Chairman: I would like to welcome Mr. Richard Fearn and Mr. Paul O'Kelly from Iarnród Éireann. I want to draw the witnesses' attention to the fact that members of the committee have absolute privilege but this same privilege does not apply to witnesses appearing before the committee. Members are reminded of the parliamentary practice that members should not comment on, criticise or make charges against any person outside the House, or of an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I welcome the witnesses before the committee. Before they make their presentations, I wish to compliment Iarnród Éireann on what is, in my view, a significant improvement in the company's services over the last number of years. Gone are the days when one had constant delays, certainly on the Galway to Dublin train. It is now a pleasure to use the service and we did not even get the new trains yet. Perhaps the company's representatives will tell us when the new trains are coming on stream on the remaining lines.
The main issues are not so much the actual price increase because we are realistic enough to know that Iarnród Éireann must increase its prices in line with inflation, but rather the degree of change that happens in what I would consider to be similar situations. For instance, I can get a return day-trip from Galway to Dublin for €30 but if I travel the following day it costs €44. That seems to be a negative aspect which puts people off travelling by train. There is also the question of different pricing structures that appear to operate for similar journeys in different parts of the country.
Mr. Richard Fearn: Thank you, Chairman, for those kind comments about the way the service is developing. I would like to give my presentation specifically on the issues the committee asked me to comment on, but I am also happy to answer questions on any other issues that may arise.
I thank you for your invitation. I was invited to discuss our company's train fares in the context of the recent fares increase. I hope that through this opening statement and the subsequent questioning I can address the issues that arise. To go back to the fares increase, on 9 January 2008, in common with the other operators - Bus Éireann, Dublin Bus and the Luas - we increased our fares by an average of 5%. We did that across intercity, DART and commuter services. Any company operating in the economy must obviously cover its costs either with its revenue or some other source of income. Our source is twofold: the fare box and the subvention we receive from Government.
In the last 12 months we have seen some of our costs increase dramatically, particularly fuel costs. Everybody is aware of the oil price increase which comes directly through to us in terms of our fuel costs for trains, but also in terms of our commitment to the partnership programme and the wage increases we have paid to our employees in time. Notwithstanding recent increases, our fares remain competitive and are much lower than the European average for train fares. With today's paper, I have included an appendix for committee members to study, which sets out the comparison of fares across what we call the EU 15 - the pre-enlargement countries. We have included journeys that are comparable with Dublin-Cork, Dublin-Galway and Dublin-Waterford looking at similar journey distances and intercity type journeys. Members will see from those comparisons that Irish fares are very much at the lower end of the range within Europe and below the European average. If members have the chart in front of them, they will see that the red bar is the EU average and the green bar is the Irish rail fare. Members can work out from the abbreviations the names of different countries. Members will see that Great Britain is much higher than anybody else, but there is a spectrum right through and they can see where we fit into that.
In addition, on a number of routes and individual services we also offer competitive discounted fares, day returns, returns for different off-peak times, discounts for students and so on. Providing those discounts is all part of our fare strategy. Increasingly, we are now utilising a new media, which is the website irishrail.ie, for fares-based promotions. Through our website we are mostly focusing on discounted single tickets.
Committee members will be used to a situation where in other transport fields it is quite common to find discounted single fares as the main vehicle to book journeys. The level of business on our website has responded positively to that and has increased by 80% over the past 12 months, and is continuing to increase. We do not believe by any means that this is a one-step change. Our website also now gives the opportunity to offer discounted fares and encourage advance purchase. That is helpful to us in terms of knowing what capacity we need, seat reservations and so on. We intend to use these promotions to offer further discounts to customers in a way that will benefit our overall revenue.
Moving to our commuter business, which is quite different from the intercity one in many ways, we have heavily discounted commuter fares in terms of season tickets. We are offering people who commute to major cities from the suburbs weekly, monthly or annual season tickets, which are competitive. They show competitiveness not only when one compares them with our near neighbours across the water, but also the longer the person books for the more competitive the fares become. For example, taking a 90 km journey from Dublin to Dundalk or Carlow, or vice versa, a weekly ticket would work out at an average of €6.40 per day. A monthly journey would work out at €5.42 and an annual one at €4.52. Therefore, the longer the season ticket, the better the value.
We have been helped significantly by the Department of Finance's tax-saver scheme, which encourages people to transfer to public transport. If employers register with the scheme for their employees, then commuters can buy the tax-saver monthly and annual tickets. That means they get tax relief depending on their marginal rate of tax. It could be up to 41% tax relief plus PRSI savings of 6%. If we take a typical 90 km journey, that brings it down to as little as approximately €2.40 per day if we take off the tax savings and the PRSI. That is very low. This is increasingly popular and many companies and their employees are signing up to the taxsaver scheme.
Appendix 2 shows the dramatic difference between our commuter season tickets in the greater Dublin area and similar commuter journeys across the water. Iarnród Éireann is currently Europe's fastest growing railway, although admittedly from a lower base than some of the much larger companies. However, we are growing at a faster rate than any other EU member state in terms of the number of people we carry. This is as a result of the support we have had for the Transport 21 project and from the EU.
In the past three years, our passenger numbers have increased from 34.4 million to 46 million journeys per annum. That is a 33% increase in just three years. I regularly meet senior members of the railway industry from across Europe and they are amazed at the scale of growth. Their first question is how is Iarnród Éireann dealing with it? Obviously, I discuss the greater frequency and capacity in which we are investing to cater for this growth.
In that context, I acknowledge the support from public representatives on this committee, from all parties and independents, for our investment plans. Many of the plans which members of this committee and others have supported us on have now been included in the Transport 21 programme. That is the vehicle by which we will deliver this greater capacity.
We now have a good track record in delivering projects on time and on budget. We are bringing that track record to the Transport 21 programme to ensure that rail can play the strongest possible role in meeting the transport needs of this State and all the communities we serve.
By 2015, we plan to have increased the number of journeys from the current 46 million to over 100 million. We have set ourselves a very tough target to more than double that number in the next seven years to 2015. We very much look forward to delivering continuous improvement in the quality of service we offer and in the value for money we provide to our customers and the many new ones we look forward to having in the future.
