My look onto Irish Rail from outside
I am after coming back in Germany from travelling in Ireland while I prefer the train in Ireland. As well, I have read about low patronage on the Ballybrophy - Nenagh - Limerick and the Waterford - Limerick line. Taking into account former experiences in Germany, a few general reforms are overdue. As I do not refer to one certain line, I have placed this thread under "General discussions".
At first, I want to point out that there are good practices at Irish rail. Ticketing, at the station as well as prebooked tickets, is transparent. Passengers can rely on it that a discounted ticket will be available online, let´s say, a few days before travelling. For long distance trains on busy routes, the availability of reasonably discounted tickets is more alike lottery in Germany. As well, I have rarely come across very delayed trains within 12 years of Ireland travels and never across canceled trains without notice beforehand what frequently happens in Germany. There are as well lessons what not to do in Ireland.
In Germany, passenger trains have been withdrawn on many lines or it has been thought about it on many further lines up till 30 years ago when new policies were slowly set up for regional rail transport. Since then, integrated tariffs have been set up in more and more regions for bus, tram and regional trains. As well, trains are running every hour or half an hour on most lines. Some rural branch lines have trains every two hours with hourly trains at peak times. These measures have lead to ever growing patronage which in some regions lead to restored passenger services. In rural regions, public transport on demand is frequently offered, mostly every hour or two hours. Parallel bus and train services have been endet, apart from urban regions where local busses feed into rail services.
For Ireland, these measures should be taken:
- trains every two hours with additional trains at peak times on all lines from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., on weekends and before bank holidays till midnight.
- hourly trains on the Dublin - Galway, Dublin - Cork and Dublin - Limerick lines; on the Dublin - Galway line, two hourly trains as backbone with additional trains between according to what the infrastructure allows could be the beginning, switching to hourly trains as soon as new passing lopps have been installed
- integrated Bus Éireann/Irish Rail-tickets, with the option to book a surplus for Bus Éireann for prebooked tickets
- no Bus Éireann services along operating railway lines while handling Córas Iompair Éireann as one company; bus timetables should be overhauled to feed into rail services
- add cash payment on collecting prebooked tickets as an option and sale of discounted tickets at vending machines up till one or two days before travel
- Dublin - Limerick trains via Nenagh after line upgrade and renewal; Nenagh and other towns would get direct trains from and to Dublin
- as you have stated, yet, Dublin - Galway trains via Mullingar to ease traffic on the line via Portarlington. On demand, the Dublin - Cork line could get additional trains
- direct trains from Rosslare via Waterford to Limerick city
- bring back Galway - Mayo - Sligo trains as soon as possible
- stops on demand at less frequently used stops
- of course, trains to Navan as soon as possible and commuter trains linking with the DART network at Conolly station before the DART network reaches Kildare
Thank you beforehand for your thoughts.
Alex a genuinely well researched and positive contribution to the rail discussion in Ireland. Your experience from a country like Germany is refreshing though some will argue here against your points on the basis that in Germany there is a big population to use the railway unlike here.
I don’t agree I think if the service is provided people will use it. Service like Rosslare has been gradually run down no longer linked to Waterford or Cork and once the train met the ferry not so today.
On the alternative route to the west through Mullingar certainly this is a good option to relieve the over used mainline route through Portarlington but no thinking in this direction and the Mullingar Athlone line is moving towards a greenway.
The future is rail but here in Ireland there is a reluctance to embrace this reality.
AlexderFranke: A few observations. I would agree with much of what you have to say, but there are some reservations.
First, forget about re-opening Athlone-Mullingar as a solution to congestion between Athlone and Portarlington. Doubling some or all of the latter would better (and more directly) address the problem. Remember that the Mullingar to Dublin line is already pretty busy and there are really big problems over the last few miles into Connolly.
I would put serious improvement to Waterford-Clonmel-Limerick and to Limerick-Nenagh-Roscrea-Ballybrophy over any new/reopened lines north of Athenry (or maybe Tuam). Also, forget about Rosslare-Waterford. I say this because some lines have no big urban settlements en-route.
Think seriously about how the railways can take advantage of higher carbon taxes, which should favour relatively fuel-efficient modes or transport, especially if you throw electrification into the mix.
Finally, Germany and most European countries make a sharp price distinction between Intercity (only reserved seats and often high fares) and regional/local/commuter services (much lower fares and no reservations). In Ireland we have Intercity trains effectively doing a lot of commuter work. Maybe this is inevitable in such a small system. (but if the system were to get much busier in a post-carbon era? ….)
New approach to public transport
Of course, Ireland is less densely populated than Germany on average. However, there are well rural regions in Germany that are similarly populated as Ireland and have well working rail services. The usefulness of public transport in rural regions depens much on local politics. While there have been the strong political will to keep or restore passenger rail services in some regions and to deliver regular local links on demand, there has been nothing like that in other regions.
Nevertheless, integrated planning of Irish Rail and Bus Éireann services to end running busses and trains along the same route and timetables that meet the needs of people will surely work as well in Ireland as in other European coutries. We can all learn lessons from Switzerland which has an integrated network of public transport all over the country. In Germany, North Hessen is a good example for local links on demand every hour till just after midnight covering the whole countryside. Regular local links feeding into busses and trains furthermore bring additional passengers. The newly established local links in Ireland make sense, but need to run hourly and two-hourly in the catchment area of a train or Bus Éireann stop.
As Ireland is largely not densely populated, train stops on demand make much sense. At first, Craughwell and Ardrahan on the Galway - Limerickk route come to my mind. I know that the Rosslare - Waterford section is closed by now. But this line could be brought back quite easily into operation. To attract additional passengers, Rosslare - Waterford - Limerick trains have to suit with ferry timetables and offer links to other trains along the line, above all to Cork city. This line is as well a candidate for stops on demand. If Dublin - Limerick services are lead via Nenagh, Limerick Junction will be eased of these trains for the benefit of links between Rosslare - Waterford - Limerick and Dublin - Cork/Tralee trains.
First a bit of history. CIE was broken up about 50 years ago into 3 companies, Dublin Bus, Irish Rail and Bus Eireann, the latter two were told to compete with one another. At the time there was no independent transport regulator and the competition thing was probably a reaction to the previous hyper-centralised monopolistic monster called CIE. We now have better governance structures, especially a regulator (NTA) which should, if it were competent, look at the blend of regulation/coordination and competition for franchises which exists elsewhere (and which is emerging for bus services in Dublin).
Having said that, I doubt if private operators can be prevented from competing on Intercity routes with Irish Rail, but maybe some rail connectivity obligations might be imposed on them as a condition for a licence.
Well, private bus companies do not need to be banned from competing with Irish Rail. Above all, it makes no sense to let compete companies that are subsidized by tax payers´ money with each other instead of focussing on one mode of transport. Public money is more effectively spend on enhanced rail services along rail routes than splitting it between bus and train operators.
If private bus operators can offer services without public subsidy, they shall do so. This will not be the case but along busy corridors or if they focus on special customer groups, like guided tours or a few direct busses from cities to points of special interest, like airports, national parks or events. But otherwise, they will hardly make money along well-served rail lines. Private companies will not offer services if they make losses. Local services are another story where authorities are free to choose whoever makes an offer to deliver demanded services.
Rail link to Shannon airport
Joined up thinking at last - link to Foynes should also be reopened instead of the endless building of new roads
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