western rail corridor
rail links



How they closed the Claremorris-Limerick railway (2)

The Dáil Debate of March 31st 1976 (Resumed)

Dáil Éireann - Volume 289 - 31 March, 1976

Private Members' Business. - Claremorris-Limerick Railway Passenger Service: Motion (Resumed).

The following motion was moved by Deputy Barrett on 30th March, 1976:

That Dáil Éireann, believing that for social and economic reasons, the Claremorris-Limerick railway passenger service should not be discontinued, calls on the Government to ensure that the passenger and freight service on this line be improved immediately so as to attract more business.

Debate resumed on the following amendment:

To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and to substitute the following:

"recognises that under Section 19 of the Transport Act, 1958 the Board of CIE is empowered to terminate any train service provided the Board is satisfied that the service is uneconomic and that there is no prospect of its continued operation being economic within a reasonable period; and takes note that the Board proposes to provide alternative road passenger services in lieu of the rail passenger services on the Limerick-Claremorris railway line."

Minister for Transport and Power (Mr. P. Barry): I spoke for a short time on this debate last night on the motion introduced by the Members opposite that for social and economic reasons this line should be retained. I proposed my amendment which says that this House should recognise the value of the 1958 Act which put the onus on the people who know, that is the board of CIE, what line should be retained and what they should give permission to shut down. When Deputy Barrett opened the debate he said that this was the biggest closure in the history of CIE. This is not correct and he knows it is not because this is not a closure. No line is being closed here. There is a withdrawal of an underused, uneconomic passenger service. That is all that is involved here.

Closures are what happened when Deputy Barrett's party were in power in the 1960s when the services were withdrawn, both passenger and freight, when the men were laid off, when the key was turned in the station door, when the line was taken up and when the land was sold. That is a closure. This is not a closure but a withdrawal of a service which was costing the taxpayer £250,000 a year to maintain. It is not true to say as was inferred here and in comments in the newspapers and by deputations, that CIE are withdrawing from the west of Ireland. The opposite is true. CIE put their money where their mouth is in this regard. They have spent £600,000 in the last two years in upgrading stations but the railway system in this country could not live if the same approach to it had continued. There must be a new dynamic approach to CIE if we are to maintain the railways because to keep on uneconomic lines, to keep on handling goods as they were handled in the last 20 years, would be a certainty to bring about the complete closure of all rail services not just to the west of Ireland but to the south and east coasts as well. This is not the attitude of the Government and it is not what CIE want to do. They are upgrading the stations in the west. They are laying new permanent way. They are investing in new rolling stock. They are doing all this with the idea of providing efficient services from Galway, from Westport, from Ballina, from Sligo into Dublin and out of it. This will be a help to the west of Ireland.

There is no bonus for the west if the people there insist on maintaining services which they themselves will not support. If the people through their normal loyalty will not support these lines, how can they expect industrialists who come here to support them? If the local people who have a local interest in maintaining the lines will not support them, why should any industrialists support them? There are two ways to see that these lines are maintained. First, CIE must make the services efficient. They must give a fast modern service for freight and passengers. Secondly, the local people must support them and must generate trade for them. If that is done, the railways in the west are secure.

If I thought the Opposition would win the next general election, I should accept this motion and bring in a Bill amending section 19 of the Transport Act and let whoever is Minister for Transport and Power suffer the consequences and pick up the bits and pieces for the next ten years. I know that will not happen. Therefore, I will resist this motion. I have introduced my amendment which I am quite happy will be carried by this House.

Mr. Hussey: I want to assure the Minister that we are quite certain we will win the next general election. If he has any notion of changing the Transport Act, 1958, this is a good time to do it. I support the motion in the names of Deputy Barrett and the other Fianna Fáil Deputies from the west requesting that this branch line be kept in operation. I am disappointed that the Government Deputies from the west did not put their names to the motion. I am sure their hearts were dictating that they should do so but, for political reasons apparently, they were not allowed to.

This motion is intended to highlight the serious threat to the social and economic life of the western community by the withdrawal by CIE of the passenger service on the Claremorris/Limerick line as and from April 5th. I should like to thank the Galway County Manager, Mr. Keating, and the County Development Officer, Mr. Lynch, for the valuable help they gave to the action committee which was set up to fight against this closure. They were very helpful and gave all the assistance they possibly could.

This action committee was set up in the west and was representative of all the commercial and trading interests in the west as well as the elected Members of all political parties. It failed so far to get a reprieve for this service. A deputation led by the Galway County Manager was received by the Minister for Transport and Power and by the chairman and board of management of CIE. The case for the retention of this line was put very forcefully by members of the deputation.

The deputation put forward some very concrete proposals which, if accepted and implemented, would definitely attract more business for the branch line in question. Those proposals included an alternative timetable which would fit in with the other services provided and would be far more effective in achieving connections with other trains. I have no doubt that if the alternative timetable were given a chance and the service improved, it would attract more people to use the service.

In spite of the deputation's efforts, the letters which subsequently arrived from the Minister and from the chairman of CIE bore out our worst fears. There was to be no reprieve, no salvation for this line. It was condemned by the board of CIE as being uneconomic. That was it as far as they were concerned. We were disappointed by that reply. We were far more disappointed by the Minister's reply dated March 10th, which told us in effect that he had no function in this matter, that any decision relating to a particular line rested with the board of CIE.

Section 19 of the Transport Act, 1958, may have given CIE power to terminate any rail passenger or rail freight service provided the board are satisfied that the service is uneconomic. The last part of section 19 (2) is very important as far as this closure is concerned. The wording is "and that there is no prospect of its continued operation being economic within a reasonable period". CIE have made no effort to make the service economic. It is a bad service. Those who attended protest meetings in the west know the type of service provided, the type of connections, the delays in delivering goods, and so on. With a little foresight and energy, an acceptable timetable could be drawn up which would make this service more attractive to people in the west to use it.

