Faster, earlier, and more reliable rail services are needed on the line between Limerick and Galway to maximise the potential of the route, according to a report prepared for the National Transport Authority.
The study on the Western Rail Corridor, which has been seen by the Irish Examiner, criticises existing rail timetables between the cities as confusing, restricted, and “less than satisfactory”.
“The current service offering on the route is unattractive to many people as it is slow, infrequent, and costly, in particular when compared to other modes of travel, especially car and bus,” the report states.
It recommends an improvement in commuter services on the route to attract more workers and students to travel by train with better co-ordinated bus and train timetables at main interchange points — Limerick, Ennis, and Galway.
It also claims the tourist potential of the route could be better exploited through the greater integration of bus and rail services at off-peak times.
Although about 200,000 people live within 10km of stations on the Limerick-Galway railway line, passenger traffic is relatively low, particularly in the mid-section between Ennis and Athenry, which only re-opened in 2010.
However, the report acknowledged that rail services between Limerick and Galway are perceived to be expensive and with longer journey times. The route between the two cities is 20km longer by rail.
While car is the cheapest mode of transport for single journey along the Limerick-Galway route, the study found that weekly and monthly rail tickets represented better value over travel by car, especially when parking charges in either city are factored in.
People living in the catchment area also felt rail timetables did not meet the needs of commuters, especially with regard to shift work patterns.
The report recommends the introduction of an earlier morning and evening services between Athenry and Galway to facilitate commuters and students who start before 8am
It also recognises that journey times are longer than might be expected due to the large number of permanent speed restrictions on the line, which include 35 level crossings.
However, it believes journey times between Galway and Limerick could be cut by up to 20 minutes, including a saving of five minutes by cutting out stops at Craughwell and Ardrahan on peak services.
The average journey time by rail between the two cities is 109 minutes compared to just 80 minutes by road.
Almost 250,000 people travelled on services along the Western Rail Corridor in 2011, the latest year for which figures were available, although it was noted that preliminary figures showed traffic increased by a further 7% last year.
However, the majority just travel on Limerick-Ennis and Athenry-Galway services, with only around 34,500 travelling on the Ennis-Athenry section.
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