Role for rail in reducing carbon emissions

 

Sir, – Kevin O’Sullivan’s report, and comments by Dr Eimear Cotter, Environmental Protection Agency’s director of environmental sustainability, deserve to be highlighted, particularly Dr Cotter’s references to transport and the Irish freight sector (“Ireland locked in trend of rising carbon emissions, says EPA”, News, May 31st).

Regrettably, one cannot but be sceptical about the sincerity of official Ireland on this very serious issue. Ireland is unique in the EU in having no rail freight policy, no State subsidies for rail freight, no grant aid towards rail freight facilities or equipment, and by far the highest rail track access charges in the EU.

Yet the skeletal rail freight services operated by Iarnród Éireann generate a gross profit for the company. Since its introduction in 2005, the multimodel rail freight service between Ballina and the Port of Waterford has operated approximately 2,500 trains, displacing over 40,000 long-distance truck movements of about 15 million truck kilometres.

With no subsidies, this service has generated an annual gross profit for Iarnród Éireann and is estimated to have contributed over €4 million in carbon savings over the period. It was announced this week that the Ballina to the Port of Waterford rail freight service is to cease, at least for the moment. The reasons are vague but we can be certain that the absence of the kind of support available in Britain, France, Germany, etc, is a contributing factor.

One might well ask why Iarnród Éireann are not calling out for support for an enlightened rail freight policy. Evidently it does not offer its opinion on transport policy because it is guided by, and entirely dependent upon, the Department of Transport and the National Transport Authority for its funding.

Sadly, Ireland is well accustomed to high-level decision makers throwing their eyes up to heaven at the mention of railways. There is no reference to rail freight in the recently announced National Development Plan. This at the same time that other EU countries, including the UK, are vigorously supporting rail freight with policies, subsidies and grant aid because it is the most environmentally sustainable means of transporting bulk and multimodal traffic over land.

The EU accepts that rail freight subsidies, grants and low track access charges generate a positive return. A report prepared for the UK department of transport finds a benefit to cost ratio of 4.27:1 in environmental and congestion cost impacts for every pound of grant expenditure.

Dr Cotter will have done the State some service if her comments finally wake people up to this unacceptable state of affairs in Ireland’s environmental transport policy. – Is mise,

FRANK DAWSON,

Claregalway,

Co Galway.