Deputy Fergus O'Dowd: I welcome Mr. Fearn and Mr. O'Kelly. I pay tribute to Mr. Barry Kenny who has been very effective in communicating and meeting with me, the Fine Gael transport spokesperson, and Senator Paschal Donohoe, on transport issues. I acknowledge the excellent new rolling stock and the phenomenally improved service over the years. There is no comparison between the rolling stock ten years ago and the current rolling stock.
I live in Drogheda and I have some of the fares before me, including adult, student and family returns. If one compares the cost per kilometre travelled, there are serious imbalances between the amounts paid by commuters from Dundalk, Drogheda and Laytown and Balbriggan. There are significant and unacceptable differences. Notwithstanding all the fine things which have been done, commuters on that line feel they are being ripped off and that Iarnród Éireann is treating them like a cash cow in terms of fares and discrepancies between distances travelled.
I will give some examples. The monthly ticket from Dundalk is €235, from Drogheda, €175, from Laytown, €161, and from Balbriggan, €103. Laytown and Balbriggan are practically beside each other but the difference in the cost of the monthly ticket is €61, which is very significant for a commuter. The same holds for student fares. The monthly ticket from Drogheda is €122 and from Balbriggan it is €73, yet they are very close. The situation in regard to family fares is appalling. The ticket from Dundalk is €37.50, from Drogheda, €28.50, from Laytown, €24.50, and from Balbriggan, €13.
When one travels from Dundalk, Drogheda and Laytown, one can only go as far as Pearse Street whereas if one travels from Balbriggan, one can travel within the city. Will Mr. Fearn address that issue? I raised it with his company many times. The key point is that per kilometre travelled, one is not getting the same deal for what one calls promotional or intercity fares. All of these travellers travel on the same train on the same day but pay wildly different prices.
Mr. Fearn mentioned a number of places which are 80 km from Dublin. Dundalk, Mullingar, Portlaoise, Tullamore, Gorey and Carlow town are all basically between 80 km and 90 km from Dublin. It does not matter whether one takes the week day price, the peak price, the multi-ticket price or the annual commuter ticket price but we will take the monthly price per kilometre travelled. If one is coming from Dundalk, one pays €2.51 per kilometre travelled but when one is coming from Portlaoise, one pays €2.87. There is a disproportionate charge. If one takes the day return fares between the same areas, the return fare from Carlow town is as low as 5 cent per kilometre travelled compared to Portlaoise with more than double that at 32 cent per kilometre.
The Chairman mentioned students. The Dublin to Galway adult single fare is €31.50 and the adult return fare is €31.50, while the student single fare is €19.50 and the student return fare is €28 even though one would expect it to be €19.50. Students are not getting a fair deal. The adult single fare is the same as the adult return fare, but the same does not apply to students.
There is a similar problem with the Dublin to Belfast fare. The adult single fare is €36 and the adult return is €38, while the student single fare is €19 and the student return fare is €38. There is no discount. There is no fairness or equity in the fares structure.
Iarnród Éireann's website does not contain all its fares structure. Mr. Fearn said it contained promotional fares. What we want from Iarnród Éireann is transparency and openness about what it is charging. I acknowledge the excellent improvements made and I am not trying to undermine Iarnród Éireann's commitment, but it is not being fair to the commuter. Will it put all its fares on the website so that people can check them and know exactly what they are buying?
I acknowledge the role Mr. Barry Kenny played when we set up a rail commuters group in Drogheda. Will Iarnród Éireann interact with rail commuters on a national level? Will it advertise for people who might be interested? Iarnród Éireann talks about meeting politicians but not commuters. What we want is a proper partnership between commuters and Iarnród Éireann, which I believe Iarnród Éireann wants as well. We want to travel on its trains and Iarnród Éireann wants us to do so, but we want to be charged fairly. Iarnród Éireann must end the rip off of certain commuters. I believe I am being fair to Iarnród Éireann and I would like to hear its response.
Mr. Richard Fearn: I wish to respond to those issues. I will take the last matter first. I will return to the fares issues because I do not want in any way to skate over them. We want to interact closely with our commuters and if there are some areas where Deputy O'Dowd feels we are not doing that closely enough, then I would be keen to tackle it.
In a number of places new commuter user groups have been formed. I am pleased to say that on the Portlaoise line we now have a group around Sallins and Newbridge, and another around Portarlington and Portlaoise, and we are meeting these regularly with our local managers. From time to time I myself have met some of the representatives. I am pleased for us to actively promote these groups. We have not in any way tried to withdraw from that. In fact, we have done quite the opposite. As I stated, we have opened up such groups on other routes which have not had them and if there are any groups that feel we have not yet met them, we would be keen to do so.
Dealing with the various issues on fares, the first point I want to make is our fares structure is not based purely on a per kilometre structure. Like many issues in business, the fares structure has emerged over time. Some of the issues relate to the way fares were set some time ago and some relate to particular marketing and discount promotions that have been introduced. I would accept that sometimes when comparisons are made it is difficult to understand why the differences might exist, and the differences have emerged because of the different policies that may have been adopted in the past.
That is particularly true in what we might call the threshold around Balbriggan. The area inside of Balbriggan, inside of Maynooth and inside of Hazelhatch on the line to Kildare, is known as the inner hub for our commuter fares. Traditionally, those fares have been heavily regulated which means they have been held down more strongly than fares from further distances. That comes from the days when people were not commuting into Dublin from much further than that.
There are now, as Deputy O'Dowd stated, many people commuting from as far as Dundalk and Drogheda and on other lines from Mullingar, beyond Kildare, Portlaoise, etc. It is long-distance commuting which is in common with any city elsewhere in Europe, but this used not be the case. It used be the case that commuting probably did not extend much beyond Maynooth, Balbriggan, etc. What has emerged now is a set of fares inside that boundary which are lower per kilometre, and significantly lower in some cases as the Deputy has demonstrated, than the ones from outside that boundary.
With each fares increase, we are trying one step at a time to reduce that differential. We can only do it that way, otherwise somebody would suffer greatly. Indeed, in the past two fares increases we raised pro rata the rate from beyond that boundary slightly less than the rate from inside the boundary. Doing that each year at an incremental level, it will take time. If we were to significantly reduce the fares from places like Drogheda and Dundalk down to the same sort of ratio as the ones from inside the boundary, then our revenue would suffer greatly and we would have to completely change our strategy in terms of how we fund our business, all our developments, etc. As a business we must manage this carefully. There should not be that disparity in the long term. I share the Deputy's view that there ought to be a reasonable comparison across such routes.