There is a prospect of making this service economical within a reasonable period, if CIE would do the job which they were appointed to do, that is, to provide an efficient rail and freight service and go out and sell that service. They have not made any attempt to sell their service so far. The Minister and the Government may try to shelter behind the Transport Act, 1958, and wash their hands of this issue. I was very disappointed yesterday evening at the Minister's whole approach to the railway system. I dread to think what would happen if CIE decided to terminate the services west of the Shannon and come no further than Athlone. Would the Minister's approach be the same as he outlined here last night? I do not think it should be. Regardless of what the 1958 Act says, there is a question of accountability and CIE are accountable to this House. We have to vote them money each year. We have to give them a huge subvention, which has been increasing yearly. This year it is in the region of £28 million and next year I believe it will be £40 million. This money is voted to CIE to provide a rail and passenger service. It comes from the taxpayers, and we in the west of Ireland pay our share of tax. Surely in a matter such as this, which is of such vital importance to the development of the west, the Minister is entitled to intervene and to tell CIE he is not prepared to sacrifice the future prospects of the west for a lousy figure of £250,000. That is the figure mentioned by CIE. It is the projected loss given for the passenger service on this line. As was pointed out by Deputy Barrett yesterday, it is very questionable.

During the course of our discussions with CIE we failed to get a satisfactory answer as to how they arrived at the figure of £250,000. As Deputy Barrett pointed out, in a recent statement the chairman of CIE said that labour costs represent 63 per cent of their total cost. On this line there are 30 men involved in the operation of the passenger service and after this closure 21 of them will become redundant. They have an average wage of £2,000, which makes a total of approximately £60,000. It can be worked out fairly conclusively that a more accurate figure of the loss on this line would be £100,000. This is a very small figure-it is only one-quarter of 1 per cent of the total loss for the year for CIE. It is a very small figure when one considers the amount they will be looking for next year.

This closure is coming at a very bad time. We all know the importance of a rail link for industrial development in any part of the country. In the west we are trying to develop industries and all the State agencies are at their wits' end to attract industry to the western [714] region. It is very disappointing to see at this time that one State agency, CIE, are pulling out of the west and, in effect, they are telling the world they have no confidence in the area, that it is not a viable proposition for them to operate there.

The IDA, the county development teams, Gaeltarra Éireann, the Office of Public Works, the local authorities, the RDOs, An Bord Iascaigh Mhara, Bord Fáilte, Comhlucht Siœicre Éireann and many others are still trying to establish industry and create employment in the western region. What effect will the pending closure have on their efforts?

CIE may say that it is only the passenger service that is involved and the Minister spelled this out this evening. However, it is generally accepted in the west that the removal of the passenger service is only the first step towards the withdrawal of goods services and the subsequent closure of the line.

Mr. Donnellan: There is no point in being a prophet of doom.

Mr. Hussey: The writing is on the wall.

Mr. P. Barry: It need not be.

Mr. Hussey: I am worried about the Minister's remarks yesterday evening and today. I must say to the Minister that I was disappointed at his attitude towards the deputation. He received the people very courteously but I was disappointed at his approach last night when he said they would be better employed trying to get business for CIE. That is not the function of the deputation.

The IDA have said that the removal of a freight line to the west would be a matter of serious concern to them. We can well understand why it would worry them because they have to try to sell the various locations to industrialists. Major industry is very thin on the ground in the west. The IDA must offer every inducement to foreign industrialists to establish industries here. We know that if they can be offered a rail link with connections to the south and to Dublin that would be an inducement to establish here. When speaking on the Estimate for the Department of Transport and Power some time ago I recommended that foreign industrialists who were operating in the western region and who had heavy transport costs should be given some concessions on the trains to Dublin. Some of those trains are travelling with empty wagons and if my proposal were adopted it would be an added attraction to industrialists to establish themselves in the western region. At the moment they cannot compete with undertakings on the eastern coast that do not have to face the additional heavy transport costs. In fact, CIE are implementing their policy of withdrawing their services from the western region with the decision they took some time ago to withdraw freight delivery from the Connemara area.

So far as I am concerned the line we are discussing is more important than any other line that was closed. I realise that the Minister or some of the Deputies behind him may say that Fianna Fáil also closed down some lines. That is quite true and I am not denying it but I would point out that this line is unique in many ways. It is connecting Munster with Connacht. It is an independent line -it cannot be described as a branch line-and, for that reason, it cannot be compared with the other lines that were closed in the past. In addition, it is serving an area that is underdeveloped.

In 1974 CIE published their rail plan for the eighties and one excerpt from that is sufficient to justify retention of this line. They stated that "where passenger services are uneconomic they will continue to be provided so long as the Government consider they are socially justified". That is very important because if the rail service is to be considered a social necessity surely this line must be first on the list. In no place in the rest of the country is it more socially justified than in the west of Ireland. Perhaps the Government think that retention of this line is not socially justified? According to the Minister's statement last night, I am afraid that is their opinion.

It must be evident to everybody that the continuation of service on this line is socially justified. Why then have CIE decided to discontinue the passenger service and substitute it with a bus service which is inadequate? The bus service is inadequate, firstly, because it will not serve many parts of the area concerned, and, secondly, because passengers on a bus have not the same comforts they would have if travelling on a train. They do not have sanitary or dining facilities which are available on a train, and it must be remembered that young children and old people need those facilities.

This line is unique because of the number of trains going to Knock each season. During the summer months about seven trains travel to Knock on that line every Sunday and a big number of invalids are carried on them. How are those pilgrims to travel if this line is closed? How can CIE facilitate those invalids on buses, many of whom must bring with them their wheelchairs and their crutches? It is very unfair to these people that the line is being closed down. When the line is closed the Tuam Archdiocese will be the only diocese without a railway line.

The Minister for the Gaeltacht has been telling the people that it is his intention to establish a Western Development Board. It is my view that until such time as this board is established-the Government have already publicly committed themselves to do this-the rail service should not be withdrawn. If the rail service is withdrawn, it will make the work of the proposed board more difficult because the rail service was considered one of the assets which could be used in the development of the west. For that reason it is futile for the board of CIE to talk of closing down the line at the same time as the Government are considering establishing a development board for the west.

The roads to the west of Ireland are not capable of taking the express buses we are supposed to be getting. To make the roads fit for this type of transport we would need to spend a considerable amount of money on them but the allocation to Galway County Council has been reduced by £101,000. In 1975 the allocation was £772,450 while in 1976 the council will be getting £671,000. Our requirement for 1976 was £985,710. From this it can be seen that there is no possibility of bringing our roads up to a standard capable of catering for the kind of service proposed.

