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TODAY the National Transport Authority (NTA) is scheduled to decide on the application by Iarnród Éireann to withdraw passenger services on the Rosslare-Waterford rail line.
This proposal has been erroneously described as closure. Closure, however, means the line cannot be reopened unless it is upgraded to a specification agreed by the Railway Safety Commission. Withdrawal of passenger services, on the other hand, does not preclude the possibility of an Irish Rail freight service using the line nor would it preclude the possibility of the line being used by another licensed passenger operator.
Perhaps today’s meeting will provide an opportunity for the NTA to act decisively as a regulator. Section 56 of the 2008 Dublin Transport Authority Act allows the NTA to step in as an operator of last resort and, in certain circumstances, allows the operator to work the line under contract while another service provider is sought.
We’re often told we need strong regulation in this country. Now here’s a chance not just for strong regulation but also to allow other operators into the rail market. If Irish Rail decides it cannot or won’t make a market work, why should that preclude another company seeking to provide a service?
For instance, if a county council decides to give up refuse collection it doesn’t mean the service ends in the county. Neither does it mean the local authority will shut the road to all who wish to use it.
Yet that is exactly what is proposed for rail services between south Wexford and Waterford if Irish Rail gets its way. The Iarnród Éireann business plan for closure has been discredited by the South East Regional Authority report and yet Irish Rail refuses to debate its contents.
Who’s afraid of debate or competition? Allowing Irish Rail to proceed with closure merely encourages failure and will do nothing to improve the financial position of the company.
Today’s meeting provides the NTA with a good opportunity to challenge the prevailing culture, a key part of what sound regulation should be based on. Rather than repeating the failed policy of the 1960s, perhaps the NTA should use the application as a a wake-up call to the transport sector.
About 25 years ago a brave decision to allow a new operator fly between Waterford and Luton heralded a boom in aviation. After a quarter of a century, is it not time the south-east again led the country with an imaginative transport initiative?
Cllr Joe Ryan
Mayor of Wexford
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