Decision on closure of railway services deferred

 

Rail freight services and two passenger lines earmarked for closure were granted a temporary reprieve yesterday following the intervention of the Minister for Transport, Mr Brennan.

A plan by Iarnród Éireann to close its loss-making freight operations, as well as its Limerick-Rosslare and Limerick-Ballybrophy passenger services, was due to be sanctioned by the board of CIÉ.

A decision was deferred, however, on foot of a request by Mr Brennan, who asked the board to wait for the completion of a strategic review on the future of the rail service.

The review, by consultants Booz Allen Hamilton, was ordered last March by the then minister for public enterprise, Mrs Mary O'Rourke, and is due to be published early in the new year. The deferral of the planned closures was welcomed last night by SIPTU.

However, Mr Tony Tobin, the union's railway division secretary, criticised Iarnród Éireann for its "failure" to market its rail freight services and secure adequate investment in rail.

"Instead of doing that, they have caused unnecessary anxiety and concern to staff throughout the company, but especially our members in the freight division," he said.

The other main union concerned, the National Bus and Rail Union, said 330 of the 600 Iarnród Éireann's staff engaged in freight operations would have lost their jobs if the company's plans were implemented.

The company, however, said there would be no compulsory redundancies. About 90 staff would be redeployed and the remainder would be let go through voluntary severance. A spokesman said the rail company was facing a deficit of €25 million this year even before the closure of Irish Fertilizer Industries, one of Iarnród's biggest customers.

About €14 million of the total deficit related to the freight division, and a decision had been taken to propose the closure of loss-making services. The two passenger routes earmarked for closure were both major loss-makers, he added.

The Limerick-Rosslare route, for example, raised revenue of just €100,000 a year. Yet the track improvements necessary to keep it open would cost €80 million.

The Limerick-Ballybrophy service was responsible for revenue of €200,000. Upgrading the line to the required standard would cost €45 million.

It was not the company's intention to close either line completely, he added. Both would be managed on a "care and maintenance" basis, allowing them to be reopened in the future.

The CIÉ board, announcing its decision to agree to the Minister's request, said it remained "extremely concerned about the financial crisis in Iarnród Éireann".

Speaking in the Dáil yesterday, the Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, made it clear that the closures would not have been implemented in advance of the strategic review being completed, regardless of the CIÉ board's decision.

"Whatever decision CIÉ makes today in its discussions, which it is entitled to make as a board and I will not interfere in that, the Minister has made it clear that it will not be acted on until the strategic review by Allen Hamilton is complete," he said.