Launch material for CIÉ’s ‘Supertrain’.
Sixty miles per hour.
Two girls for every boy.
The Supertrain we deserved.
Hueston Station, Dublin.
Birdsong can be heard as part of a new art project designed to ‘brighten the morning commute’. “On Chorus” was created by sound artist Christopher Steenson, and is playing across PA systems in train stations from 8am to 9am until the end of November. Blummin’ racket.
On the 3.05pm train from Galway to Dublin.
Holly Carpenter tweetz:
“50% of the seats are marked off so that people can socially distance – yet every carriage corridor looks like this. Impossible to get to the toilet without being on top of one & other. I don’t mean to sound negative – but this is not right.”
From top: Ireland’s rail network, 100 years ago vs now; Heber Rowan
Not so long ago, in the pre-virus days, Slugger O’Toole discussed building a rail line to Donegal, the far North-West of Ireland. Fair play. It is time to discuss generational public transport needs in Ireland.
There are some, this author included, who regard a working rail network, as civilisation manifest. A well run, speedy networks are something a country can be proud.They show that urban developments are made to meet needs long-term. That matters.
The Irish rail network includes 2,400km of track, of which 1,660km is used. As one of the most developed countries in the world, it’s not enough and not fit for purpose to discourage private car use. We work best together collectively, not alone.
In all public discussions around the development of our infrastructure, the business case against developing rail links is primarily one of population density. Namely, that there aren’t enough people living along the routes to justify further investment.
The Irish rail network was once a vibrant one into rural areas off the back of British development of the lines. There was even extensive planning done on the development of a Dublin metro system but the events of the Irish Easter Rising stopped it. Events!
The “Rail Review” of 2016, was the most recent public discussion about the health and future of the Irish rail network. It became a clarion call to many.
The head of Irish Rail and the Irish National Transport Authority stated that “there is no such a thing as a free lunch — the rail network is in financial jeopardy”. A funding gap of half a billion proved to be an inconvenient financial reality.
The political and public discussions at the time focused on maintaining the existing lines amid threatened closures, not improvements.
Then the €550 per passenger subvention that occurs annually for Limerick-Ballybrophy line was a hot point of political debate with the likes of Labour TD Alan Kelly at war with then Minister for Transport, Shane Ross. Ultimately no lines were closed and the panic subsided.
In fact, since then due to the growth of the Irish economy and an expansion of Dublin commuter services passenger numbers are up, however, their money is down.
The car is king.
The car remains king in Irish transport and despite some encouragement featured within the government’s Ireland 2040 infrastructure plans highlighting plans for the development of Metro-North (to Dublin airport and beyond), there is little in the way of serious ambition put forward.
In the last fifty years, Ireland has entered into what urban developers call a ‘land transport spiral’ whereby the chicken or the egg situation exacerbates congestion and a poor quality of living.
Cities grow wide with low densities and in areas dependent on having cars and away from other forms of services. It has been argued that increased private cars usage has been the death of rural towns. We don’t live or shop locally within our physical vicinity, that matters.
It is worth pondering if the lockdown will impact how both our behaviours within and perceptions of our localities will change. Transport and supporting local business matters.
Just as Galway city has been held up in decades of congestion over the potential for an outer ring road to be built with the acknowledgement that ‘if you build it, they will drive’ and not actually make matters better, development continues without developing Ireland regionally.
Economically, it’s a stark contrast with average incomes in the West of Ireland lower than €5,000 per year on average compared to Dublin. Yet there is no serious discussion about bringing Ireland together with high-speed rail even from the likes of Dublin to Belfast (arguably the most economically expedient) or to Cork.
This matters when we consider the long-term improvement of living standards in Dublin too, given that limited land and high population density ultimately decrease the standard of living for all if the majority of public transport investment is done within the greater Dublin area.
The problem for the government and the politicians that constitute it, is time. The difficulty of getting everything you need for your constituency within the short space of a five-year term. Yes, to all of those campaigning against the problems in health and housing, transport can appear to be a less important matter to go email your local TD about.
The political reality also, is that Dublin has 45 seats in the Dáil or 28% of the total. That’s power. It is no wonder that recent discussions around transport development focused on the BusConnects system and little attention was put on national infrastructure development.
