KILDARE North TD James Lawless has slammed the Government following a revelation that the refurbishment of 28 train carriages will not proceed, highlighting the potential for tragedy on Kildare’s overcrowded commuter rail services.
A response from the National Transport Authority (NTA) to a parliamentary question by Deputy Lawless noted that a full refurbishment of 28 carriages, manufactured in 1998 and in storage since 2012, was estimated at €12 million. However, just one tender was received with a cost “substantially in excess of €30 million” – refurbishing each carriage would cost more than half the price of a new vehicle.
“It has now emerged that refurbished carriages are not a financially viable option to expand the rail fleet,” said Deputy Lawless. “This now leaves commuters stuck. The only short-term option appeared to be these refurbished carriages which would have come as great relief to those in Maynooth, Kilcock, Sallins and Hazelhatch.”
As a regular rail commuter, Deputy Lawless said he has seen first-hand the impact of overcrowding and notes that he has been “inundated” with emails, phone calls and social media messages from his constituents.
“It’s actually got to the stage where it’s dangerous,” he said. “People are squashed into the space between carriages, into the emergency exits, in between the doors and in between the toilets.”
However, Barry Kenny, Corporate Communications Manager with Irish Rail, has said that Irish peak levels are similar to those across Europe.
“Urban rail services the world over operate at full loading capacity at peak times. Our trains, while busier than ever and with all available fleet operating, see demand and loading levels to European norms at peak,” he said. “While we appreciate this may be uncomfortable for some customers, trains are designed and certified to safely accommodate full loading. Every major city in Europe operates to similar loading factors, and to suggest that this is anything other than normal high capacity commuting does not bear scrutiny.”
Irish Rail is looking at the potential of leasing or purchasing second-hand vehicles, though modifications would be required to adapt them to the Irish track gauge. A decision on the viability of sourcing second-hand carriages or ordering extra Intercity railcar vehicles will be made shortly.
Mr Kenny recognised the increase in demand and the additional capacity that is required but pointed to funding issues due to the economic crisis which impacted on fleet expansion.
“It should be noted, however, that the last available capacity we had as demand increased was directed to the extra services operating exclusively from Newbridge/Hazelhatch to Grand Canal Dock via the Phoenix Park Tunnel,” he said.
Deputy Lawless has criticised the government for failing to act on a “predictable issue” which he has raised on several occasions and called for creative thinking and an assessment of what carriages will work for the commuter route between Kildare and Dublin.
He also argued that Intercity services aren’t built to cater for squashed travellers during rush hour, pointing to the DART service which is better equipped to facilitate standing passengers with poles and handles.
“What is needed is a Minister who will come at the problem with innovative ideas,” he said. “At present he does not seem to be doing anything.”
Deputy Lawless has called for an emergency debate in the Dáil and an immediate intervention from the Taoiseach to resolve the issue.
“Something needs to be done before there is a tragedy due to overcrowding on the Kildare rail line,” he said. “It’s just not good enough all around from the government because this was predictable, I did call for action and they failed to deliver.”