Minister of State denies plan to halt rural train services

Alan Kelly insists there is no rift with Leo Varadkar on issue

A Minister of State has denied there is any Government plan to close down rural railway lines in the wake of comments last week by Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar.

"There is no ambition and no proposal going anywhere through Irish Rail or the National Transport Authority for closing rail lines," Minister of State at the Department of Transport Alan Kelly said in Cork yesterday.

“I am not sure he [Mr Varadkar] actually did float that [closing down rural rail lines]. I read the transcript and I think it was the media who floated it as a consequence of the interview. There is no ambition to close any train lines. Leo and myself are at one on that,” said Mr Kelly.

Last week, Mr Varadkar said that unless there was a turnaround in the numbers using some rural rail services, people would have to accept that lines would be closed because many services would "no longer be sustainable".


“I have a real concern that there is a perception in some quarters that ultimately the Government will protect and fund existing rail services at any cost. That may be the romantic answer, but it is not realistic,” Mr Varadkar said at a transport conference.

However, speaking later on RTÉ radio, Mr Varadkar dismissed reports that he was considering closing "dozens" of rail lines.

"We don't even have dozens of rural rail lines so I'm not even sure where that comes from," he said.

'Not a good signal'
Yesterday Mr Kelly, who has responsibility for public and commuter transport, said it would not be "a good signal for the country if we are going around closing train lines", which had the potential to assist in economic development.

“How many times have we seen it in the past that, when you close a train line, a few years later you are trying to open it up again? It is not just about passenger numbers. It is about the potential of freight and commercial activity.”

Mr Kelly pointed out that many rural rail lines were relief lines and could be used if there were issues on other tracks, so they had to be maintained. Under EU law, lines still had to be maintained for up to 10 years after closure, so maintenance costs continued.

Travel times
He acknowledged Iarnród Éireann would have to improve travel times on mainline services such as Cork-Dublin and Galway-Limerick if they were to compete with road transport .

“That is being looked at and significant work is ongoing particularly on the Cork-Dublin line to try and speed it up. Obviously every extra 10 or 15 minutes is helpful. Safety is paramount but we have to get the balance right,” he said.

"Limerick to Galway certainly poses a significant challenge given the speed on the line. There is a group of people looking at that and other lines at the moment to see how it can be done."

Mr Kelly was in Cork to launch the Leap card, which is already used by 400,000 commuters in Dublin.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times