Wednesday, August 28, 2019

NEXT year marks the 60th anniversary of the closure of the Waterford to Tramore railway line, a decision which brought a 107-year service between our city and its coastal neighbour to a permanent and regrettable halt.

If you’re sat at the Ballindud Roundabout most mornings, stuck in a tailback, you’ve every right to be aggrieved at another of the many short-sighted decisions successive governments have inflicted on this city and county.

A light rail system on that same route nowadays would surely do a roaring trade, ferrying workers, day trippers and students along that seven-mile stretch, saving thousands of journeys currently being made by car.

And, with the peak season in Tramore now officially behind us, it’s difficult not to see how such a service wouldn’t boom during the summer, surely attracting heavy use during the August Festival at Tramore Racecourse along with its other scheduled meetings.

 

‘Alas, the devil is in the detail when it comes to the future of our regional rail services – or, when it comes to the Project 2040 strategy, the lack thereof.’

But the prospect of this relatively modest piece of infrastructure ever being revived lies somewhere between slim and none because when it comes to delivering on a vision for Waterford and the South East, government after government has come up short.

That so little has been done to promote the existing rail link between Waterford and Limerick (stopping at Carrick-on-Suir and Clonmel) and given the withdrawal of commuter services between the city and Rosslare Europort, the Government’s environmental strategy rings decidedly hollow.

This is, after all, existing national infrastructure, State-owned land that is not being maximised and has, for decades, been underwhelmingly promoted and/or advertised by Iarnród Éireann. Boosting and promoting such services would not involve gobbling up privately owned land or breaking up farm holdings.

Competitive ticket pricing, in addition to offering tax incentives to employees in commuter towns (such as Carrick, Clonmel and Kilkenny) to ditch the car and take the train to work, is at least worthy of consideration.

Alas, the devil is in the detail when it comes to the future of our regional rail services – or, when it comes to the Project 2040 strategy, the lack thereof.

There is no reference whatsoever to encouraging greater use of existing rail services in the region or boosting rail freight numbers in the 2040 plan’s South East section.

Indeed, rail freight isn’t even itemised as a potential option for boosting trade into both Waterford and Rosslare Ports, despite the document stressing the ports’ “role in maintaining transportation linkages with crucial EU markets”.

Indeed, the very next sentence in the 2040 report states that strengthening access routes to our ports “through investment to upgrade and enhance the road transport network” remains a Government priority. Surely throwing all one’s eggs into the motorway/main road basket is unsustainable when taking future emission reduction commitments into account?

As Green Party Councillor Marc Ó Cathasaigh noted in his submission to the Department of Transport’s Draft Climate Adaptation Plan: “It’s shocking to think that less than 1% (one per cent) of our freight in this country is carried by rail, even though it’s the most energy efficient way to move heavy goods. Similarly, offering high speed rail connections between Limerick and Waterford would not only increase connectivity between those cities, but would also allow people resident in Clonmel and Carrick to consider the train as an effective commuting option.”

As we await further news on the future of Waterford Airport, the hope of some enlightenment from Shane Ross’s office on making better use of already built infrastructure such as rail is disappointingly fanciful.

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