Since the 1990s, Irish Rail has spent €1 billion upgrading track, signalling and fencing while the Government is planning to spend €5.5bn on further improvements before 2017.
Yet a comparison of this year’s train timetables with those from 1974, 1993 and 1994, reveals journeys on the same routes are taking longer today than a generation ago:
nIn 1993, the fastest time between Dublin and Cork in both directions was two hours 20 minutes on Sundays and two hours 30 minutes on weekdays. Today, despite a more powerful locomotive with an improved top-speed of 160 kilometres per hour, the quickest journey is two hours 45 minutes, or 15 minutes longer.
nIn 1974, the journey from Dublin Heuston to Waterford’s Plunkett Station each way took two hours 15 minutes with 12 stops in between. Today, the fastest journey on the same route takes two hours 23 minutes yet the service only calls at six stations on the way.
nIn the early 1970s, passengers travelling from Dublin Connolly to Sligo could make the journey in three hours flat. Yet today, the best time is three hours three minutes, despite new Intercity railcars, new track layout and new signalling.
nIn 1994, the 8.20am Limerick to Dublin service took two hours five minutes. Today, the 7.35am takes 15 minutes longer despite a powerful 160kph locomotive.
Last night the Rail Users Ireland (RUI) pressure group said Iarnród Éireann had to concentrate on improving journey times.
“Passenger numbers are up but that’s because people have no choice other than to go by train,” said RUI spokesman Mark Gleeson.
“Irish Rail has spent €1bn to make the network safe and reliable, but there has been no investment to beef things up. The roads are now getting faster, but if the trains don’t get faster then we’ll get into a vicious circle of declining passenger numbers and less investment.”
Irish Rail had only just got around to tackling track problems at Portarlington, Co Laois, after trains were forced to travel there at just 48kph for the past 12 years, he said.
Iarnród Éireann’s journey times also look poor when compared with those in Britain, where rail services have long been considered neglected and underfunded. The 162-kilometre trip from Dublin to Waterford takes two hours 23 minutes, yet passengers can travel 372 kilometres from London to Darlington in northeast England in two hours 30 minutes.
Iarnród Éireann spokesman Barry Kenny insisted journey times would improve in future, saying investment in services was increasing passengers.
“If you look at timetables today we operate a lot more Intercity and suburban services and that congestion, for want of a better term, has to be factored in,” he said. “We also have an allowance for improvement works, which will have an impact because trains will go slower.”