With regard to selling the service, I can give an example which will illustrate why CIE are not getting the support they feel they are entitled to on this line. At a meeting in Gort it was stated that it takes eight days for a small parcel to be conveyed from Dublin to Gort by rail. That complaint was made by a businessman. How could CIE expect to get support for this line if that is the situation? Similar delays are experienced in other towns along the line.

Some time ago Castrol opened a depot in Athenry because they considered it would be cheaper and that they could give a better service to the garages in the west. However, the deliveries for the garages in the west were brought from Athenry to Dublin and back down again. Garages were getting a worse service from CIE than if Castrol continued to operate from Dublin. That is another indication of why CIE were not supported.

Tuam, one of the important towns in my constituency, will be affected if this line is closed. One of the major industries in that town is the Tuam Sugar Factory and 70 per cent of the beet for this factory is conveyed by rail. If this line is closed, and I have no doubt, irrespective of what the Minister may say in trying to justify CIE's action, that it will eventually close, the future of the factory is in jeopardy. That factory is the major employer in that area. The beet acreage this year has been increased but a disruption of the rail service would be disastrous for the factory. A lot of beet was brought last year from the Mallow and Thurles factories to Tuam by rail but if the rail line is closed down, how will this be conveyed in future?

I should like to point out to the Minister that two years ago a private haulier was engaged to draw sugar from the Thurles and Carlow factories to Tuam. Where were the salesmen of CIE when this was happening? Why did CIE not attempt to get that contract? At a meeting in Tuam when this matter was discussed I heard how CIE were treating the factories in Claremorris and Castlebar. In relation to this we should also consider that at present there are people operating off the west coast hoping to find oil and natural gas. Some business people in Galway city are preparing for the day when natural gas and oil will be brought ashore. In that event it is important that there should be a rail link to cope with this but, instead, the rail service is being withdrawn.

CIE should not be allowed to continue their present method of planning in isolation and full emphasis should be placed on the future development of services to cater for the demands and the needs of the people in the west. I should like to mention some anomalies in the service as it operates at present. The afternoon Shannon-Galway bus service runs in direct competition with the 14.05 train from Limerick to Ballina. Surely that is bad planning. How can CIE expect the people to support both services? Station improvements which could easily be carried out during the week are done on Sundays and the workers are paid double time. Why does this happen? It is adding further to the bill submitted to us annually by CIE. The Ballina-Limerick service consists of one full journey in each direction daily and the locomotive involved is never shut down. It idles for 12 hours and 21 minutes daily and in the process uses approximately five gallons of diesel per hour. Is it any wonder CIE are running at a loss? What happens in the case of the other 130 odd engines they have? These are just a few illustrations of the type of service provided. As far as telling us tonight, or at any other time, that the alternative service will be better than what we have we can only look at what happened in other parts of the country. A case in point was the closure of the Attymon-Loughrea line and the service provided there to bring workers into Loughrea in the morning, workers who had to thumb their way home at night or hire a car. That is the type of alternative service and there is no point in saying a bus service will be better. It will not. I am appealing to the Minister even at this late stage to use his influence with CIE because I am sure, having appointed the board, as Deputy Donnellan has pointed out, then if they do not do what he asks them he can sack them.

Mr. Donnellan: I find myself in a rather awkward position when talking about the rail passenger service between Limerick and Claremorris. People have been protesting and they have asked me to approach the Government about the closure of this passenger service. I might say hard things about the Minister and the board but, since the 1958 Act came into operation, a great many lines have been closed here, there and everywhere. Those closures never split the Fianna Fáil Party and the closure of this line between Limerick and Claremorris will not keep me from supporting this Government on this occasion. The fact is the Minister has not the first or last say in this matter. I did a little research and I have here a couple of quotations from prominent Members of this House. I have two in particular. Both these Members are now deceased. I refer to the late Deputy Seán Lemass and the late Deputy Childers. The late Deputy Lemass, speaking as Minister for Industry and Commerce on the Transport Bill, 1958, had this to say at column 1595 of Volume 167 of the Official Report:

This Bill empowers the board to close down any line or any station for which there is clearly no future. It empowers them to close down a line or station ontheir own decision without having to seek the prior approval of the Transport Tribunal.

They are, however, given a statutory direction not to terminate any rail service, except where they first satisfy themselves that there are no prospects of its continued operation [720] being economic within a reasonable period. The board are, of course, also placed under a general obligation so to conduct the undertaking as to eliminate losses on its working by 31st March, 1964. That means, in effect, that the fate of any branch line or any station, depends on whether sufficient business is generated to justify its retention and the future of these lines and stations will be determined primarily, therefore, by the amount of local support given to them.

The effect of that arrangement is to put local communities in the position that they will have to make up their minds whether they can keep a railway service going. A railway service can be justified only if there is local need for it and local support sufficient to keep it going.

Some Deputies opposite are critical of the Minister and the board of CIE but that is what the late Deputy Seán Lemass had to say on the Transport Bill of 1958. One could find many quotations. I have just picked two. The second is the late Deputy Childers speaking on the same Bill. He had this to say at column 541 of Volume 186 of the Official Report:

One last word. The terms of the 1958 Act made it clear to every Deputy that CIE would drastically alter the character of services. In giving CIE exceutive power to close uneconomic lines every Deputy knew this could only be done in the public interest by rejecting the short-lived universal protests prevalent here and elsewhere against railway closings at the time that such intentions are made public. They are responsible and they alone for making this decision; they ordained and wrote the new policy into the Statute Book.

In the course of the protest about the closure of this line the chairman and the Board of CIE have got a great deal of stick. I know the chairman of the board and some of the members of the board quite well and I believe we have as good a chairman and as good a board as ever we had despite people saying that it would be as well to sack these gentlemen. From the start of this protest the emphasis was generally concentrated on the Galway section of the line from Gort, Loughrea, Athenry and Tuam. If yesterday one had taken away from the protesters outside the gate here the people from Tuam and Athenry the protesters would have been very small in number indeed, less than five. The alleged protesters from Limerick, Clare and Mayo were conspicuous by their absence.