Some of the other fares that the Deputy demonstrated are different for good and proper reasons. For example, the Deputy compared the Carlow fare with the Portlaoise fare. There are significantly more trains from Portlaoise to Dublin than there are from Carlow. The commuter fare over a similar distance, for example, to Wicklow, would be slightly lower than the fare over a similar distance where we have far more services. It is reasonable in any rail company to price in accordance with one's overall offer, and not just distance. One would find this across Europe. If one is offering many more trains and more services, then it is reasonable to charge more than on a route where there would be a lesser service.
Our fares are not solely based on mileage. I accept there are some disparities around the threshold. The threshold around Balbriggan is a particular case in point which over time we are trying to overcome. I acknowledge that there are differences in some of our point-to-point fares and some of those specifically relate to the different quality of service.
Over time, however, many of these issues will be taken over by new developments in our fares structure. I mentioned one already, which is the website, and there are other issues about visibility on the web of all the fares which I will address. I accept the Deputy's point in that regard. As the website becomes the normal place for people to book intercity journeys, we will have a great opportunity to offer high value for money, depending on the time of the day and the route on which people want to travel. That would be perfectly normal. If one is travelling at a very busy time, one would expect to pay more than at an off-peak time.
The other aspect that will help us in terms of local commuter-type fares is the introduction of the integrated ticketing plans and the smartcard technology. While I am not trying to compare fares, anybody who has been to London recently and used the Oyster system will be familiar with the good value for money people can get using all the different modes - London Underground, buses, etc. It is a simple system of payment through the smartcard. We definitely will move to that and as we do so, some of the disparities the Deputy mentioned will disappear.
I acknowledge the point made that we could increase the visibility of information about our fares on the web and perhaps put up a frequently asked questions section as well so that we can help people to understand some of the differences. I am happy to go back and work with my colleague, Mr. Paul O'Kelly, to develop our website in that way. That is a helpful suggestion.
Deputy Fergus O'Dowd: The Chairman made the point about the Galway route. A person travelling from Tipperary to Dublin pays approximately €27 but if a person goes from Dublin to Tipperary on the same day, he or she pays €45. If that is not a rip-off, what is it?
Mr. Richard Fearn: It is a significantly discounted fare from Tipperary that we introduced relatively recently. I have been with Iarnród Éireann for just short of five years. Within my time in Iarnród Éireann, if Deputy O'Dowd recalls, we had an unfortunate incident with a freight train on the Cahir viaduct on the Tipperary line and the line was closed for a long period while we completely reconstructed the viaduct. Instead of reintroducing the previous modest service, we then decided to improve the service on the line by putting on extra trains and modern rolling stock, and to promote the route. We have offered some good value fares from Tipperary and from Cahir, Clonmel and Carrick-on-Suir to Dublin.
Mr. Richard Fearn: The reason we decided not to do that is we were trying to create a local market in those towns, Tipperary, Cahir and Clonmel, for people to use their local railway. On many of the fares that people are using when they are coming out of Dublin, the first train is the Dublin to Cork 7 o'clock departure which is one of our busiest trains. Like any good transport operator, we must be careful not to discount on the trains that are already busy and popular. I acknowledge when put in such a way, that from Tipperary is one price and to Tipperary is another, it creates what appears to be an anomaly.
Deputy Fergus O'Dowd: May I make two other points? This point was made on Newstalk radio this morning. A person can buy a ticket in Maynooth to Drogheda but if the person happens to go from Maynooth to Dublin and then to Drogheda, he or she pays €3 more.
I want to return to a point Mr. Fearn made. Let us consider the monthly price per kilometre on the Drogheda, Kildare and Wicklow routes. It costs €3.38 to travel from Wicklow to Dublin, €3.65 to travel from Kildare to Dublin and €3.47 to travel from Drogheda to Dublin. People are, therefore, paying more than €3 per kilometre on a monthly basis. However, the monthly price per kilometre on routes to Dundalk, Portlaoise, Tullamore, Gorey and Carlow is approximately €2.60 to €2.70. Consumers are being ripped off as a result.
I agree with the principle of converging fares over a period of years. It could be done over five, six or seven years. We are not trying to do the company out of business, we are trying to ensure the commuter gets a fair deal. If the company would commit to this, that would be fine. Fares increased by 5% across the board this year. No attempt was made to have them converge.
Mr. Richard Fearn: The fares increased by an average of 5%. They did not increase by 5% on every single journey. We are trying to converge the fares and I have made a commitment in this regard in correspondence with other people. The Deputy made some comparisons and stated that the fare on the Wicklow route is slightly lower than that on the Kildare route which, in turn, is slightly lower than that on the Drogheda route.
Mr. Richard Fearn: Indeed. If one considers those routes, however, in terms of commuter services to Dublin, Drogheda has the most services, Kildare the next and Wicklow the next. The ranking order is, therefore, appropriate. We know that demand is increasing.
Mr. Richard Fearn: I have been chief executive of Iarnród Éireann for the past two to three years. In that time I have been trying to take a view of our overall service quality and improve the services available on our routes in the context of frequency, etc. Simultaneously, I have been trying to create a fares strategy that is fair. It will take time to achieve the latter. We will continue our work in this regard. We will be able to offer additional benefits to customers with the introduction of smart cards and so on. We are not trying to rip customers off, we are trying to provide the best possible service. Over time, we will be able to demonstrate the best possible value for money.
Mr. Richard Fearn: I am happy to examine the position as regards particular student fares. We offer a very popular student travel card, which is being purchased and used by increasing numbers of people. This demonstrates that more and more students are choosing to use rail transport. I will ask my colleague, Paul O'Kelly, to comment on specific student fares.
Mr. Paul O'Kelly: As we see it, the inconsistency is that the single and return fares for adults are similar. If the Deputy is familiar with our website, he will be aware that we have reduced the single fare on a number of routes to roughly 50% of the return fare. That is a huge change in the context of how we traditionally priced fares. Under the old system, a single fare would have been at the 90th projection of a return fare. We are moving towards a situation where people seeking single fares will be obliged to pay only 50% of the return fare. These fares apply on intercity routes. The new system is fairer and transparent.
