WDC hosts seminar on Strategic Rail Review
WDC hosts seminar on Strategic Rail Review
Fundamental concerns were expressed about the recently published Strategic Rail Review (SRR) at a seminar hosted by the Western Development Commission (WDC), namely that the Review prepared by consultants Booz, Allen, Hamiliton contains serious flaws and neither understands nor addresses balanced regional development, a stated government objective and a core element of the National Spatial Strategy.
Continuing with its important role in the debate on infrastructure in the West and in response to the Strategic Rail Review published on the 3rd of April, the Western Development Commission in conjunction with the eight County and City Development Boards has hosted a Rail Seminar.
The Seminar was held in Claremorris, a town which amongst many others in the Western Region would benefit significantly from the reopening of the Western Rail Corridor. The WDC has already expressed disappointment that the Western Rail Corridor and other Rail infrastructure projects in the Region have not been in the priority list for the Recommended Investment Strategy of the Strategic Rail Review. Similar sentiments were also expressed by both presenters and attendees of the Seminar.
The objective of the Seminar was twofold:
(1) To inform those active in development at a local level in the Western Region of the Strategic Rail Review, its recommendations and implications for the Region;
(2) To gain consensus on a number of the key issues and to identify by what process these should be addressed.
European transport policy was put into context by Mr. Jean-Arnold Vinois, Head of the Railway Transport and Interoperability, Unit of the Directorate-General for Energy and Transport. Mr. Vinois gave a comprehensive overview of the new EU Framework for Revitalising the Railways. He highlighted the move towards optimizing the use of existing rail infrastructure, the favouring of environmentally sustainable uses of transport throughout the EU, development of fair and efficient pricing mechanisms and the provision of high quality and safe services to customers. In response to the Strategic Rail Review, Mr. Vinois expressed concern over the lack of reference in the report to EU White Paper in general and EU Directives on Rail in particular.
Mr. James Nix from Dublin Institute of Technology highlighted the current state of Rail Freight in Ireland stating ‘rail freight is at risk of irreversible decline if the current policy vacuum continues’. He suggested many innovative approaches to the development of rail freight but reinforced in his concluding remarks that action is needed soon. In response to the Strategic Rail Review, Mr Nix highlighted the exaggerated costs of the WRC in the report and presented his estimated capital costs of the project and methods of reducing real costs.
Mr. Andrew Cullen from the Department of Transport emphasised that the Strategic Rail Review is the government’s commitment to re-vitalise the railways after a legacy of underinvestment. The SRR is Ireland’s first rail framework and this must be viewed positively. The Seminar welcomed Mr. Cullen’s willingness to accept responses to the Strategic Rail Review from those in the Region and he assured those present that the Review, as a framework for policy, is not set in stone.
Mr Myles McHugh and Mr Michael Reidy from Iarnrod Éireann welcomed the Strategic Rail Review and argued that the Review indicates a strong future for rail transport in Ireland. Mr. McHugh highlighted aspects of Iarnrod Éireann’s current investment programme including their safety programme and investment in intercity routes.The Seminar felt that basic improvements in timetabling, investment in rolling stock were urgent and this urgency had not been reflected in this Strategic Rail Review.
Mr. Frank Dawson, Galway County Development Board, challenged the accuracy of data contained in the Strategic Rail Review and called for a revision of both the Cost Benefit Analysis and the Multi Criteria Analysis sections. He stated that there were no recommendations in respect of Commuter Train Services in the Region and expressed grave disappointment over the lack of consultation with stakeholders in the Region. Mr. Dawson referred to the many reports that have already been completed within the Region and highlighted that these were not considered in the Review.
The Government Response was given by Minister O’Cuív, TD, Minister for Community Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. The Seminar welcomed the Minister’s commitment to developing the Region. The Minister stated that critical mass should not be a prerequisite to the development of key infrastructure in the Region and this was positively received by all present.
In his presentation, Dr. Micheál Mac Gréil challenged the Strategic Rail Review in the context of balanced regional development and the National Spatial Strategy. He questioned the understanding of balanced regional development in the Review which concentrates on creating infrastructure leading to and from Dublin. He advocated that the development of the Western Rail Corridor would do more for regional development by creating access between rural areas, towns and cities in the West strengthening the entire Region.
The only presenter from the private sector, Mr. Jim Deegan of Railtours Ireland, gave a very positive overview of his tourism business and spoke positively about his business’ working relationship with Iarnrod Éireann. Mr. Deegan described how he provides a high quality product to tourists, offering them a one day tour of parts of Ireland via the Irish Rail Network. However, like other speakers, he expressed his disappointment with the Review stating that its findings are flawed but highlighted again that the Review is not a blueprint. He also pointed out that the report “concentrates on Rolls-Royce solutions but strangely has ignored areas where vast improvements can be made with little capital expenditure. One such project is Mayolink”.
In conclusion the debate on rail is welcome however there are serious concerns over the Strategic Rail Review;
• There are errors in the Strategic Rail Review and these must be addressed by the consultants;
• The Review does not address balanced regional development, a central aim of the Government as outlined in the National Spatial Strategy;
• The EU White Paper in general and EU Directives on Rail in particular must be addressed in relation to a National Rail Framework;
• The current public, private and voluntary partnership work that exists within the Region in relation to Rail infrastructure development must be acknowledged and used to progress the issue further;
• The business case for freight must be examined and innovative approaches to its development need to be addressed;
• The role, relevance and development of the Western Rail Corridor need to be prioritized as part of any national rail framework.
All presentations from the Rail Seminar are currently available on the Western Development Commission’s website.
The WDC welcomes the recent announcement by Minister Brennan which indicates that he will make available consultants Booz, Allen, Hamilton to engage further with interests in the Western Region to develop a detailed and realistic action plan to progress the Western Rail Corridor project. The WDC will actively participate in this process.