The people from Athenry were the first to kick off. They held a meeting four or five weeks ago to which all the public representatives in Galway were invited. Some did not attend and they probably had good reason for not doing so. I was asked as a result of that meeting to arrange a meeting with the Board of CIE and the chairman. First of all, the people wanted a meeting with the Minister. Eventually they decided they would meet the chairman and the board and we had a very long meeting at which a powerful case was made for the retention of this line. One would think, listening to Deputy Hussey, that the whole line was going. It is the passenger service that is being withdrawn. The line is being left and a bus service is being substituted for the present passenger service. On a second deputation to the Minister there were representatives of every station from Limerick to Claremorris. Business interests and other interests connected with the railway were represented and some of them were outside the gate yesterday.

When in 1974 they were informed, although not officially, that CIE proposed to withdraw the passenger service from the Limerick-Claremorris line they said they did not mind as long as the freight service remained. Seemingly when some lobbying got going some of these people, for one reason or another, decided to jump on the band wagon and get a little publicity. I do not think their intentions were as honourable as they expressed them to be. Personally, I would like to see the passenger service retained, but it is very had to make a case for its retention. Indeed, I would much prefer to see it being withdrawn under some other Government than under this Government. I mean that sincerely.

Mr. Hussey: The most vocal people were the Deputy's own supporters.

Mr. Donnellan: Possibly some of them were, but some of the Deputy's supporters talked loudly about it, too. CIE propose to substitute a number of buses for the passenger service. There are now eight buses for Tuam alone and there will be a further two. Surely ten buses must be better than one train, and it is quite possible that at some time in the future people will be able to say: "We were wrong about the removal of the passenger service because the bus service with which CIE have replaced it has proved more efficient and can get you from one place to another much faster". CIE themselves say these buses provide faster travel in comparable comfort, and they also say it may mean an improvement in the service rather than a disimprovement.

Deputy Hussey said that 70 per cent of the beet brought into the Tuam Sugar Factory last year went by train. Surely this change will not stop it from doing the same this year. If there is twice or three times as much beet brought to the Tuam factory this year, the freight service is still there. It is wrong for people to suggest that the rail line is going entirely. A great deal of rail line was removed over the past number of years. In fact, I have a list of them here from 1958 onwards. When Fianna Fáil were in Government they removed a total of 732 miles of railway line, both passenger and freight. Not alone that but the tracks were taken up and sold along with the ground they were on and whatever other property was in the area. Therefore, if one is to talk about this in a political sense, there is no justification for blaming the Minister or the Government for removing a passenger service and replacing it with a bus service when, as I say, Fianna Fáil removed 732 miles of railway since 1958.

It has been suggested that there should be a postponement of the closure for a few months, that people might start to support the line and it might become viable, and also that the loss was only £250,000. Deputy Hussey made what I thought was a very sensible comment when he referred to the fact that the Western Development Board was being set up some time this year. When we are talking about western development we are talking about it in its entirety and in doing so it is necessary to have a rail service there. However, I have no doubt that, in the light of this development board being set up, the Minister for Transport and Power and the board of CIE, if they think a passenger train service between Limerick and Claremorris is necessary it will be provided. Once the lines are there it is always possible to get the train back on them.

Over the past 20 years there was emigration from the west. That exists no longer, and there is no longer a fall in population in the west. Efforts are being made quite successfully to industrialise the west. The industrial development officer who acted as chairman of the protest committee expressed the opinion, and I suppose quite justifiably, that, if the west was to be denuded of rail services it would make it more difficult for him in his capacity as industrial officer in Galway to get industrialists to come to towns such as Loughrea, Athenry, Tuam, Claremorris, and so on. In saying that he was, I think, presupposing that the removal of the freight services would automatically follow the removal of the passenger service.

I want to impress upon the Minister that we in the west of Ireland do not want CIE, at any stage in the future, to put a notice in the paper giving the minimum statutory notice of two months that they intend to close the freight service. As a representative of the area, I want to say clearly that I would not support the Government on that. If the freight service is not there it will be all the more difficult to set up the industries that mean so much to Galway.

Deputy Barrett mentioned GAA specials. I am informed by the Minister and CIE that there will be no interference with any special trains. They will run on the same lines as in the past. There will be no such thing as rerouting from one station to another. On that ground there can be no complaint. Reference was also made to the Knock special and as far as I know that will not be interfered with either. The Minister and CIE have said clearly that there will be no change in this and trains will run in a similar pattern to that in the past.

When the western development board is set up, the people who are protesting now about the closure of this passenger service should be given ample opportunity to meet the board. If there is sufficient growth of population and industrial development in the west, and if there is a need to return this passenger service between Limerick and Claremorris, it can be returned. That, of course, will happen if the bus service to be laid on by CIE proves unsatisfactory. It is possible that this bus service will be better than the passenger rail service provided in the past.

CIE said that they intend to develop a number of stations between Limerick and Claremorris. They said that major rail heads catering for all rail freight services would be set up in Limerick, Ennis and Claremorris and that a palletised fertiliser rail depot-sundries are under review-in the Gort, Athenry and Tuam stations. It is not traditional for people to travel from north to south.

Mr. Hussey: They do.

Mr. Donnellan: It is much more traditional for people to travel from east to west. If one were to go on the passenger train in Tuam on any day, over the past number of years, one would note that the number of people travelling is very small. In a fortnight last summer less than £5 was taken in at the Gort station. Regardless of the public protest being made for the retention of this line, I feel there is a lack of public support for it. It does not operate at such a loss, because £250,000 in relation to the entire subvention for CIE is small. Any saving is worthwhile and the buses which are being put on now will pay for themselves, but if £250,000 is saved, I hope CIE will put it into other services for the west.

Mr. Kitt: I, too, wish to support the motion in the names of Deputy Barrett and his colleagues. I am very disappointed that there has not been any protest from the Government benches about the closure of the passenger service of the Limerick-Claremorris line. The Minister reminded us last night of a Dáil Deputy, now deceased, who, as Shakespeare said, protested too much at a particular CIE closure and later went on to lose his seat. This message must have got home to Government Deputies.

I do not see why this closure should become a political football. It has not been in any of the meetings we had so far. The deputation from the west represented all shades of political opinion. It was led by the Galway County Manager who pointed out that we in the west feared that this was the thin end of the wedge so far as railways were concerned. The commitment of the people in the west to the continuance of a rail passenger service on this line must have been obvious to the Minister at that meeting. We fear that this line will be eventually closed and other lines serving the west will suffer the same fate.

