IRISH Rail has pledged to make a “minor” unspecified reduction in its average rail journey times between Galway and Limerick early in the new year in the wake of a targeted 10 to 15 minute cut on Intercity routes to and from Dublin.
The company has announced its intention to reduce average journey times by between 10 and 15 minutes between Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Waterford, Galway and Westport and the capital through a removal of speed restrictions, which were imposed to allow improvement works.
However, it doesn’t anticipate it will achieve similar reductions on the Galway to Limerick route when draft new schedules are published early next year due to the high number of level crossings on the line.
This is despite calls from Western Rail lobby Group West on Track and North West MEP Jim Higgins for similar reductions on this route.
West on Track spokesman Colman O’Raghallaigh believes the reduction in the journey time from one hour and 55 minutes down to one hour and 40 minutes and the provision of Intercity rail trains on the line between Galway and Limerick would dramatically improve passenger numbers.
He claimed the Department of Transport effectively engaged in an act of “deception” by not counting the number of passengers on existing sections of the Limerick to Galway route, which were upgraded such as the Limerick to Ennis route.
Instead, he claimed the department were only interested in counting the numbers on the Ennis to Athenry section, which wasn’t officially on Irish Rail’s timetable, when it made far more sense to examine the total number using the entire route when it came to assessing its overall viability.
He requested Irish Rail to implement recommendations made by its own consultants last February to provide Intercity rail trains on all routes, particularly the Galway to Limerick route.
If Irish Rail reduced average journey times and upgraded rail carriages on the Galway to Limerick service, he stressed they would benefit from a continued increase in passenger numbers.
He welcomed the increase of 8,210 or 7.2% on the Limerick to Galway line from 114,126 from January 1, 2011, to July 15, 2011, to 122,345 in the corresponding period this year.
Mr Higgins admitted he was perplexed about the lack of progress on reducing the journey times between Galway and Limerick.
“I’ve raised this issue before and I will raise it again. To drive between Galway city and Limerick takes 1 hour and 25 minutes but on the train it takes 2 hours and 15 minutes. Added to this, you still can’t book online. I cannot understand how you can book most buses in the country online but not the train. I wonder if this was a train on the east coast, would a solution to the online booking problem have been found by now,” concluded Mr Higgins.
A total of 224,166 journeys were made across the full route in 2011, including 66,390 for Limerick to Ennis, 34,461 for Limerick-Galway and 123,315 for Athenry-Galway.
The equivalent total for 2010 was 185,254, though this covers the year from March 30 to December 31, as the new line opened on March 30, 2010.
For the Limerick to Ennis line, the number using the service for the first six months of this year increased from 34,475 to 35,366; decreased on the Limerick to Galway line from 17,697 to 16,287, while the usage of the Athenry to Galway line went up from 61,954 to 70,698.
The Limerick to Galway section figures include through journeys and any journeys starting or finishing on the new Ennis-Athenry section of line.
Irish Rail spokesman, Barry Kenny explained the company are currently finalising draft schedules for Heuston and regional routes for 2013.
When finalised, he pledged the company would publish the draft schedules on its website, irishrail.ie, and invite customers to give feedback as part of a public consultation process.
“Irish Rail will refine the draft, and subject to the approval of the National Transport Authority, we aim to introduce the new schedules early in the new year.
“As a general approach, we are targeting achieving journey time improvements. While routes to and from Heuston should average 10-15 minutes, we will not be able to achieve journey time improvements of this level on the Limerick to Galway route, which still has a high number of level crossings, although we do hope to deliver some minor journey time improvements. We will confirm these when the draft schedules are finalised.
“Irish Rail are also hoping to increase the number of Intercity railcar trains used on the route but we will not be using Intercity railcars on every service. Again, we will confirm these details shortly.
“The increase on passenger numbers so far this year is promising – continued strengthening of commuter traffic to Galway and the annual seasonal tourist boost across the line were the key factors. Irish Rail introduced a number of promotions this autumn to capitalise on this, including the promotion of student and adult annual and monthly tickets,” he said.
Meanwhile, Iarnród Éireann will implement fare increases from December 1, with the exception of monthly season tickets which will be increased from January 1, 2013.