Deputy Fergus O'Dowd: At present, students are being ripped off. The same applies on the Dublin-Belfast route. On the Cork-Galway route, which goes via Portarlington, the adult single fare is €53.50 and the return fare is €59, whereas the student single fare is €28.50 and the return fare is €40.50. The same fair deal is not being given to people.
Mr. Richard Fearn: There is a discount for students. It is not the same level of discount. Fares on the Belfast line are agreed with Northern Ireland Railways. As Paul O'Kelly stated, single fares, compared to return fares, have been at quite a high level. We have encouraged people to travel on return fares by reducing the prices relating thereto. The discounts to which the Deputy referred are not so great on student return fares. Nevertheless, there is still a discount.
Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: We could establish a committee just for the Deputy to ask his questions. I am of the view, however, that it would be better to have a round of initial questions and then proceed to supplementaries.
Mr. Paul O'Kelly: The Chairman is referring to the day-saver ticket from Galway, which is only available Monday to Thursday. It is a discounted fare that would not be available on a Friday or a Sunday. In line with traditional transport discounting, it is not available for peak services or on peak days.
Mr. Richard Fearn: I do not know about buying in bulk. If people are travelling a great deal - for example, three or four times per week - a season ticket would prove very good value. We have customers who commute several times a week, not just from the traditional commuter centres but from places that are long distances away. We offer a specific fare to those people. There is a very good value annual fare available to people who travel from, for example, Athlone on two or three occasions each week. When one calculates the cost per day for this fare, it is much less than would be the case if one bought a ticket each day.
The point about making some of these fares more visible on the website is helpful. There possibly are fares which could benefit people but of which they are not aware.
Chairman: I know many people who travel every week but who may require a single fare one day and a return the next. If one travels return every day, one gets great value. If one does not, however, even though one travels every week, one does not enjoy any great advantage. That matter should be examined.
Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: I welcome the chief executive. I commend him on what has been achieved. The number of passengers being carried is somewhat similar to that being carried by Ryanair throughout Europe. That represents a significant increase.
New carriages have been put in place on the Sligo line. I received a number of complaints some weeks ago from the Dublin cycling campaign to the effect that passengers wishing to bring bicycles with them on the train cannot do so because of the layout of these new carriages.
We are receiving increasing numbers of bitter complaints from people regarding overcrowding on the DART at rush hour. I use the DART and over the Christmas period massive overcrowding occurred on the 5.40 p.m. service to Howth from Pearse Station. What can be done about that? The DASH programme provided for upgrading, yet we have Japanese style conditions in Pearse Station and Raheny in the morning. What can be done to give people a reasonably comfortable ride?
The bottom line on fares is they have increased by 37.6% since 2000. Why should that be? That discourages people from changing to rail transport. When the committee began this discussion, we asked why rail fares were increasing dramatically. I note the point made by Mr. Fearn and I have examined the timetables. He worked for British Rail for many years. Recently, an English newspaper, The Independent carried out a survey of the cost of a 100 km journey in different jurisdictions in the EU and Ireland was the fourth dearest. Irish Rail's submission includes statistics for much longer journeys. With regard to the price in euros for an 100 km journey, Britain is the dearest along with Denmark followed by Germany and closely followed by us in joint fourth place with the Germans out of 20 countries. Here the fare on average is €18 while in Sweden it is only half that. Statistics can be used in different ways. There is also a question as to how far one can go for the equivalent of €10. In Great Britain they say one can travel 27.28 miles for an English tenner, 38 miles in Ireland for a tenner whereas in Spain one can go 95.99 miles almost 60 miles in France. For Stg£10 Britain and Ireland are closest and by far the dearest. In one of the new entrants such as Slovakia, one can travel 200 miles for a tenner. However, Ireland is close to the UK in fares and, on average, we have higher prices for shorter distances. This is combined with the significant increase.
Was Irish Rail disappointed it was shut out of Broadstone by the Minister for Transport? I have the company's fine presentation on the interconnector, which it submitted to the Labour Party. The committee realises the interconnector would be magic for the greater Dublin region in providing a top European system. However, there is no movement on it and the company has been closed out of Broadstone.
Mr. Richard Fearn: We have a policy to permit bicycles on Intercity trains but they are not carried on the DART or commuter trains at peak times because of their incompatibility with carrying large numbers of commuters. The old Intercity trains had a large guards van. In the old days, newspapers, parcels and so on used to be carried in that van and it was easy for people to wheel in a bicycle. A large space such as that cannot be provided on a modern Intercity train because it would take up valuable seating space. New Intercity trains are units and not a load of carriages connected to a locomotive. We have made special provision. We first examined the number of bicycles typically carried on Intercity journeys, which was low, and on many journeys, none was carried. Occasionally on the old trains a large party would turn up. We cannot cater for such parties. However, each three-car section of new Intercity trains has special accommodation for two bicycles. That means on a typical six-car formation, we could take up to four bicycles. Increasingly, through our website, we are examining ways to allow people to reserve on-line, which would be helpful.
I have discussed this issue with representatives of Bord Fáilte and we are not saying to people that we do not want them to take their bicycles on our new trains. However, we must provide the accommodation in a different way. I have corresponded with people who have lobbied through cycling groups and so on. On our brand new trains to Cork, a reasonable section of the train caters for bicycles and we are encouraging them. The service between Cork and Dublin is hourly but most trains do not carry bicycles, although they can easily be accommodated. We will continue to work with cyclists to enable that to happen but not on DART and commuter trains, which is a different kettle of fish altogether.
I have positive news about overcrowding on the DART. We completed the first stage of the upgrade and the DART has continued to increase in popularity. Before I joined the company, the DART trains had only four cars during peak times. That increased to six and, in recent times, a number of trains ran with eight cars during peak times. The good news is the refurbishment programme of the first generation of DART trains we are going through with Siemens is making good progress. Many are returning to service and, by the end of the year, all our peak trains will be eight cars. That is another increment of capacity and every time a train can be extended to eight cars, it increases its capacity by 33%. We are very much looking forward to the beginning of 2009 when all DART trains will operate with eight cars during peak times and commuters will feel the benefit.
The DART will fill up again because people will find that positive and, therefore, more commuters will use the service. We cannot extend the number of cars and, therefore, we will have to run trains more frequently, which will be facilitated by the next major project under Transport 21, the resignalling of the DART through the city centre. The strategy initially was to increase the number of cars to six, then to eight, and the resignalling will provide for increased frequency. I am a DART customer and our customers will experience the benefit of that project incrementally.