The deputation which met the Minister on 3rd March could not travel by rail that morning to keep their appointment with the Minister. That in itself is an example of the service which is available in the west at the moment. The county manager and the county development officer are to be congratulated on the excellent work they did in preparing their case. I believe the Minister was grossly unfair to the Western Action Group in his reply last night when he said they would be better off to organise trade for CIE and freight for the line rather than organising protests and pickets. Surely it is the function of CIE to make their service more attractive. If they do this, they will get the support of the local people.

One of the main reasons for the picket was that the Taoiseach refused to meet them. Perhaps the Minister expected the deputation to arrive in sackcloth and ashes. He met them on Ash Wednesday. He must have been impressed by the fine case they put up. As was pointed out, this is the biggest ever CIE closure. The bare two months' notice, which the company are statutorily compelled to give, were all that were given in this case. We believe the Government should have shown more resistance and we are asking that a reprieve be given for a further period and the quality of the service improved. This would encourage more people to use the service. The line serves a vast area. It is the only line connecting Munster directly with Connacht, stretching from Limerick to Mayo and running through four counties. It serves the important towns of Ennis, Tuam, Gort and Athenry. Its closure was not included in CIE's Rail Plan, 80. There is the question, too, of redundancies. The people of Athenry were the first to show their concern in this regard when they organised a meeting to discuss the situation. In all there will be a loss of 21 jobs with resulting hardship for the workers and their families. The decision is particularly reprehensible at a time of high unemployment because it will affect both the farming community and the business people of the areas. Both existing and potential industries will be affected because industrialists will fear a total closure.

Among the reasons given for the closure is that the service is losing money but it should be pointed out that nowhere in the EEC are railways a paying proposition. Therefore, we must ask why the west of Ireland is being chosen on this occasion. We are told that the annual loss on the service is £250,000. That is a nice even figure but CIE do not give us a breakdown of the receipts and expenses. It might be more convincing for them to give us figures either of £249,000 or £251,000. If the total loss is £250,000 on the passenger trains alone, this means a loss of £1,400 per day, a figure which seems impossible. Therefore, the figure given would seem to be totally exaggerated.

Another reason given for the closure is the cost of maintaining the line but it will still have to be maintained at goods standard. In addition, CIE's wage bill will be reduced considerably by reason of the 21 redundancies. In other words, it would appear that the total loss must be less than £100,000 or less than a quarter of 1 per cent of the company's projected total loss for 1976. This amount is very small when one considers that the subvention for CIE last year was in the region of £28 million. For the small amount involved by way of loss, a real service is being removed.

The Minister referred last evening to the Transport Act, 1958. Section 19, subsection (2), of that Act states that the board shall not terminate a service unless they are satisfied that its operation is uneconomic and that there is no prospect of its continued operation being economic within a reasonable period. We are not told by CIE why they consider this line to be uneconomic. They are not giving us any figures but if my figures are correct, the line is not uneconomic when compared with other lines both in Ireland and in other countries. Another aspect of the matter is that CIE have a social as well as a commercial role. They tell us that there is a limit to their social function but if the annual loss on this line is less than £100,000 they must fulfil their social role in regard to it.

The other reason given for the closure is poor passenger support. On the face of it, this may be correct but we must ask what the quality of the service is like and what attempts have the company made to sell the line. Should they not have been able to take advantage of their position vis-á-vis the private motorist during the past few years when there have been massive increases in petrol prices, 12 increases in all which have brought the cost of a gallon of petrol from 36p in March, 1973, to almost 90p today or an increase of 52p? There have been increases, too, in motor taxation and insurance has increased by more than 70 per cent in that time. Despite this situation, CIE do not appear to have made any attempt to go after that market and there must be such a market in the west of Ireland. The service is needed, for instance, to bring students to colleges in addition to bringing workers to their places of employment. In the west we want a service that is as good as any in the southern, the eastern or the northern parts of the country.

I would refer briefly to the proposed substitute bus service. Past experience has shown only too forcibly that CIE do not honour their promises. One example in this regard is the proposed luxury service which they said would replace the Kiltymon-Loughrea passenger train. The service they have inaugurated to replace the train service is such that while it brings workers to Loughrea in the mornings it will not serve the purpose of returning them to their homes in the evening. This creates much difficulty for the people of the area, many of whom I have witnessed hitching lifts home.

In addition, the roads in the west are not suited to the purpose of these proposed luxury buses. They are taxed almost to their maximum in catering for existing traffic. Apart from this, they do not serve the towns of Craughwell, Athenry and Ballyglunin. Instead, they continue on the main road to Galway city. Travellers from Limerick to Tuam and Claremorris do not wish to go via Galway where they may be held up for long periods in traffic jams. Similarly, travellers from Ennis and Gort to Dublin who now travel via Athenry will in the future have to go to Galway by bus in order to connect with the Dublin train.

Another factor in this is that the allocation for roads to Galway County Council has been reduced by more than £100,000 this year compared with last year. The Limerick-Claremorris train for all its faults, some of which we have mentioned, has walk-around space, dining facilities and sanitary and washing facilities. CIE's regulations compel them to provide sanitary facilities on all train journeys exceeding one-and-a-half hours. Elderly people and children need frequent access to these facilities. There are no sanitary or washing facilities on the proposed luxury buses where any journeys exceed the one-and-a-half hours prescribed by CIE's health regulations.

I should like to point out that the train journey from Ballina to Limerick takes 3 hours 55 minutes whereas the bus journey over the same route takes 4 hours 45 minutes. In other words, the bus journey takes three-quarters of an hour longer. I should like to refer to the reply the Minister gave to Deputy Loughnane on 11th March, Official Report, Volume 288, No. 12, column 1859, when he said:

I am very keen to see that every traveller on CIE is carried as comfortably and as quickly as possible to his chosen point of destination.

The Minister said those words to night also. I should like to ask him how he can reconcile that statement with the fact that those buses will take three-quarters of an hour longer to do the same journey the train does. We should be concerned, as the Minister says, that CIE carry people as comfortably and as quickly as possible to their chosen point of destination.

