Wednesday, 24 October 2001
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. J. Brady: I remember my childhood days when the train ran from Dublin to Navan to Kells and from Virginia Road station to Oldcastle. Unfortunately, in the late 1950s or 1960s, that ceased. One could also have taken a train from Navan to Kingscourt via Kilberry, Wilkinstown, Castletown, Navan, Nobber, and Kilmainham Wood.
Passenger lines to Kingscourt closed in 1947. Freight trains have continued to use the line, mainly to transport gypsum. There have been regular trains from Kingscourt, both to the Irish Cement factories at Platin outside Drogheda and Castlemongret in County Limerick. Partly as a result of the ILDA dispute, the traffic to Platin switched to road. Iarnród Éireann has decided that the line from Navan to Kingscourt is to close because of high maintenance costs. It is ironic  given that the programme of bridge renewal on the line has been ongoing since the beginning of 2000.
Closing this line will lead to 30 or 40 extra lorries using Meath roads travelling to Drogheda and County Limerick. These roads are already overburdened with traffic. They facilitate traffic going from the north and the north-west to Dublin and traffic from Dundalk going west. It is odd that Iarnród Éireann is closing the northern half of the original Clonsilla-Kingscourt railway when there are plans to reopen for passengers the now closed Navan-Clonsilla section by 2011.
I understand that Iarnród Éireann is considering withdrawing from the freight rail business. The investment of recent years in our railways is only beginning to make up for the decades of under-investment. Industries should be encouraged to switch to rail through tax breaks and suitable subsidies. It was always intended that when passenger trains returned to Navan, the existing line to Kingscourt would reopen for passengers.
I call on the Minister of State not to make the mistake that was made concerning the line from Dublin to Oldcastle. When it ceased it the late 1950s or early 1960s, not only was the line closed but the land was sold back to the farmers. If that line had been left intact, a train could be running again from Dublin to Oldcastle. I appeal to the Minister of State to reconsider this decision and do all in his power to keep the line open.
Mr. B. Smith: I am grateful to the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for giving me the opportunity to raise this important issue. I regret that a decision has been reached to cease the freight rail service from Navan to Kingscourt, County Cavan. Sadly, this will result in the closure of the last railway in County Cavan.
The service conveyed gypsum from Kingscourt to the Irish Cement plants in Drogheda and Limerick. The ILDA strike resulted in a switch of freight from rail to road, and unfortunately it seems that this is to continue. Irish Cement's decision to transfer all freight to road will lead to more heavy vehicles further congesting our busy road network, as Deputy Johnny Brady has rightly stated.
It has been suggested to me that Iarnród Éireann is seriously considering withdrawing from the rail freight business. I hope this is not correct. We should provide incentives to ensure a greater use of the rail network in the conveyance of freight. This would obviously reduce congestion and the heavy vehicle burden on our road network. In recent years, Iarnród Éireann committed substantial expenditure in upgrading the rail line from Navan to Kingscourt.
I am glad the Minister of State at the Department of Public Enterprise, Deputy Jacob, is here tonight to listen to the case Deputy Brady and I have outlined. If the decision by Irish Cement to change the means of transport is irrevocable, will he give a firm commitment that the Department of Public Enterprise will instruct Iarnród Éireann  to leave intact the existing line, which I hope will be developed in the longer term for passenger traffic?
My Fianna Fáil colleagues in County Meath have actively sought the provision of a rail passenger service from Dublin to Navan. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle and I wholeheartedly support their efforts. I have consistently raised with the Minister the potential that exists to further develop such a passenger service to Kingscourt, which would be of immense benefit to that town and a large part of east Cavan. Similarly, Carrickmacross and south Monaghan would benefit. That rail line must remain in situ. With further economic development in this country, it will be of long-term value to our transport infrastructure.
Minister of State at the Department of Public Enterprise (Mr. Jacob): I thank the Deputies for raising this important matter. Rail freight services to and from particular locations fall within the day-to-day responsibility of Iarnród Éireann. Decisions by customers relating to rail freight contracts, as referred to by the Deputies, are a matter for direct negotiation between Iarnród Éireann and the customer. The Minister for Public Enterprise has no role in this area.
As for rail services generally, the Deputies will be aware that the review group which reported to the Minister on 4 July last on “Iarnród Éireann: The Way Forward” indicated that there are major questions to be addressed with regard to the future of the rail freight business. The review group recommended that a special and thorough study of the issue be commissioned as a matter of urgency. It suggested that long range plans will need to be established for the rail sector as a whole.
The Minister is anxious that there should be a strategic consideration of the contribution of rail services in the light of the emerging national spatial strategy and the £500 million investment programme set out in the national development plan. The future role of rail freight will be a key component of this long range review.
The Iarnród Éireann review group made a number of arguments in favour of and against retaining freight services generally. At this stage, it would not be appropriate for the Minister to comment in detail on these arguments. The review to be undertaken within the Department will give comprehensive consideration to the issues raised by the review group and the forthcoming report to be made to the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources by the task force on port logistics which will also deal with the subject of rail freight. The review will, therefore, have regard, inter alia, to likely changes in freight transport, distribution, logistics and the particular contribution the rail system can make to goods distribution and the alleviation of road congestion.
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