I do not have the figures for fare increases since 2000 but the Deputy has worked it out at more than 30%, which is probably correct. We have tried to secure an annual fare increase, which reflects our increased costs. As chief executive, I am trying to achieve value for money for those increases through the provision of additional services and capacity. If we do not reflect the increase in costs and general inflation annually, we get further behind and it is a big step to catch up. Our policy provides for incremental increases rather than nothing for three or four years and then a big change. It probably adds up to the figure the Deputy mentioned over that period but the costs of fuel or salaries have probably increased by at least that, if not more.
Deputy Áine Brady: I thank the delegation for attending. I acknowledge the progress made by Iarnród Éireann, which is reflected in the 40% increase in passenger journeys on the Maynooth line. I am a regular user of the service. I travel on the Maynooth line from Maynooth to Pearse Street Station.
Deputy O'Dowd went on at length about the fares system. The issue in my constituency is the cost of travel from Kilcock as opposed to from Maynooth. It is the same principle. Kilcock is so close to Maynooth. Mullingar is a separate issue but Mullingar people will tell you that it is also in the commuter belt. I would like to see more use of the Kilcock service. The service is not as good and we are looking to improve the timetable from Kilcock. The company is making arrangements to improve car parking at the station and this would alleviate the problem of parking in Maynooth which is our major issue as a result of the excellent service from Maynooth.
The multistorey car park in Sallins costs €10 a week. I am aware that the company has regular meetings with the Naas and Sallins rail-users group. This group was disappointed as it had expected the cost to be €5 per week. Would the company support the proposal for this cost to be included in the Department of Finance's tax saver scheme? I have written to the Minister and to the Minister for Transport with regard to this matter. It appears nothing can be done about reducing the charge. It costs €5 to use the open car park and €10 to use the multistorey car park.
I ask the company to investigate the options for car parking in Confey. There are potential solutions in the area and I am aware that the new car park in Louisa Bridge is working very well. There is very little car parking at Confey Station.
I wish to raise the issue of the provision of a new railway station at Collinstown on the Maynooth line. This is close to very significant employers, such as Hewlett-Packard and Intel and it would also relieve and resolve car parking issues in Maynooth. There is plenty of space to build a multistorey car park or to provide plenty of car parking. I wish to put down a marker on this issue and ask the company to investigate the provision of a station at Collinstown.
Mr. Richard Fearn: I will deal with those questions. Starting with the question about the service at Kilcock, I too would like to improve that service and also the Enfield service. They do not have the level of service which Mullingar has and which is even further out the line. The bulk of the trains terminate at Maynooth and only some of the commuter trains going to Longford which stop at Kilcock and Enfield provide the service. Arrangements have been made for some of the Sligo trains to stop at those intermediate stations but, by and large, they go fast from Maynooth to Mullingar.
As the population grows in those areas such as Kilcock and Enfield and the market increases, there are things we can do. That section of line used to be double track but it is only single track now. It was built 150 years ago by the old Midland and Great Western railway as a double track railway as far as Mullingar. If significant development continues in Kilcock and Enfield, we could increase the capacity of the infrastructure and this would provide the opportunity to increase the frequency of the service. This element is not currently included in Transport 21.
The park and ride scheme for Clonsilla to Dunboyne is included in Transport 21 and this has been through the railway order process recently. The expansion beyond Maynooth is not included but this does not prevent this kind of development happening one day. With new schedules in 2009, the company will aim to incrementally improve the schedules for Kilcock and Enfield, particularly at peak periods, with the existing capacity. However, until we have the extra track it will never be as good as somewhere like Maynooth. The fact that the population is growing in that area is helpful to us and demand will increase.
The issue of car parking at Maynooth is a tricky one. We desperately want to provide a lot more car parking at Maynooth but the question is how this is to be done because of the constraints of the canal, the railway and existing development. There is no obvious field we can purchase to turn into a car park. We may have to consider a multistorey option and this will cause planning concerns which we would have to deal with. There are some other potential options and we may be able to bring about marginal expansion on some of our boundaries. We would need to consider a multistorey option for Maynooth in order to make a significant increase, as at Louisa Bridge. We have opened discussions with the local authority about how this might be progressed. This morning, my director of new works was discussing with me some of the feasibility study work and costings. We are desperately keen to find a solution for Maynooth but it will not be easy because of the constraints.
The car park at Sallins is privately owned. They have chosen a slightly different pricing structure at €2 a day but not at €5 a week.
Mr. Richard Fearn: It is €10 a week. We do not have power over the price as it is their choice. People will decide whether that is still good value if they commute every day from Sallins. We believe we can provide our own car parks in some areas because we own land and have the scope to do so within our own properties. The private sector can help us in other areas. One must accept that we cannot price for the private sector as it will price for the market.
I am pleased to hear the Deputy say that Louisa Bridge was a great success as we believe it has been and people have been very positive. Confey is more difficult because of options. The Deputy said she thought there might be some options and we are happy to consider those.
The company has a comprehensive programme of car park improvements right across the Dublin commuter area and well beyond Dublin on some of the intercity routes. Good car parking is one way in which we can make the railway far more accessible to people. We are very open to all suggestions and I will ask the local manager responsible for the Maynooth route to have another look at Confey to see if something can be done there.
As regards Collinstown, members will know from my accent I am not the local person so I am not so familiar with the geography but neither is my colleague, Mr. Paul O'Kelly, familiar with the Intel development and Collinstown. We may have to come back to the Deputy on that matter. I would not wish to speak as I am not familiar with the location.
Mr. Richard Fearn: I appreciate that the Galway line is of interest to the Chairman as is the west of Ireland in general. The most exciting news is that we are really pleased with these trains and so are the customers. The reason we are pleased is because customers on the Sligo line are reacting very positively to them.