There is excursion traffic on this line, as has already been pointed out, apart from the weekday passenger trains. Mention has been made of the GAA specials and of the seaside trains which cover this route. Indeed, of great importance, are the Knock pilgrimage trains. All such trains from Munster use this route every Sunday from May to October. Each train carries roughly 400 to 500 passengers. The Minister told us that those trains will function this year. What guarantee have we that those trains will continue to function every year? Buses could not cope with such huge numbers of pilgrims nor could one rail route into Claremorris via Athlone handle this traffic. A huge increase in this traffic is expected as we approach the centenary year. The archbishop of Tuam has expressed concern about those trains as well.

The board of CIE informed the deputation that they were pursuing their policy of developing their services in the west. This may be so but one gets the feeling that they are developing the road services at the expense of the rail services. There is duplication of passenger train and bus services on the Claremorris-Limerick line with the bus departing 20 minutes ahead of the train. In other words, the bus service runs in direct competition with the Claremorris-Limerick line. It is most unfair competition.

A further example I can give is that a weekend return Ballina to Claremorris rail ticket costs £1.40. The upward journey is made by rail and the downward one is made by bus as there is no Sunday service to Ballina yet. Out of that £1.40 a sum of £1.35 goes to the bus service and 5p is credited to the rail service. It is about time the bus service began to pay for itself.

CIE services in the west can be measured by the fact that it takes eight days for a small parcel to travel from Dublin to Gort. This has already been pointed out. A further example I can give is that a parcel sent from Claremorris to Tuam travels first to Dublin, then down to Galway and eventually arrives at Tuam. Similar delays are experienced at all stations along the line.

We hear a lot nowadays about developing the west. Prior to the west Mayo by-election the Minister for the Gaeltacht announced the setting up of the Western Development Board. I would like to refer to a reply I received to a parliamentary question I put to the Minister for the Public Service. He said:

The organisation and structure of the Western Development Board is being examined at present by the Departments concerned before beginning consultation with interested bodies. It is not possible to say at this stage what the implications for various agencies, authorities and local bodies will be when the board is set up. This will depend on the powers and functions ultimately assigned to the board.

It seems ironic to me at times when various Departments are examining the organisation and structure of the proposed western board that the Government are allowing the Limerick-Claremorris line to be discontinued. Indeed, from what we have heard the Government are approving the decision of CIE. We must ask if the Government are genuinely interested in developing the west.

The Minister for Transport and Power, the man who is accountable for the decisions of CIE, should not allow this to happen particularly as the proposed Western Development Board is to be set up. I understand it will co-ordinate the services which already exist in the west of Ireland. Certainly, no decision should be taken concerning the removal of the passenger service on this line until the Western Development Board is set up. Surveys have been carried out by various bodies in the west. For example, in the towns of Tuam, Athenry and Loughrea, the various bodies there have met and have put forward proposals and alternative timetables to CIE. Every year when the Estimates are discussed Members of the Oireachtas put forward proposals but, unfortunately, these seem to fall on deaf ears.

We are all concerned that a reprieve should be given to this line for a further period so that negotiations can take place among the interested parties. We are also asking that the quality of the service be improved. We feel in that way that the Claremorris-Limerick line may be made more attractive and that the local people will use it. The last thing I want to refer to is the development that is taking place at the moment in north-west Connacht. A railway line would be of immense benefit to the industrialists who might come into the area and to the people in the area. It is very important, with all this development and the proposed board that is to be set up, that this line be given a reprieve and that the quality of the service is improved.

Mr. Finn: I feel it is my duty as a Deputy from the west and a Government Deputy to express the opinions of the workers and the people in that area on the passenger service from Ballina to Limerick being taken from us. I come from a county which has suffered drastically as a result of the closure of lines. The Achill line to Westport was closed. The line from Killala to Ballina was closed. This would be of tremendous help if we had it at the moment. The line from Ballinrobe to Claremorris was closed and the old line from Collooney to Claremorris was also closed. This had provided a passenger and freight service in the area. Recently we had the demotion of the Ballyhaunis railway station which handled freight.

It is my duty to put before the Minister the concern of some of the people in the west, particularly the workers who do not know where they are andwho are frightened as a result of the passenger service from Ballina to Limerick being taken from them. They feel this is the thin end of the wedge. I have an assurance from the Minister that this is not the case. No country in the world has a railway system which pays. The line from Ballina provides a link with Limerick and the south. This is one of the biggest closures we have had. I do not know whether it is wise. The board of CIE feel it is. Under the 1958 Act the Minister has not got great power over the board. Other State-sponsored bodies were set up by Fianna Fáil Governments. They gave too much power to those boards.

Deputy McLaughlin put down a question to the Minister for Transport and Power about CIE. The Ceann Comhairle told him he regretted having to disallow the question addressed to the Minister concerning the delivery by CIE of goods. He said it was a matter for CIE and the Minister had no official responsibility in regard to it. It is a sad situation that any Deputy elected by the people should not be entitled to get an answer from the Minister in charge of a particular Department. This is why I say all State-sponsored bodies have too much power. There are good technical men in the State-sponsored bodies who see things in their own light and not as they are seen by the workers and the general public. I am voicing their opinions.

In this case we will have the displacement of workers who will have to get gratuities and pensions. Would it not be better to keep them in employment? They may have to receive unemployment benefit at a later stage. I wonder is this good economics. A Private Members' motion has been put down by the Opposition. Every western Deputy is in favour of a transport system for the west. I would hate to see the Opposition challenging a division on this motion. Things are improving in the west and we hate to see any displacement in the services there.

It has been said that the bus service will give a better service to the people who will avail of it but I have my doubts about that. A bus cannot provide the same service as a train where you can have a cup of tea and where there are toilets, and so on. If this closure is the policy of the board of CIE there is very little the Minister can do about it.

In 1958-59 there were five closures. In 1959-60 there were seven closures. In 1960-61 there were three closures. That all happened under Fianna Fáil. In 1962-63 there were 13 branch line closures. The board at that time said they were uneconomic and they were closed. As a Government Deputy I have to support my Minister and the Government on this issue. That is exactly what members of Fianna Fáil did when the other closures took place. I have no intention of voting against the Government. I will support them but I want to pinpoint my views and the views of the workers and the general public who have come to me protesting about it. I attended several meetings held with a view to bringing pressure on the Minister to keep the line open.