Why spend money with a high-speed interlink between Dublin and Cork when you could win more Dublin voters within a lifetime of a government? Moreover, ask any Irish politician and they will say that a majority of their time is spent assisting constituents on housing or health-related matters.
When examining the problem, we often forget the time scales involved in rail developments, for instance, the Luas was initially first proposed back in 1990. Politicians need quick wins to get re-elected, and the people who proposed an idea are often forgotten amid all of the fanfare that accompanies the eventual ribbon-cutting ceremony.
The sad reality is that the narrative nationally has shifted to propel the creation of ‘Greenways’ or cycle routes along the former tracks of rural rail lines, as a good long term development.
While there are still campaigners for keeping the dream of the Western rail corridor alive (a train linking Sligo and Galway), with the smaller budget needed for construction and less time, politicians have it in their interest to back the creation of Greenways as it could save their seats.
TDs ultimately have to serve the interests of those who they elect them, a fact reflected in Green party leader Eamonn Ryan’s comments on the ‘advantage’ given to rural Ireland over the creation of the National Broadband Plan.
He and every other TD in Dáil Éireann, serve those who elected them first and foremost, national politics is a luxury only the properly powerful can do. Senior hurling.
Given that Ireland did sign up to a 7% reduction in greenhouse emissions with the Paris Climate Accord, the roll-out of an ambitious rail network (high speed or electrified) could be part of an overall solution to do just that.
Amid all of the political negotiations going on right now to form a government, how the urban-rural divide plays out with transport policy will contribute to influence the lifestyles and work of all. Maybe it is time we all get on board with a national rail network and a sense of ambition to match.
PS: Let’s remember there is a lot to celebrate about Irish Rail as a charming English couple experienced recently!
Heber Rowan is a Sligo native with a passion for politics. He works in public affairs and enjoys listening to and narrating audiobooks. He can be found on Twitter and occasionally blogs on Medium.com.
Irish Rail train
Rebecca Daly reports in The Irish Times…
Irish Rail commuters have expressed anger over its refusal to allow the use of reusable cups on train services.
While InterCity trains offer catering, it is against company’s policy for passengers to receive hot drinks directly in reusable cups.
“We cannot currently accommodate [passenger] keep cups on our service,” Irish Rail spokeswoman Jane Cregan said.
This was due to staff health and safety concerns and the fact of a limited supply of water on train services, she said.
Irish Rail latté again with waking up and smelling the coffee about the environment. Look how long it took to get "Do you want a receipt?" on their ticket machines… #todaysor @broadsheet_ie @IrishRail https://t.co/DOMLmZEJOH
— Irish Plogging Divas (@DublinPlogging) December 16, 2019
At Dublin’s Heuston Station
Jim Deegan, CEO of Railtours Ireland, told Sarah McInerney, on RTÉ’s Today with Seán O’Rourke show, that the free travel pass system in Ireland is “unsustainable” – arguing that up to 85 per cent of train services are full of people using such passes.
“Irish Rail are getting very, very little, a blanket payment of about €14million a year to Irish Rail to carry all free travel customers. And, of course, we’re not only talking about people who are over 66. We’re talking about a signifiant number of people of working age, who have free travel for various reasons.”
“Free travel is a wonderful thing and but it does need to be controlled and it needs to be regulated. We have a totally carte blanche system, total unrestriction [sic]. You can travel any time, as many times as you like for no charge whatsoever and that is a model that is unsustainable.
“And, for example, in Britain, you buy a travel card and you get a percentage of your travel for senior citizens.
“The prescription charge would be a good model, where you would put a nominal charge for every journey. At the moment, Irish Rail get about 70 cents per journey, which is unsustainable – for a company that’s trying to… you know, that’s pilloried by Government for constant losses.”
Éidín Ní Shé tweetz:
Lovely bit of ageism on Today with Sean O’Rourke at a time when older people are experiencing increase levels of isolation and loneliness suggestion we now ‘control’ free travel.
Listen back in full here
From top: The Public Service Card; Irish Rail train; Sean Fleming TD
At a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee.
Chairman of the committee Laois Fianna Fáil TD Seán Fleming referred back to a matter he raised at the end of last week’s committee meeting.
The matter concerned a constituent, their Public Services Card and Iarnród Éireann.