Our supplier is Mitsui-Rotem from the Far East. Mitsui is a Japanese consortium and Rotem assembles the trains in Korea. It has produced a very good product with a very high quality of engineering and finish. The trains are now being shipped into the country and commissioned by the company at a rate of knots. We have ordered in total 183 cars, some of which are made up in three-car sets and others made up in six-car sets and we will have plenty of them. Those trains delivered but not yet in service are being commissioned. As they go into service following commissioning, we are completing our implementation on the Sligo line. Most but not all of the Sligo services are now covered by the new trains. Some commuter trains are still used on the Sligo route but it is really too long a distance to travel in one of those trains. These will be replaced in the next two or three weeks. After that we will do some more implementation on the main line to Limerick because there are some really old trains on the Limerick line in contrast with the lovely new trains on the Cork line. We want to remove those old trains. They will first be replaced on the Galway line and, soon after, on the Mayo line. Within at most four or five months one will see implementation on the Galway line. People travelling to Galway for the summer should be able to take some of these new trains which may even be in place for the Galway races. We will work our way around the system and new trains will be allocated to the Mayo, Waterford and Tralee lines and, eventually, the Rosslare line. We have sufficient trains for all these lines.
Members who have recently travelled on the Dublin to Cork line will have seen Iarnród Éireann's brand new depot at Portlaoise which is under construction. As the new trains are allocated, they will be maintained and serviced in this fine new facility. By the time the new trains are operating on the Galway line, the depot will be finished. Typically, the new trains will go to the new facility every second night for maintenance and some will be stored overnight in Galway, Westport and, possibly, Athlone. This will be an even greater step change in the quality of service provided.
The new trains also offer us an opportunity to increase frequency, as we have tangibly demonstrated on the Sligo line. When I joined Iarnród Éireann in 2003, we ran only three daily trains on the Sligo line in each direction. Two years ago we increased the frequency to five trains per day and last month frequency increased to eight trains per day. One can now travel to Sligo every two hours throughout the day. People are responding positively to this development and our business on the line is increasing at a level equivalent to the increases seen on the Cork line. I am confident we will experience similar increases in business on the Galway, Westport and other lines.
Senator Paschal Donohoe: I compliment Mr. Fearn and Mr. O'Kelly on their presentation and recognise the quality of the work being done by Iarnród Éireann in opening new stations in the Dublin region, particularly the Phoenix Park station. The speed with which that project was completed should be acknowledged. My questions relate to the quality of service provided in Dublin and surrounding suburbs, specifically on the Maynooth line, one of the lines that will serve the Phoenix Park station. Commuters who wish to use services at the new Ashtown and Phoenix Park stations find that the trains are full, particularly in the morning. Having done a great job done on the Phoenix Park station, it is not acceptable, either for Iarnród Éireann or rail users, that customers using the facility will not able to board trains in a few weeks' time. What immediate plans does the company have to address this problem?
Constituents have pointed out to me that changes in the passenger timetable aimed at benefiting people from Maynooth and the Kildare region who travel into Dublin have affected the frequency of trains for those travelling to the suburbs. For example, people from Dublin who work in Maynooth can no longer get to work by 9 a.m. because of the new timetable. I ask for a response.
Deputy O'Dowd stated Iarnród Éireann required a policy to engage with commuters. It should consider rapidly developing such a policy for the Dublin suburbs. While the company is doing a great job in upgrading rail stations, it would benefit from addressing the significant degree of commuter and consumer frustration.
Mr. Richard Fearn: The Senator's first question relates to the quality of service on the Maynooth line. The strategy in place for this line is similar to that in place for the DART, as I described to Deputy Broughan. The first step will be to increase all trains to eight cars. Most, although not all, trains on the Maynooth line have eight cars. The commuter trains used on the Sligo line will be reallocated to the local Maynooth commuter route, the work for which they are most suited, once the new intercity trains are running on the Sligo line. I have received letters from people who try to force themselves onto the train at Ashtown. The position is worse when the train has only four carriages. Usually, passengers at Ashtown are able to board the eight carriage trains, although the four carriage trains are usually very congested. The quickest step to take is to increase the four carriage trains to eight carriages.
Mr. Richard Fearn: During the course of this year, as the new intercity trains are commissioned, we will allocate some commuter trains operating on the Sligo, Rosslare and other routes to the Maynooth line. These trains were introduced in the late 1990s; therefore, they are not old. We will be able to increase capacity on the Maynooth line this year. Once we have done this, we will reach the point we have reached with the DART, that is, we cannot lengthen trains beyond eight cars. We must then run trains more frequently, which presents a signalling issue. As the Maynooth line has an even more modest signalling system than the DART, we will be able to make a significant step change in terms of the capability of the route to take a more frequent service once resignalling work has been completed. This is not an instant job but the good news is that it is included in Transport 21, which means it will proceed and is not merely part of a wish list. Nevertheless, it is a two to three year programme.
The Maynooth line features some disruptive level crossings, particularly Reilly's Bridge which is disruptive for both car and rail traffic. We are working with the city council to have crossings such as these bridged. If these works proceed, they will not have an impact on the train service but will help in terms of capacity, as it will allow us to run more trains on the route. If we were to run more trains through the crossing now, it would not open to car traffic between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. The plan in place for Maynooth is similar to that for the DART. Some benefits will be delivered quickly as the addditional carriages are allocated, while others will take a little longer to deliver.
I am familiar with the second issue the Senator raised and we were able to respond quickly and take action to address it. We used to run an 8 a.m. train from Dublin to Sligo. When we increased the frequency of the Sligo service, passengers asked for an earlier departure. For this reason, we moved the early departure time to 7 a.m., with trains running every two hours therafter. Instead of having just one train in the morning - at 8 a.m. - we now have trains departing Dublin at 7 a.m., 9 a.m and 11 a.m. However, this meant that passengers using the 8 a.m. train for local journeys to Maynooth were without a service. Having received a number of letters from public representatives and some of the colleges in Maynooth on this issue, we took immediate action. An 8.08 a.m. train now leaves from Connolly Station for Maynooth to accommodate those who wish to travel from the city centre to Maynooth for college, work and so on. I observed it this morning and it is very popular with passengers. It runs almost in the path of the previous 8 a.m. train and arrives in Maynooth at approximately 8.30 a.m. in time for people to go to college and work. This is a good example of people alerting us to an issue. It could be argued we should have spotted it. I put my hand up and admit we failed to do so. We thought we were making a positive change for those travelling to Sligo. As soon as the problem was drawn to our attention, I reacted immediately.
