outline for him, however, what the policy is and the timeframe generally. If, however, he thinks I am going to give a time and date and dictate to the NTA today, he should realise I will not do that.

In the longer term, and as part of the DART expansion programme generally, there is a need to significantly increase the size of the rail fleet. The Deputy is correct in that regard but what he does not acknowledge is that our need for new carriages and more trains and capacity is a measure of the great success we have and of the growing economy. Even he did not anticipate some months ago that the transport companies would be doing so well.

Work on developing tender documentation and train specifications for the proposed bi-mode fleet of rail vehicles is progressing. I refer to diesel-electric trains. It is expected that the formal fleet acquisition tender process will be initiated in the next few weeks and that the fleet manufacturing contract will be awarded in quarter 2 of next year. As the Deputy can appreciate, however, there is a certain time lag between ordering new fleet, having that new fleet built specially for Iarnród Éireann and it entering into service.

There is a time lag and we are aware that public transport, including rail, has been bursting at the seams in recent years. Despite the Taoiseach having promised in January 2018 that additional refurbished carriages were on their way and that new rail carriages would be ordered, they have not arrived. Despite my having raised this issue with the Minister in the past and him having said the order was imminent, the carriages have not arrived. In fact, we are still awaiting commencement in respect of the pre-qualifying criteria. Even if we get everything in order and the orders are placed by quarter 2 of 2020, it will take three to four years before there is a delivery. Despite the fact that the Minister is responsible for public transport, he is saying today to any commuter travelling on an overcrowded train to Dublin from Mullingar, Kildare, Wicklow or anywhere else in the commuter belt, any senior citizen who cannot get a seat on a train, and anybody who cannot get a seat on a train when travelling to attend a medical appointment, that no new rail carriages will be delivered until the end of 2023, at best, or 2024. He is trying to blame the NTA for the lack of his guidance in this regard.

As I said, the fleet manufacturing contract will be awarded in the second quarter of next year. The Deputy fully realises there is obviously a time lag between ordering and delivery and he could not expect anything else. In the longer term, we are also committed to funding a new national train control centre and I expect to shortly seek Government approval for that project in line with the requirements of the public spending code. There are also significant other investments. I can assure the Deputy the issue of value for money is equally important. Ultimately, we need to increase the size of the rail fleet, expand the capacity of the network and continually look to improve services. I am making funding available to achieve exactly that. The Deputy knows, and I have said to him many times before, an additional 300 carriages will be added to the fleet in the longer term, all of which will be bi-mode. A formal procurement notice should issue on this by the end of the year, with a contract to be signed next year.

It will not be until 2024.

Delivery will probably be during 2023, not 2024.