Irish Rail losses up slightly despite record passenger numbers
Fare revenue up but State-owned railway company records 2018 deficit just above €1m
Irish Rail, which owns Rosslare Europort, confirmed it is to invest €25m on expanding the port’s facilities, capacity and technology over the next five years. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times
The scale of losses at Irish Rail increased slightly last year, despite record passenger numbers and a 6.1 per cent growth in revenue to €280.9 million.
The latest annual report of the state-owned railway company shows it recorded a deficit of €1.1 million in 2018 – an increase of 6.7 per cent –when Irish Rail had actually budgeted for a surplus of €6.5 million.
The losses came against a background of an increase in passenger journeys across all services with overall numbers up 5.3 per cent to 47.9 million trips – a record number on the rail network.
As a consequence fare revenue was up 7.8 per cent to €220.9 million.
However, Government funding under the Public Service Obligation subvention fell by 22.3 per cent to €89.3 million last year while it also incurred a €6.8 million deficit on its rail infrastructure division.
Welcoming the strong growth in passenger numbers, Irish Rail chairman Frank Allen said it showed the essential role rail transport played in urban mobility and intercity travel.
“We are committed to building on this success to ensure that rail will continue to provide a credible alternative to private cars for more people,” Mr Allen said.
He also said the company was encouraged by the strong commitment shown by the Government to rail transport in the national development plan which would allow for substantial investment in railway infrastructure and rolling stock worth more than €2 billion in the next decade.
Mr Allen said the company’s investment priority would be to address capacity constraints on commuter rail and Dart services, which had arisen from the growth in passenger numbers.
However, additional trains and carriages will not become available until 2021.
Irish Rail chief executive Jim Meade said the increase in passenger figures had come from an increase in the frequency of Dart services as well as strong economic growth, while last year’s papal visit to Ireland, a series of outdoor concerts and a busy GAA season also contributed to the rising numbers of rail users in 2018.
He welcomed confirmation in budget 2019 that state funding would be provided this year – two years ahead of schedule under the national development plan.
“It is hugely significant and will allow us to begin to address the underfunding of the past decade,” said Mr Meade.
But he also warned that the company’s balance sheet remained vulnerable to an economic downturn or a reduction in exchequer funding as its net assets were €47.4 million, which he described as “low”.
Irish Rail, which owns Rosslare Europort, confirmed it is to invest €25 million on expanding the port’s facilities, capacity and technology over the next five years in order to secure its future by attracting new shipping companies and forging strategic partnerships with other ports.
Rosslare Europort’s revenue fell by 4.5 per cent last year to €10.6 million.
Mr Meade said Rosslare’s strategic importance would increase with Brexit as it would offer the fastest connection to mainland Europe from Ireland by sea.
The company’s freight division continued to suffer losses although the size of the annual deficit fell by 10.5 per cent to €646,000.