If people, for example, from the new area around Ashtown, the Phoenix Park, Clonsilla, Coolmine or wherever, want to organise themselves into a small group we will beat a path to their door to meet them. The information they can give to us would help us enormously. We are not new to this; we have groups operating at a number of locations. The way I organise my frontline management team is to have managers responsible for the different routes in order that there are plenty of people to go around who can meet these groups. If the Senator wishes to speak to groups he can by all means give them my name and number and I will be only too happy to arrange to meet them.
Deputy Michael McGrath: I, too, welcome the delegation from Iarnród Éireann. I congratulate the company on the Cork-Dublin service which is now first class. I am a regular user of the service where the new rolling stock is ultra-modern and provides great facilities for passengers. I welcome the hourly train service which operates in both directions. It is a remarkable improvement which is to the credit of Iarnród Éireann. No doubt it has resulted in increased passenger throughput on the service. I also commend Iarnród Éireann on the improvements in Kent Station in Cork, which are also very welcome.
The fare on the Cork-Dublin route is expensive, especially for a person who does not want a day return.
Deputy Michael McGrath: It is €64.50, which is expensive. I checked a number of websites recently. If, for example, I was to fly with Ryanair next week, coming up on Tuesday morning and going home on Thursday evening, it would cost €38, including taxes and charges, but one can get cheaper fares than that, for example between €10 and €15. I accept this is not a direct comparison but it is worth making the point.
Similarly, a person who takes the option of getting a bus could travel from Cork to Dublin return on Aircoach for €15 or €18, depending on the day of the week. There is a tipping point and a ceiling in terms of people's price sensitivity. We have reached that point and I would be wary of further increases in future which would cause people to change their behaviour. It is much cheaper to drive, fly or get the bus to Dublin. I accept there is no comparison in terms of the experience and the quality of the service but we should be conscious of price.
No doubt Iarnród Éireann will point out that better fares are available on the Cork-Dublin route. I browsed the Irish Rail website to find the bottom line fares but the structure is not clear. Work needs to be done to improve the pricing structure. Is that deliberate? Is Iarnród Éireann moving towards the system used by airlines whereby one keys in an itinerary without knowing what will be the price, or is it intended to have a structured fare schedule where a person will know the ticket price if he or she travels on a Monday or on a Wednesday? On some same-day return journeys the fare was still coming back at €64.50, as opposed to the €46 I expected.
A headline on the website refers to a website-only fare of €33 but there are no terms and conditions or direction as to how to avail of this cheap fare. I highlight this to help Iarnród Éireann in terms of communication because even though I am familiar with using the Internet daily it was not clear to me how to avail of the cheap services.
I got the 11.30 a.m. train on Tuesday and even though the capacity was at only approximately 25%, I paid the maximum fare. It might be no harm to move to a more flexible model of pricing as mid-morning and off-peak scheduled services with better fares could attract people. That element of flexibility needs to be built in and communicated to people.
We are looking forward to seeing the Cork to Midleton rail line get up and running shortly. When is it hoped to have trains on the track? Is there an indication of what kind of fares people are likely to pay for a return journey from Cork to Midleton? If a figure is not available, how will the fare schedule be agreed?
Mr. Richard Fearn: I will ask my colleague, Mr. Paul O'Kelly, to pick up some of the detail on the issue of Cork fares. Our first priority with the Cork line was to get a good, reliable and frequent service. I am delighted to hear the positive comments made by the Deputy about the frequency and reliability of the service. I came to this railway in 2003 and at that time, once the 7.10 a.m. train had gone from Dublin the next through train to Cork was at 10.55 a.m., which was almost a four-hour gap. Now there is a train every hour and people appreciate that.
Recognising that this service is now in place and working well, the next priority must be to fill up all those trains. Some of the train services are very popular and get fully booked. As the Deputy described, other services, such as those travelling mid-morning, mid-afternoon or in the middle of the week, may be only 25% full. A skilful use of good, competitive pricing is one of the ways we can fill trains. Perhaps Mr. O'Kelly will explain what we are doing in that regard.
Mr. Paul O'Kelly: I will deal first with the website offer of €33. The reason for the lack of terms and conditions up front is that this fare is available on every single train out of Cork. We do not need to tell people to go for an off-peak train, as any train one books between Cork and Dublin one-way will be €33. Perhaps we should put it on the website that the fare relates to every single train from Cork to Dublin but it is not a hidden fare. If one uses the journey planner to book a train from Cork to Dublin for tomorrow morning and one picks a train such as the 6.30 a.m. or 7.30 a.m. one, the fare will be €33. What we have gone for is a very simple fare structure.
I noted Deputy McGrath's airline analogy. We have gone the other way from the airlines. If one checked Ryanair's fares yesterday for coming up to Dublin today the return journey would have been €207 while our fare would have been €64.50 because we have opted for consistency; every return fare is €64.50, notwithstanding the inconsistencies we saw earlier. As we roll out the website pricing we will move towards consistency and transparency on every service. If the return fare is €65.50 the single fare will be approximately 50% of that. One will not have to read the terms and conditions because one will know that whatever train one travels on, the single fare will be approximately 50% of the return fare. We do this because we are trying to move away from the complexity of the airlines. We are not trying to hide our fares or rip off customers.
If the sales channel, like the website, can deliver an easy sales channel at one clear price we will see people flock towards it. In the past year we saw an 80% increase in website sales and that was without aggressively advertising the website. We have increased the frequency on the Cork line. We have reduced the single fare on the website and we have seen the business follow and that is what we will do as we roll out the new trains on other lines also.
Mr. Paul O'Kelly: If we go down that line we will be faced with an increase in what the committee considers fare inconsistencies. If I offer Deputy McGrath an €11 fare from Cork to Dublin, Deputy O'Dowd will point out to me how low the fare is to get all the way from Cork for €11 and that his fare-----
Mr. Paul O'Kelly: We will begin to look at how we sell off-peak travel but the first thing we have to do is get people to understand the simple fare structure offered on the website. I do not think we should have hundreds of off-peak fares as this would complicate matters. It should be a very simple structure that would allow a person to see a particular train is not busy so it should be slightly cheaper. We do not want to arrive at the situation in two years' time where a person does not have a clue about what he or she will pay on the website to travel by train from Dublin to Cork. That will not benefit us and it will not benefit our customers.
