Railing Against Progress


From top: Heuston Station, Dublin; Dan Boyle

The rail network inherited by the Irish Free State in 1922 was the most densely networked system that then existed in the World.

Partition brought an end to railways in Donegal. It’s West/East emphasis was part of its divorce from its obvious economic hinterland.

The Civil War brought about further destruction. Anti Treaty forces concentrating their efforts on blowing up lines, to undermine their logistical uses.

The Second World War, or its more serious counterpart in Ireland, The Emergency, meant a restriction on services through an incapacity to import coal.

The founding of a State Transport company, CIE, (a Labour Party success of the first inter party government) gave brief hope that the potential of public transport in Ireland might be realised.

New rail stock carried by modern diesel engines, seemed to indicate a country wanting to embrace modern transport policies.

It would be a short lived show of independence. Almost fifty years into the life of the new State, the yoke of British oppression continued to linger. Irish administrators opted to slavishly ape policy changes on John Bull’s island.

The Beeching Report, which brought about the closure of many British rail lines, was mirrored and furthered in Ireland.

A story is told of Todd Andrews, then chair of CIE, meeting with a delegation seeking the protection of the West Cork railway. He asked how they had travelled. Invariably, they had come by car.

In Irish politics this has been taken as the classic way in which to deal with ‘whingers’. The truth was that the service had been progressively, and deliberately, run down.

Political antipathy towards railways continued into the 1980s. Then Fine Gael’s Jim Mitchell brought a proposal to Cabinet to close most rail lines not connecting to Dublin. It didn’t fly.

After that there was something of a renaissance on investment towards rail, even if much of this was centred around the Greater Dublin area – DART, Luas, re-opened lines and new stations; the penny seemed to be dropping.

Until now. It is hard to know who the Irish rail management is trying to blackmail most with its current proposals – its workers or the government?

Whichever, the management of Irish Rail should be faced down.

I would go further.

Two new companies should be established – one for commuter services; the other for rail infrastructure. If the commuter company abandons a service, the infrastructure company could make such lines available for other companies.

For joined up thinking on Irish railways, this disconnect needs to be made.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle


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23 thoughts on “Railing Against Progress

  1. john

    Irish rail has been destroyed by the unions and their over priced drivers/employees. The routes they are shutting down are not used and should be closed down. It is a waste of money running a trains with 4-5 people on it, especially when the dart is so infrequent and under invested.

    1. scottser

      there are plenty of reasons why our rail network and service provision is substandard. the unions are one of the least important and if they weren’t there you’d be dealing with badly paid and treated staff on top of the rest of the clusterf***

  2. phil

    Im not sure why people would take advice from Dan Boyle , considering the incompetence he showed in Sept 2008.

  3. Rob_G

    Ireland is too small and too sparsely-populated to have a cost-effective inter-city rail service, outside of a couple of routes (Dublin-Belfast, and maybe Dublin-Cork).

    The money would be better off spent on inter-city buses using the motorway network.

    1. Spaghetti Hoop

      Agree. But also invest in a good local rural bus service so folk can get around for work, shopping and social events. The complaints are endless about the demise of the communities.

      1. nellyb

        What’s next? DVD rental shops? Or [gasp] Broadband? For children of the fields?
        Crazy talk, man. Crazy!

  4. Gorev Mahagut

    I obviously haven’t been paying attention but what are the cited “current proposals” of Irish Rail management?

  5. DavidT

    Unfettered one-off housing doesn’t help either: some of the closed lines can never be re-opened (thinking West Clare railway in particular – what a great tourist attraction that might have been) without bulldozing dwellings.

    There seem to be dozens of wonderful enthusiast-run rail lines in the UK; no chance here?

  6. nellyb

    It sounds very reasonable. But, Dan, realistically, who are going to see that through? We can’t even build metro in a tiny city of Dublin and you’re talking about strategic, complicated long term enterprise for the whole country. I am very skeptical about implementation of it in the next 10 years (at least till next irish gen come into serious play).
    Besides – look at the comments – there is an opinion that country dwelling brethren are, in fact, less deserving. Explicitly, Kevin Myers style. And it is while the greatest distance within the country is something like under (!) 500 kilometers or something. Talk of small mindedness… It’s micro-mindedness.
    IF your party can shape a plan, may be hook up with progressive engineering folks for best scenarios – greens will get my vote.

  7. Truth in the News

    The Free State had nothing to do with the rail network, it was in private hands until
    the mid 40’s, and Todd Andrews shut a lot of it down as he got control after the 40’s
    as he wanted get some of the narrow guage stock for Bord na Mona which he chaired
    as well as CIE…..Railways have never been economic with years, even DART, every
    so often there is the inspired headline shut the Limerick to Galway strech, in fact what
    is needed to be realistic is shut the lot, as it all has to be propped up by subvention

  8. A snowflake's chance in hell

    I don’t agree with Truth and I am afraid that for once I actually agree with Dan

    Railways are a vital public service providing essential infrastructure to the entire country.

    The argument above about the expansion of the metro in Dublin or re-investment in Dart is unsustainable as well

    1. David

      We’ll find, as more people throw ditch their PCPs, as the cost of fuel once again shoots up, as unemployment creeps up again, as remaining wages are driven lower, that we’ll regret shutting down any line or hiving off any routes to privateers. Nothing lasts forever.

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