Losses at Iarnród Éireann rose slightly last year, despite record passenger numbers which helped drive overall revenue 6% higher to €280.9m.
The latest annual report of the State-owned railway company shows it had a deficit of €1.1m in 2018 — an increase of 6.7% — when Iarnród Éireann had actually budgeted for a surplus of €6.5m.
The losses came against a background of an increase in passenger journeys across all services — with overall numbers up 5.3% to 47.9m — a record number on the rail network. As a result, passenger revenue was up 7.8% to €220.9m. However, Government funding under the Public Service Obligation subvention fell by 22.3% to €89.3m.
Iarnród Éireann chairman Frank Allen said the passenger numbers showed the essential role of rail transport. “We are committed to building on this success to ensure that rail will continue to provide a credible alternative to private cars for more people,” he said.
Mr Allen said the company was encouraged by the strong commitment shown by the Government to rail transport in the National Development Plan, involving a €2bn investment in the next decade. Mr Allen said the company’s investment priority would be to address capacity constraints on commuter and Dart services. However, additional trains and carriages will not become available until 2021.
Chief executive Jim Meade said the increase in passenger figures had come from an increase in the frequency of Dart services and strong economic growth. Last year’s papal visit, a series of outdoor concerts, and a busy GAA season also contributed to the rising numbers of rail users.
He welcomed the budget commitment of State funding. “It is hugely significant and will allow us to begin to address the underfunding of the past decade,” said Mr Meade.
He warned that the company’s balance sheet remained vulnerable to an economic downturn or a reduction in exchequer funding as its net assets were €47.4m, which he described as “low”.
Iarnród Éireann, which owns Rosslare Europort, confirmed it is to invest €25m on expanding the port’s facilities over the next five years to secure its future by attracting new shipping companies. Rosslare Europort’s revenue fell 4.5% last year to €10.6m. Mr Meade said Rosslare’s strategic importance would increase with Brexit, offering the fastest connection to mainland Europe from Ireland by sea.
The company’s freight division continued to suffer losses although the size of the annual deficit fell by 10.5% to €646,000.