Mr. Richard Fearn: Another important point to make is that every time somebody books on the website, he or she gets a seat. One does not book on the website in the hope that one will have a seat; one is actually allocated a seat. As one knows, one's name comes up in lights above one's seat on the new Dublin-Cork trains. The system gives us greater clarity.
The Midleton line is part of the Transport 21 programme. We are keen to make progress on the scheme and have just about issued the contract to the contractor, which will be on site shortly. Those who live near the route will see work commence very soon. We have a number of tasks to do, including the physical work of re-laying the track, the station work and the signalling work. These works will be carried out through 2008 into 2009. I do not have to hand the precise opening date but it will be approximately May 2009. There is about 18 months' work involved and this is quite a short period.
I was asked about pricing for the Midleton line. The price will be similar to that on the Cobh route, which is a similar local route. The two lines come together at Glounthaune junction and both will operate on a similar basis.
There will be a frequent service to Cork and there is a new rolling stock fleet. The local diesel rail cars already operate on the Cobh line and have done so for some time. They will feature in the new network. Intercity rail-cars will be placed on the Mallow-Tralee line, which involves a much longer distance, and this will release some of the commuter rail-cars to the Midleton line. This will fit well with the emerging commuter network in Cork.
Chairman: Mr. Fearn's performance has been impressive and there is good logic to much of what he said. Deputy O'Dowd made a few points that Mr. Fearn should consider. Irrespective of any other developments, the proposals make little sense to commuters in Kilcock or Maynooth. To avoid an argument, I suggest that Mr. Fearn take on board some of these points.
I received many conflicting reports on whether there will be new railway stations in Drogheda north or Dunleer.
Mr. Richard Fearn: I am happy to respond. As railway men and women, we are very excited about new stations because they represent new customers and opportunities. We try to ensure that other parties - often developers - commit to supporting us with a new station.
Reference was made to the new Phoenix Park station. We have opened new stations recently at Adamstown and elsewhere. These stations have been funded by developers, who have been creating new communities or other developments, and have been constructed as part of their planning permission requirements. This is great for us because it means some of our other investment funds can be dedicated to the purchase of new trains, depots and tracks.
We have been talking to developers in Dunleer and others who might be interested in developments in the Drogheda area. It is emerging that it is likely there will be at least one new station between Drogheda and Dundalk.
Mr. Richard Fearn: I would never say never because circumstances change, but it is unlikely there will be two running in parallel. It is likely that a new station scheme will commence and there will be development associated therewith. As soon as we know the location, we will communicate it openly.
Mr. Richard Fearn: There is no statute that stipulates a minimum distance. As the Chairman knows, some of the stations on the DART and Maynooth lines are very close together. Obviously, the further afield one goes, particularly between Drogheda and Dundalk, commuters are attracted to any new station.
One of the proposals for Dunleer is to have a station that would be very attractive to those driving to the main line from Ardee and such locations. It would be silly to have two stations fairly close together because they both would be performing a similar role.
Mr. Richard Fearn: The Drogheda north matter has two aspects, one of which involves the potential location of a station north of the Boyne. The other option would involve improved access from the north side and car parking facilities at the existing station. This would involve local authority support for improvement schemes to allow people cross the river to the existing station. I am not referring to these issues to make excuses for not doing something. They must be considered.
Mr. Richard Fearn: We respond to that. At present we are keeping an open mind regarding what we should do between the River Boyne and Dundalk. When a good scheme is proposed, we will be keen to proceed with it.
Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: Some of the representatives of the four relevant local authorities who were before the committee discussing DART park and ride facilities should have been playing for Ireland last Saturday given the way they passed the ball or buck regarding the facilities. Could Iarnród Éireann not be accused of the same practice?
Mr. Fearn mentioned developers. There is a new station at Portmarnock and the park and ride facilities are to be extended. Whenever I contacted Iarnród Éireann and the manager of Fingal County Council, nobody wanted to take responsibility for developing park and ride facilities. The local authorities said Iarnród Éireann was to blame while Dr. Lynch and Mr. Fearn focused attention on the local authorities. Should Iarnród Éireann and the local authorities not have got together regarding developments or anticipated developments with a view to creating a network?
Mr. Richard Fearn: It is our responsibility to take the lead on these matters and I do so. In respect of many of the schemes in which we are engaged jointly with local authorities or developers, we try to take the lead. It is in our interest to do so.
Mr. Richard Fearn: Howth Junction is a tricky one. We are not afraid to take the lead in approaching local authorities to determine whether we can do something. We can take the lead on an issue to promote a proposal but where we do not have land-----
Mr. Richard Fearn: There is no Iarnród Éireann land at Howth Junction. There are two or three other locations on the DART line, admittedly not on the north side but on the south side, where we would like to improve car-parking facilities significantly. These locations are on local authority land. We have discussed the matter with Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and have had similar discussions with Fingal County Council and other councils on joint opportunities. There is a scheme on the Maynooth line at Clonsilla in respect of which the local authority sees an opportunity. I do not wish to be characterised as trying to take a back seat on this issue. Where we have not got the land, we cannot suddenly empower ourselves to do something. We have to try to promote.
I make no apologies for the fact that we are trying to encourage schemes whereby we work with a developer who can provide the car park at their expense. The beauty of that is that our funds can be dedicated to pure railway items, the tracks, signalling, new trains, depots and all that we must do to provide the service. I am encouraging my team and the CIE property manager to approach developers. We do not take a back seat but need somebody else to be with us to make it happen.
Chairman: I have one final question to which I do not necessarily want an answer now. I recently discussed with Mr. Kenny the fact that Ceannt Station is going ahead but the commuter line mentioned in Transport 21 and the national development plan is not. It has been included in the proposals for the gateway project for Galway. Iarnród Éireann has costed it at €180 million. It does not make sense to me that the station development is going ahead but there are no plans for the commuter line which is essential. I take Mr. Fearn's point that developers and local authorities will have to come on board with Iarnród Éireann to contribute to the cost of this expensive line. If it happens, Government will not include it without a contribution. I had a good discussion with Mr. Kenny and the company's Galway representative on this recently. Perhaps Mr. Fearn would consider that and respond later.
Chairman: It is fair to say that Iarnród Éireann has come on a long way and it is good that Mr. Fearn is ploughing ahead and to see the significant progress he is making. We congratulate him and thank him and all his officials. It has been a pleasure dealing with them since I became Chairman of this committee and we will try to co-operate with them in every way that we can.