It has been brought to my notice that the trains from Ballina to Limerick are not run at the proper time. Surely the train should leave Ballina at 9 o'clock or some time like that in the morning to bring people to Limerick at a reasonable time and bring them back that night. I am led to believe that a train leaves Ballina at around 3 o'clock. Therefore people have to stay overnight in Limerick. This is why the service has failed. I am sorry the date of 5th April has been fixed. It is a pity that a train could not leave at 8 or 9 o'clock in the morning from Ballina for Limerick. If that were given a chance for six months, I guarantee it would get support from the general public. The management of CIE have not looked into this case properly.

In my discussions with the Minister on this matter I was told that the freight services will be continued on the line and that will be a good thing. The Minister has given an assurance that this proposed closure is not the thin end of the wedge as was stated by some Deputies on the other side. We hope that when the Western Development Board are set up they will look into this matter in a rather different way and perhaps the passenger service from Ballina to Limerick will be brought back. I would be very happy if this were done and I know many people would be satisfied also.

Mr. Calleary: As one of those who signed the motion I should like to speak a few words in favour of it. It was not put down for political reasons but because a very representative meeting asked for the matter to be raised in the Dáil and the Government Deputies who attended that meeting were asked to sign the motion.

The deputation who met the Minister reflected all shades of political opinion. It included three county development officers, at least one county manager, the chairmen of Ennis UDC and of Tuam Town Commissioners as well as a number of business people. Not only did the deputation protest about the proposed closure but they gave positive recommendations to the Minister on how the service could be improved. They also pointed out that the people in the areas considered this was the thin end of the wedge because this is what happened in areas where passenger services have been discontinued. We had proof of that in the Balla-Swinford-Kiltimagh-Ballyhaunis areas a short time ago when the freight services were discontinued. If the Minister tells us he has no power over CIE to stop this closure, then the assurances he has given to Deputy Finn are of very little use if CIE decide to close the line.

I was very disappointed with the Minister's speech yesterday because he appeared to have accepted that there was no means by which CIE could be made viable. The impression seemed to be that if this small passenger service was closed it might repair one of the small leaks in CIE. What is needed is a complete reappraisal and a general rethink of all CIE policies.

One thing that appears to have come out of the debate is that the "specials" will be continued from Limerick to Claremorris and on to Knock. It was stated at the deputation that the line would not be abandoned but that it would not be maintained to the standard required for passenger services. It was also stated that only a small maintenance team will be kept on this line. I am asking the Minister if he is satisfied that the line will be safe for the "specials" to travel on, in view of the information given to us and which was given to the trade union representative who spoke at the deputation. I sympathise with Deputy Donnellan and with Deputy Finn.

Mr. Donnellan: There is no need to sympathise with me.

Mr. Calleary: It was rather a case of Hobson's choice for them. I can remember the fine, fiery speech Deputy Donnellan made at the deputation meeting. That speech might even be called an ultimatum to the Minister. I can remember the Deputy standing up, shaking his fist and saying to the Minister, "You put them there and you have the power to sack them."

Mr. Donnellan: The Deputy should not misquote me.

Mr. Calleary: If the Deputy likes I will go a little further. He said we had come from west Mayo and that we appeared to have a certain success in the appeal we made. He shook his fist and said to the Minister, "You put them there; you have the power to sack them unless they do what you tell them." It was a very different speech from the one the Deputy made in the House this evening. However, as I have told the Deputy, I have a certain sympathy for him.

The Minister has told us that there will be a vast improvement in the line from Dublin to Ballina and that this improvement is already there. I am sorry to disagree with the Minister but I must tell him that this line is nothing short of deplorable.

Mr. P. Barry: I did not say it was already there.

Mr. Calleary: An improvement is badly needed. Anything that is done will be better than what is there now. CIE do not appear to consider any suggestions that come from the people who are using their services. We had the example of the train that left Westport at 8.05 a.m.; the service was used extensively but it was discontinued. People who travel to Ballina for the weekend must get a bus from Ballina station to Claremorris for the return journey. The journey by bus takes one hour, 30 minutes or one hour, 45 minutes instead of the 40 minutes by train. The closure of this line will mean that students from this area who attend at UCG will now have to travel by bus, a journey which will take much longer. From my own experience I know that the journey will not be a comfortable one.

Mr. Coogan: The students do not travel every day; they only go there once every three months. I know all about UCG.

Mr. MacSharry: UCG know about the Deputy.

Mr. Calleary: The Deputy is more interested in electricity.

Mr. Coogan: I will give the Deputy an odd shock.

Mr. Calleary: He is more interested in electricity at bus stations and bus stops.

Mr. MacSharry: At tigeens.

Mr. Coogan: The Deputy is off the rails; the signals are against him.

Mr. Calleary: We were told about previous closures by Deputies Donnellan and Finn and I am prepared to say that many of them were mistakes but I am not prepared to admit that they were as important as a through link; they were all ends. The mistakes made then are now being compounded and it appears that we have learned little from them. Section 19, subsection (2), of the Transport Act, 1958, states:

The Board shall not terminate a service unless it is satisfied that its operation is uneconomic and that there is no prospect of its continued operation being economic within a reasonable period.

One of the suggestions made by the deputation was that CIE adopt a different timetable; that they would consider the use of freight cars and would, in general, try to cater for the needs of the community. They asked that their suggestions be given a chance but their appeals fell on deaf ears.

We are now approaching a period when the line will show a profit. Almost every Sunday from now until the end of the summer season more than 400 people use the trains on this line travelling to Knock. The Minister should have told CIE to keep the line open on a trial basis, look into the suggestions made by the deputation and the alternative timetable prepared by a member of that deputation.

Mr. Donnellan: What does the Deputy think of the alternative timetable?

Mr. Calleary: I was disappointed at the Minister's condemnation of the picket because they are fighting to save a passenger service. The Minister felt they would have been better employed if they had tried to organise freight. That is ominous and indicates that not only have CIE axed the passenger service but that they have decided to take the freight service from this area in the near future.

Mr. Donnellan: That is what the Deputy's own party did in the past. In fact, they even took up the lines and sold them.

Mr. Calleary: I said that if we were not prepared to learn from the mistakes of the past we should not be here.

Mr. Donnellan: Is the Deputy admitting that his party made a lot of mistakes in the past?

