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West=On=Track - News

Rail Freight - Time for Action

Mayo News - 2nd February 2005


by Liamy McNally

IN 2001 the European Commission released a report on transport in the EU. It showed the costs of various modes of transport - waterborne, rail, road and air. The former is the cheapest and increases in price towards the latter. In the west the water option is very limited unless we can transport freight on drops of rain! The report calculated the costs per 1,000 tonne kilometre. It costs euro17 for waterborne, euro19 for rail, euro88 for road and euro205 for air.

With no real waterborne facilities in the west, the most viable option, on paper, is rail. The reality is somewhat different. Unlike a 'water network' we have a rail network. Alas due to circumstances outside of our control it is under-utilised. The fault does not lie with business people in the west. It rests, rather, with those who manage our national railway system.

Railway and Women

Many business people claim we have railway 'mismanagement.' This is not a reflection on what are known as 'railway men' and 'railway women.' These are the people whose lives are dedicated to providing a proper railway service for everybody. These dedicated people are all around us. We have been and are blessed with so many of them in Westport - the people whose hearts beat in time with the sound of the train as it trundles along the tracks. One glance at Westport railway station is enough to prove that. Unfortunately for many business customers of our national railway company these people are not the people who make the decisions that matter. Most of these people can feel their hearts bleed when they think of the under-utilisation of the railway lines, especially the Western Rail Corridor from Sligo to Limerick. The campaign to have it re-opened continues to gather speed, regardless of the obstacles placed on the tracks. The main obstacle is indifference. Thankfully, those people, whose key decision-making legacy has been the downgrading of railway lines, are being challenged. They are being forced to re-examine their closed minds and take a fresh look at opening up new routes and new methods of making the railways a viable option for the people they are, allegedly, paid to serve. For too long these servants of the state have not served the people of the state. For too long the easy option has been the only option they have examined. For too long what has been passed off as a sense of vision has decimated rail transport in this country. Seventy years ago the people of this country had more options to travel by rail than they do today. Now the present management team wants to continue the succession of closures by claiming that rail freight is not a viable option in parts of the country.

Irish Exporters Association

The Irish Exporters Association (IEA) made a submission on rail freight to the Department of Finance in November 2004. It contains some interesting facts, none more so than the success of independent rail freight companies in England. Across the water, there is a difference between operating a railway line and providing a rail service and there are several companies involved. While the provision of passenger services by various companies has not been as successful as freight services, private companies are involved in the freight business and they are making money. Too often Iarnród Éireann management gives a thousand excuses for not providing a proper freight service rather than one reason why the company can meet the demands of business. In quoting the transport costs (per 1,000 tonne kilometre - euro19 for rail and euro88 for road) the IEA report states: "Shifting rail traffic to road will thus generate additional external costs of euro69 per 1,000 tonne kilometres. In addition, if all freight traffic were transported by road (at an average haul of 197 km), an additional cost to society of approximately 236 million per year would be generated. In addition, maintenance costs for the road network will increase. It is estimated that the current economic costs for primary network road maintenance in Ireland amount to betweeneuro50 million and euro55 million per year… Shifting rail to road traffic will shift 515 million tonne-kilometres to the road network of Ireland…"

Based on road transport costs (20.85/vehicle km) and an average truck-load of 15 tonnes, the total road operating costs for the transferred rail tonnage would be approximately euro29 million.

Other Countries

Several countries across the EU subsidise rail freight in various manners from direct grants to subsidies and from reduced tariffs to tax breaks. Some of these are based on the principle of payments based on the tonne/road miles avoided. This would reward companies for transferring freight from road to rail. In Britain the average freight distance by Freightliner, a major private operator, is 160 miles. GBRf operates the 60 miles route between Felixstowe and Tilbury and makes a profit.

Iarnród Éireann imposed a 25% increase in freight costs from last month. Irish businesses that use rail freight are expected to accept the charges. If Iarnród Éireann is unwilling to treat freight business seriously then it should be taken from them and handed over to private operators. They will prove that the rail freight is not only viable but also makes environmental sense. To think that Iarnród Éireann has, on occasion, recommended that freight be transported on the roads beggars belief. It does not take a rocket scientist to see that moving freight off our roads and onto the railways makes sense on many levels. Motorists who look forward to better roads are now being asked to face the reality of tolls. There is nothing like paying twice for a facility. After suffering a debilitating road system for years we are now being asked to pay tolls when (or if) any improvement takes place. The toll booth traffic delay is already a reality. The government has an important role to play in the freight debate. It is called leadership.








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