IRELAND’s most expensive rail line is making a determined effort to increase passenger numbers and reduce operating expenses.
he Limerick-Ballybrophy rail line made headlines six years ago when a special report revealed it cost £550 per passenger just to operate.
This was in stark contrast to the fact that in 2016 the comparable average cost for each DART passenger was only 90 cents.
Despite numerous calls for the line to be discontinued, it was kept in service and a track renewal project was launched.
Now the service has been given a boost with Transport Minister Eamon Ryan having personally traveled on the Ballybrophy service.
The Green Party leader insisted the road had “great potential”.
“I think Limerick can thrive on the rail lines that lead to it. I think the Ballybrophy line can be a commuter line to Limerick, or a shopping line, while improving people coming down for Dublin,” he said.
“But forget Dublin… think South West and Mid West. If you have very good transport services – metropolitan services – from Cloughjordan to Limerick or from Nenagh to Limerick. Or even Ballybrophy or Roscrea in Limerick.
Clare TD Michael McNamara said the investment was crucial in persuading people to use public transport and Ireland’s rail network.
“We want to move people from the highway to the trains. The direct line to Limerick, where all direct trains to Limerick previously passed, is now barely serviced. There is a 30 km/h speed limit in some parts.
“There are two trains you can catch at Ballybrophy – which is a great station – in the morning and there are only two trains in the afternoon. When are we going to improve this because we see the difficulty with the ‘all planes go to Dublin airport’ approach.”
The 91.5km line is now the focus of a campaign by the North Tipperary Community Rail Partnership (NTCRP) to increase the number of passengers using the route and to develop a timetable of services that best suits the local needs of commuters, businesses and tourism.
It is hoped that the new lane developments will also provide faster local services – and that more passengers will reduce per capita costs.
NTCRP manager Elaine Baker said the key was to get local people to support the local service.
She said the rail links were in line with Ireland’s commitment to promoting public transport and clean and green networks.
“We definitely need better services and more frequent services, but at the same time there are also a lot of really good reasons to use the train,” she told TippFM.
“There is plenty of space to walk around and there are toilets on the train. The fare is only €2.99 along the line and fares on other connecting lines have also been reduced 20% recently, so we also want to encourage people to use the train services we have while trying to improve them.”
“The survey is really about getting people’s opinions on how to improve.”
The NTCRC has stressed that the people it wants to hear from are those who could use the rail line but choose not to – rather than those who already support the service.
“This survey is actually for anyone living along the line. The line runs from Limerick, Castleconnell, Birdhill, Nenagh, Cloughjordan, Roscrea to Ballybrophy.”
“So anyone who lives along or around the line, we really encourage them to complete the survey, whether or not they’ve used the train before.”
“We want to hear from people who use the train less than those who use it and what might motivate them to use it more often.”
Former Labor and Tipperary TD leader Alan Kelly has been a staunch defender of the Limerick-Ballybrophy line – and angrily rejected calls six years ago for it to be closed.
He said the line had been running for generations and would grow in importance as people increasingly relied on public transport as part of Ireland’s drive to go ‘green’.
“There is huge investment in Nenagh and Limerick – are we really telling people that Ireland cannot afford to maintain a rail system that will serve the people?”