Mr. Calleary: Mistakes were made in the past but we should not compound them now.

Mr. Donnellan: When it suits the Deputy he refers to the passenger service and when it suits him he refers to the freight service.

Mr. Calleary: The Deputy has said a lot of things at different times when it suited him to different people. The Minister should ask CIE to try out some of the alternatives recommended by the deputation to give the line a chance to prove it can be made viable.

Mr. Barrett: We did not put down this motion solely for political reasons. It was put down at the request of the action committee and the deputation who met the Minister and CIE representatives. We gave the opportunity to Government Deputies to sign this motion because it was being put down at the request of people from their own parties. Prior to putting down the motion we endeavoured to submit questions but they were refused. It was held that this was a matter for the board of CIE. Many meetings were held and a deputation met the Minister and CIE representatives but all this action was to no avail. It was then that the motion was put down to which the Government have put down an amendment.

Our motion contains the true feelings of the people who are concerned about the closure of this line. The Minister referred to my use of the word "closure". Closing a passenger service from Limerick to Claremorris in my view is a closure. We did not seek to keep the line open indefinitely because we are aware of the tremendous losses within CIE. That has always been the concern of Members on this side of the House but, nevertheless, we realise that CIE have a function apart from the economic function. They have a social function. Surely the keeping of this line in operation up through the west of Ireland could only be described as a social function. Government Deputies have referred to previous closures but I should like to remind them that these were not closures of this magnitude. This is a main line from Limerick to Claremorris and the previous closures were branch lines. The statements made by the late Seán Lemass and the late Erskine Childers in 1958 were made in the context of that period. We could find quotations made by the then Opposition which would help our case but we did not resort to that.

During the course of his contribution Deputy Donnellan said that £5 was the total takings at Gort station for two weeks. He may be correct but it should be remembered that CIE bear the responsibility for this. Over a number of years they allowed this line to run down and it seems to have been their policy to allow this happen. Why, for example, is the timetable not suited for connection with mainline trains in Claremorris and Limerick? If CIE were concerned about maintaining the line as a viable proposition why did they introduce the expressway bus services in conjunction with this line? They went into open competition through the expressway buses and now they come along to us weeping and crying because the service is losing a quarter of a million pounds. It is mainly because of their own actions the service is losing this £250,000.

We have asked questions, to which we expected replies, as to how this figure of £250,000 was arrived at and we got neither a reply nor a breakdown of the figure. As I said tonight and as other speakers said last night, this figure is suspect. It will remain suspect because the chairman has stated that of the total costings in CIE 63 per cent represents labour costs. If we accept that statement as correct, the total cost of labour on this particular line-30 people on £2,000 a year-is £60,000. We will be generous and say the total cost cannot be more than £100,000. If we are wrong, why are we not told we are wrong? We can only believe we are right in our suspicions about this figure of £250,000.

Deputy Donnellan found fault with the deputation. He said it was not representative of the area or it was representative of only a very small area.

Mr. Donnellan: Excuse me now. I did not say it was not representative of the area. I said the picket on the gate was not representative of the area. I know the deputation was representative because I was the one who arranged it.

Mr. Barrett: What makes anything representative? County managers, county development officers, chambers of commerce, town commissioners, members of urban district councils, factory managers, members of unions, members of Fine Gael-I presume there is a Labour Party in Galway-and members of Fianna Fáil. Do all those make a deputation representative or how would Deputy Donnellan make up a representative deputation?

Mr. Donnellan: What I said is on record. What I said was the picket on the gate yesterday was completely unrepresentative.

Mr. Barrett: I link picket with the word "deputation".

Mr. Donnellan: If the Deputy wants to misrepresent, let him go ahead and do it.

Mr. Barrett: When the deputation met the Minister Deputy Donnellan reminded the Minister that he had done a long stint in the west telling the people that Fine Gael was the best party. How will he go back and tell them that after the closure of this line?

All we are looking for is a reprieve of six months for this main line. We are not talking now about a branch line. The Minister said the deputation and we had a negative approach. That is not correct. We have not a negative approach.

Mr. Donnellan: When did the Minister say that?

Mr. Barrett: I will quote the unrevised report.

Mr. P. Barry: I did not say that.

Mr. Barrett: This is the unrevised report:

I give fair warning to the House that if instead of organising meetings, parades and pickets... they had been organising trade for CIE and behaving in a positive way to help maintain that line for freight they would be far better occupied. It is a negative way of opposing something which I know a lot of them in their hearts know is inevitable.

That is from the unrevised report and there the Minister talks about a negative approach.

Mr. P. Barry: But not in regard to the deputation. I did not use the word "deputation".

Mr. Barrett: The Minister was speaking about the deputation. That deputation, whether representative or otherwise, put forward alternative proposals to the Minister and CIE. They asked for a six months' reprieve to test the alternative proposals but that will not be granted.

Last night we showed a positive approach. We asked the Minister during these six months to approach the social commissioner of the EEC in order to ascertain if moneys would be forthcoming from the social fund for this particular line because of its social amenity function.

Mr. Donnellan: The man in question was not very vocal when the West Clare railway was closed.

Mr. Barrett: The man in question is a west of Ireland man and, for the Deputy's information, on a recent visit to Brussels I inquired if there was any point in making an application and I was told by those operating this fund that that should be done. It is worth trying and it should be done. Coming back to this figure of £100,000, if we can get a grant from the social fund it will not cost a great deal to save this line. Talking about £100,000 or even £250,000, whichever is the correct figure, it is a very tiny sum in relation to £20 million. The Minister said last night that £40 million would have to be found for the rail section of CIE this year. If CIE have to start pruning the rail system by closing a main line, as is proposed here, why do they not consider alternative economies available to them in other sections of their operations? Why are there 12 CIE staff cars operating out of Limerick station? Remember, that is only one station in the whole rail complex. Why do they not take a look at operations like that?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Does the Deputy wish the motion put?

Mr. Barrett: Yes. We have to buy our own cars and get a mileage allowance. Why do CIE not adopt the same policy instead of sacrificing and victimising the people west of the Shannon by the closure of this main line?

Mr. Donnellan: Crocodile tears.

Mr. Barrett: The Minister has said the freight line is in danger, too, unless the people find business for it.

Amendment put.


The Dáil divided: Tá, 63; Níl, 58.