Irish Rail overcrowding: ‘Pre-book only’ trains unacceptable, says TD

Irish Rail may restrict peak services to pre-booked passengers to reduce overcrowding

Passengers have reached record numbers on the Irish Rail network, but an extra 41 carriages won’t be ready for another two years. Photograph: Eric Luke

Passengers have reached record numbers on the Irish Rail network, but an extra 41 carriages won’t be ready for another two years. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

A plan by Irish Rail to introduce ‘pre-book only’ services during peak times has been denounced as “absolutely unacceptable” by a senior Fine Gael TD and chair of the Dáil’s parliamentary transport watchdog.

The chief executive of Irish Rail, Jim Meade, said because of overcrowding the company is considering restricting certain services to passengers who have booked ahead, similar to what it does for major events like All-Ireland finals.

While it plans to order 41 new carriages to cope with growing passenger numbers, they will not be ready for another two years, and Mr Meade has warned the problem may “get worse before it gets better”.

Louth TD and chair of the Oireachtas transport, tourism and sport committee, Fergus O’Dowd, has rejected the proposal.

“It is absolutely unacceptable,” he told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, saying the plans would “create tensions, create problems, create uncertainty”.

Mr O’Dowd said he would be ordering Irish Rail bosses before the parliamentary committee within weeks to be quizzed about the plans.

While the Government has vowed more investment in rail travel, the Fine Gael TD admitted “there are problems because our economy is growing and it is creating significant stress, particularly on longer journeys.”

Mr O’Dowd said the promised investment would be “transformational over time” but added: “In the meantime, there is a lot of pain for a lot of people.”

Mr Meade has said it will be 2022 before any new carriages are added to existing services, despite passenger numbers continuing to grow.

Latest figures show a 5.3 per cent increase in all Irish Rail passenger services – up to 47.9 million trips – a record number on the rail network.

Mr Meade told RTÉ’s Prime Time: “I think we have to be honest with people. . . and say to them we will not have more capacity on the network for another two years.

“With the current growth patterns continuing, there is a risk, of course, that it will get worse before it gets better. The issue for us is how we manage that capacity and we have some initiatives going.”

Last month, Irish Rail launched a new website, peaktime.ie, in an attempt to persuade Dart commuters to stagger morning rush-hour journeys because of overcrowding problems.

The website allows commuters to check for less crowded trains. One in six of all weekday Dart journeys are made between 8am and 9am. Overcrowding is worse on north side services.

An Irish Rail spokesman, Barry Kenny, told The Irish Times that it was too early to say if the website had helped to reduce overcrowding, saying that changes in travel patterns will evolve over time.

Mr O’Dowd said the Oireachtas committee has been told “it would not be economic” to refurbish 28 carriages which were withdrawn from service in 2012 at a time of declining passenger numbers during the recession.

The carriages are lying unused at Irish Rail’s Inchicore depot in Dublin, with each one costing €1.2 million to refurbish.