15th November 2014
The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport recently published the draft Strategic Framework for Investment in Land Transport – a framework designed to guide key land transport investment decisions across rail and road with both a five-year focus and a longer-term outlook.
The Framework identifies that both the road and rail network are underfunded for “steady state” requirements, that is what is required to maintain them at their current extent and standard. It assesses a range of options to address this including increased efficiency of spending, reducing the size of networks, reducing the performance of networks, and increased Exchequer funding or alternative sources of funding.
Central to this, it outlines the need for a new rail policy, stating that such a policy should:
“....address key questions such as:
- What is the future envisaged role of rail transport in Ireland?
- What extent of the rail network is it appropriate to retain?
The latter issue should include regard to the total level of transport funding likely to be available in the medium to longer term, the transport needs uniquely addressed by the rail network, now and in the future, and other wider policy considerations (including sustainable development).”
As part of the public consultation to finalise the draft Framework, we in Iarnród Éireann have submitted our views. In summary, these are:
- Iarnród Éireann welcomes the recommendation that a new Rail Policy be developed as a priority. An explicit national policy which recognises rail as a valuable national asset, and identifies the priorities, costs and benefits for the future role and development of rail services in Ireland – aligned with economic, spatial planning, social and sustainability policies – would be a welcome development, helping to maximise rail’s economic contribution.
- Rail as a mode of transport is uniquely placed to support existing Irish and European policies relating to sustainability of transport and environmental policies and targets such as reducing emissions across passenger and freight transport.
- Rail also supports other Irish and European policies outlined in the framework, including safety; social inclusion; sustainable regional development; population health; as well as general economic benefits and supporting tourism.
- While the Framework references these policies, its conclusions could be interpreted as being disconnected from them, pointing to a doubling-down on car dependency nationally. The acknowledgement that past policies have failed in moving Irish land transport away from car dependency is partnered with a priority of “maximising the value of the road network”.
- There is an overwhelming focus on existing funding costs and national demand levels for rail, with only a brief acknowledgement of benefits and how past policy failings have facilitated continued car dependency. Future policy should support and develop the role of railways in meeting economic and other policy goals, and generate economic benefit for the State. No reference is made towards rail’s high market share on key corridors and how this might inform future policy, particularly land use and spatial planning.
- Similarly, there is a divergence between both existing and proposed funding levels for rail transport in Ireland and typical Western European funding levels, including from those countries identified as having infrastructure which yields economic advantage. This runs counter to European policy on the development of Trans European Networks and the Shift2Rail objectives. Rail accounts for almost 40% of land transport investment on average in Western Europe, compared to 18% in Ireland.
- The focus on addressing urban congestion is welcome. However, past transport planning errors should be avoided. Deferring a large scale project such as DART Underground, which would facilitate large scale modal shift to public transport while generating a strong economic return, may represent a false economy. This would have negative consequences for sustainable land-use and economic development and future socio economic benefits.
Despite our current funding challenges, we remain ambitious for the future of Iarnród Éireann, and as the Framework is finalised and on an ongoing basis, we will continue to make the case for the potential role for rail in meeting the transport needs of the country, for the benefit of the economy, environment and the communities we serve.