Free rail scheme abandoned


TRANSPORT:A PILOT scheme offering free rail travel to older visitors to Ireland has been abandoned after just one year in operation.

The Golden Trekker scheme is being discontinued because it delivered too few benefits at too high a cost, according to Minister for Transport and Tourism Leo Varadkar.

In its place, Irish Rail says senior citizens from overseas will be able to travel anywhere on its network for a maximum fare of €26.

Mr Varadkar said the decision not to extend the Golden Trekker scheme was taken after a comprehensive review of the costs and benefits. Responding to a Dáil question from Labour TD Sean Kenny, he said last week the programme was a once-off initiative that had helped to generate publicity for Ireland and the value it offered, but said the review concluded that an extension would not be justified given the costs, benefits and resources available.

The scheme, which was developed by Fáilte Ireland and Irish Rail after being announced in last year’s budget, allowed visitors aged 66 and over to reserve a four-day trekker ticket, or series of trekker tickets, before coming to Ireland.

About 15,000 tickets for free rail travel on main line, Dart and commuter trains were issued in the last nine months of last year, with an equivalent cost of about €1.5 million. Half of the ticket holders said it had influenced their decision to travel around Ireland by train.

However, Irish Rail said it could not continue with the scheme without getting a subsidy from Fáilte Ireland.

Mr Kenny expressed disappointment that the scheme was being discontinued given its success in attracting holidaymakers to the country. These are people who wouldn’t have a lot of money but would still be spending on food and accommodation while they were here, he said. The replacement scheme was not as attractive as the original offer of free travel, concluded Mr Kenny.

The abandonment of the scheme comes at a time when the Government is striving to increase visitor numbers and capitalise on the positive press coverage about Ireland during the recent visits of Queen Elizabeth and US President Barack Obama.