Iarnród Éireann (Irish Rail) may have to close the majority of its rail network if no extra government funding is forthcoming over the next few years.
In their Rail Review 2016 Report, Irish Rail and the National Transport Authority said a continued lack of investment had created a significant operational funding gap.
Between 2007 and 2015, Irish Rail incurred losses of €150 million; this was despite making €76 million in savings in the same period. Although passenger numbers have been increasing, further losses of €11 million are expected for 2016.
The report claims that without additional state funds, Irish Rail will have to make “large rail network reductions”.
Although it doesn’t go so far as to advocate closures, it does highlight the size of the challenge facing the operator.
The report said: “… the solvency of the company remains a major concern due to the accumulated losses and the deterioration of shareholder funds. The company cannot incur further losses as it will become insolvent.”
Underinvestment in the rolling stock and infrastructure over the years has also resulted in “safety risks and unacceptably high commercial risks”, the report said.
A large-scale closure, leaving only the DART, Dublin and Cork commuter services, and InterCity services from Dublin to Cork, Belfast and Limerick, is one of three options put forward in the report.
However, the report points out that such a significant programme of closures would itself incur substantial costs through the provision of voluntary severance.
Another option would be for the exchequer to step in. To retain its current level of service and meet its maintenance targets, Irish Rail would require the equivalent of €103 million extra a year from the government up to 2021. An additional €41.7 million a year would be needed between 2017 and 2019 to cover the accumulated losses and ensure the organisation’s solvency.
The third solution would involve a combination of line closures and some additional funding.
Announcing the start of a public consultation, National Transport Authority chief executive Anne Graham said: “Rail has a huge role to play as an economic driver in terms of bringing about balanced regional development. It also delivers social benefits by improving social inclusion, improving accessibility and mobility, and making travel safer. In addition, it provides real environmental benefits by reducing emissions and improving air quality.
“But these benefits do not come free of charge, and if safeguarding them into the future is to become a genuine priority, there must be a commitment to give our rail network the support it will need in the years ahead.”
Irish Rail chief executive David Franks added: “A sustainably funded railway will ensure Iarnród Éireann can focus on meeting commuter demand, and on the transport, economic and environmental needs of our country in line with the authority’s strategy and the government’s policy framework.
“I encourage anyone who has an interest in these issues to contribute to the public consultation launched today.”