As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have responsibility for policy and overall funding of public transport. The operation and provision of services on the rail network are matters for Iarnród Éireann in the first instance, which, in consultation with the National Transport Authority (NTA), is currently examining how best to source additional rolling stock as efficiently and effectively as possible, while ensuring value for money for the taxpayer in that regard.
I acknowledge the fact that at certain times of the day, some rail services are currently crowded due to the level of demand. The Deputy can be assured that the safe operation of the rail network and services is the overriding priority at all times of both the company and, of course, the Commission for Railway Regulation, which is the independent, statutory body charged with overseeing the safety of our network.
From late September to early December is the busiest commuter period of the year for all transport modes, given the return of third-level educational institutions. Iarnród Éireann launched the website peaktime.ie on September 23rd.
I am advised by Irish Rail that its intention in launching peaktime.ie was not to “persuade workers to avoid rush-hour DART times on weekday mornings”, but to equip those commuters who have flexibility in their travel times with information on demand levels on DARTs serving their stations, thus enabling them to decide their travel times based on the available options.
With one in six weekday DART journeys made between 8am and 9am, the morning peak is particularly concentrated. The information provided on peaktime.ie may enable some commuters to travel at a time when there is greater capacity, thus increasing overall the contribution of DART to providing sustainable transport options for a greater number of commuters and helping those commuters make the modal shift from private to public transport.
Iarnród Éireann increased DART frequency to a 10-minute weekday service from 7am to 8pm in September 2018, and is maximising capacity within its existing fleet at the busiest times. These changes mean that there remains scope for further growth in passenger numbers at the busiest times. However, capacity will come under increasing pressure, based on economic and employment growth forecasts. This is the case not only for DART, but also peak Commuter and Intercity services.
Currently, with the existing rail fleet fully deployed at peak times, the NTA in conjunction with Iarnród Éireann are examining options in the short, medium and longer term for additional train capacity to meet the increased commuter services demand across the network. I can confirm that my Department has now received a business case from the National Transport Authority-Iarnród Éireann in relation to the proposed purchase of 41 InterCity Rail (ICR) Cars. As the Deputy is aware, all public expenditure must comply with the Public Spending Code which sets out the requirements to which sponsoring agencies and sanctioning authorities must adhere, including the requirement that any project with an expected cost of €100 million or more must obtain specific approval from Government. In line with the Public Spending Code, that business case is currently being considered by my Department and once that consideration is complete I will seek Government's decision in relation to same. Pending Government approval to proceed, NTA-Iarnród Éireann anticipate delivery of the ICRs will commence in late 2021 and enter into service in early 2022. Separately, in May of this year NTA-IÉ began a tender process for up to 600 electric and battery-electric powered carriages over a 10 year period.