Yesterday Mr Fleming said , after receiving further correspondence on the matter, it appears the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection:
“has details with regard to 900,000 people, including every State pensioner in the country, on every time they use public transport and every trip they take“.
Mr Fleming said:
“Towards the end of the meeting, I raised the issue of a person who continued to use an expired free travel card. The person should not have done so because social welfare payments had ceased.
However, the travel card element of the public services card had not been cancelled and the person continued to use it.
After several months, the card was confiscated at Heuston Station when it did not work in the turnstile to leave the station. Afterwards, the person received a fine from Irish Rail for €1,000 for not having the correct ticket.
So far so good, but this raises data protection issues. The person, whom I dealt with over the summer, told me the issue of how Irish Rail got the individual’s name and address had already been raised with the Data Protection Commissioner.
There is no dispute with regard to the amount but there is a data protection issue.
Arising from our meeting last week, on Friday I received a very interesting email, as did the Comptroller and Auditor General, from a person with regard to a use of the public services card I had not really thought about until now.
If this is happening we really need it to be clarified. On the public services card is a photo, the person’s PPS number is on the back, and there is also the person’s signature.
The card also shows a date until which it is valid. On the front it may have the letters FT to signify free travel, or it may have the letters FT+S to signify the person’s spouse can accompany him or her for free.
The individual – [journalist and activist Martin McMahon] who sent the card used it on the Luas in Dublin and on one of the major bus companies, not Dublin Bus.
When the public services card goes through the ticket machine information is recorded and the individual got curious about what is recorded when the public services card is given to private transport companies.
The person tracked it down and eventually received a letter back from the National Transport Authority, NTA, because the bus operator and Luas said it was nothing to do with them and that the person should contact the NTA.
In recent days, we received a copy of the letter sent to the individual by the NTA.
The NTA states that when a person uses the card none of the person’s information on the card is recorded but every card has a number – not the PPS number – that the transport companies have.
This allows the companies to claim payment. I know there are also lump sum grants but perhaps Iarnród Éireann is slightly different.
This number records all of the trips and journeys made by card holder.
The rail company does not have the person’s name and address or other details but it sends the number to the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection where it can be matched to the person’s PPS number.
The NTA states only the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection knows the PPS number and the individualised anonymous number held by the transport companies.
The Department does not provide this information to anyone.
As far as public transport is concerned, all the NTA knows is that the number has been used but not who used it or anything about the person using the card and it is entirely anonymous.
The email also states that when the public services card is presented at the ticketing machine, it records that a journey has been taken and assigns the value of the fare forgone to the record, which is stored in the ticket machine.
The information held by the transport company is the ID, which is the number on the card, the date and time of the journey, the route number and the fare forgone, which is the adult single fare.
The data is then uploaded to the back office system and subsequently made available to the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection.
The purpose of recording the information is so the transport operator can record overall passenger numbers and overall usage and also be able to make a claim for reimbursement from the Department in respect of services delivered to free travel pass holders.
It appears that when the information comes back from the travel company the Department of Employment Affair and Social Protection has details with regard to 900,000 people, including every State pensioner in the country, on every time they use public transport and every trip they take.
The allegation in the email is that the person did not know the State had such mass surveillance systems in place.
I do not think people knew the card and the Department could obtain details on every trip taken.
I can see why from a financial position but from a data protection point of view I can see that people were not aware that this is the case.
We will write to the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection to clarify this particular issue on whether it has a record of all of the travel taken.”
Transcript via Kildarestreet.com
Data Commissioner Helen Dixon
Via The Irish Examiner:
The Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA) is facing a possible investigation and potential €1m fines over the mandatory requirement to hold a public services card in order to access the new National Childcare Scheme.
….That requirement is perceived as being at odds with the DPC’s recent finding that mandating citizens to hold a PSC in order to access State services other than welfare is illegal…
….Earlier this week, the Irish Examiner revealed that DCYA had initially envisaged a second online portal for people without a PSC to apply for the scheme, which would have removed any GDPR concerns.
However, the department was firmly overruled by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform — the body with responsibility for the PSC’s expansion to services other than welfare — which informed it in January 2018 that “MyGovID alone” should be the only means for accessing the new childcare scheme…