Directly referencing the controversial Limerick to Ballybrophy line, which loses €550 per fare, Mr Ross has refused to rule out shutting down high loss-making lines.
He made his comments in an interview with the Irish Examiner, but insisted closing rail lines is not his intention at this stage.
“The idea [of line closures] can’t be ruled in or out... The rail review which has gone to consultation doesn’t rule it in or out,” he said. “In the case of some lines, it is difficult to justify their existence in commercial terms and some lines are losing hundreds of euro per fare, [such as] on the Ballybrophy line, and that is something that has to be examined.”
Asked to clarify if such loss-making lines are in trouble, he said: “Any line that is losing a huge amount of money and doesn’t have any passengers has to be looked at and [it] would be irresponsible not to do so when the company needs money. But the idea of the rail review is not to close lines but look at efficiencies.”
But he painted a stark picture as to the state of the finances at Irish Rail.
“Every single line loses money and every fare is subsidised. That will continue. Costs have been cut hugely and the subsidy has been cut. Leo Varadkar cut it,” he said.
Late last year, a damning review of the network found that the subvention for every passenger journey on the Dart is 90c, while on the Limerick-Ballybrophy (via Nenagh) line it is €550. The route was expanded in 2012 to four services a day when Labour TD Alan Kelly was minister of state at the Department of Transport.
Speaking to the Irish Examiner, Mr Kelly hit out at any suggestion that the Ballybrophy line may be in jeopardy, saying economic viability is not the only criteria needed to examine the value of such rail lines.
Mr Kelly said Mr Ross has an agenda which is anti-rural Ireland: “It is obvious Mr Ross has an agenda that is against rural Ireland. This is a man who has campaigned vigorously on issues in his own constituency, so he is well used to parochialism.
“This is complete hypocrisy. He doesn’t understand rural Ireland, doesn’t understand anything beyond the Red Cow roundabout.”
Mr Ross moved to reassure commuters and rail passengers that the network is fit for purpose and safe after a report highlighted substantial under investment in the sector.
“When I read this report with my officials, the first thing they asked was is the network safe and the commissioner, who is a very straight and honourable man, said it is safe,” he said.
Mr Ross insisted: “There is no immediate threat in any way and we have asked those questions every day. I have a letter from him in the past two weeks telling me the network is safe.”
Mr Ross did reveal that there are severe governance issues within Irish Rail in terms of safety reporting.
“What was happening here, the commissioner said there are major governance issues here to do with safety and a lack of safety reporting to the board.
“Also there was also a very bad relationship between him and the board of Irish Rail.”