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Irish Rail says four routes could be axed, as drivers look for pay increase

Iarnród Éireann says it has to address an annual shortfall of €100 million.

The company says it faces a funding shortfall of €100 million per year.
The company says it faces a funding shortfall of €100 million per year.

Updated 7.10pm

IRISH RAIL IS warning that some rail services may have to be cut if a funding shortfall of what it says is €100 million per year is not addressed.

In a submission to the Labour Court, Irish Rail has identified a number of cuts that could be made if the funding gap is not bridged.

The submission quoted a 2016 rail review which identified the rail routes that require the largest government subvention.

For example, the Limerick to Ballybrophy rail route requires a subvention of €761.60 per passenger, compared to 70c per passenger for the Dart.

That route was one of four the review suggested could be closed in order to cut costs.

The other lines mentioned were the Ennis to Athenry line, the Gorey to Rosslare line and the Limerick Junction to Waterford section.

The rail review noted that some of these closures would “impact on a large number of passengers”.

Any decision on the closure of rail routes would be taken following a joint review by the National Transport Authority and the Department of Transport.

Speaking this morning on RTÉ’s Sean O’Rourke programme, Iarnród Éireann’s Barry Kenny said that the company is in dire financial straits.

“Essentially, we’ve got accumulated losses of over €160 million from over the economic crisis in recent years and it means that our shareholder funds are down to a minimal level. If we incur further losses, basically we face insolvency and it’s on that backdrop that we have been raising this issue,” he said.

Speaking on the same programme about a move by drivers for a 3.75% pay increase, Dermot O’Leary of the National Bus and Rail Union said that political considerations mean that rail route closures a very unlikely:

In terms of the closure of any railway lines, let’s put this to one to bed. Apart from our objections in relation to the staff employed on those railway lines, let’s be honest with ourselves here, it’s politically toxic. And Barry Kenny is correct in one sense, it ultimately will be a policy decision, but I predict that there will be no rail lines closed based on the political dimension more than anything else.

In a statement this afternoon, O’Leary said workers have had to “put up with the fact that no pay rise has been forthcoming in over nine years”.

Whilst one could reluctantly accept that this country was in the economic mire for a number of years, the fact is now that Iarnrod Éireann has passed Celtic Tiger levels in terms of revenue. Staff are frankly sick to the back teeth of listening to the jaded, ‘we have no money’ line from management at this company, whilst at the same time the NTA, who are after all the funding agent for vital public transport services, support the fact that Iarnrod Éireann has been underfunded for years.

Aside from the closure of those rail lines, Barry Kenny said that the other options laid out by the rail review to tackle the financial shortfall are an increase in funding from the exchequer or a “savage curtailment” of the wider rail network.

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In a statement released this evening, Siptu organiser Paul Cullen said: “In the lead up to the beginning of talks between unions and the company, the management of Irish Rail has attempted to link pay rises for our members with further increases in productivity.

“Such an approach is completely unacceptable to our members who have not had a pay rise since 2008. During the period 2008 to 2013, staff costs in Irish Rail have been reduced in real terms by nearly €36 million.

All staff are now seeking pay increases which are in line with their colleagues in Dublin Bus, Luas and other transport companies. Staff have already contributed to substantial increases in productivity over recent years and passenger numbers are now back at 2009 levels with rail operations at the company once again in a profit-generating situation.

“The company does have a historic debt which results from reductions in its State subvention until 2013. An Irish Rail and National Transport Authority (NTA) report in 2016 recognised the need for this situation to be addressed. Siptu members in Irish Rail have a very reasonable expectation of a pay rise,” Cullen said.

With reporting by Órla Ryan

Read: A third of all injuries on Irish Rail were at the gap between platforms and trains >

Read: Siptu claims its members were ‘threatened with physical attack’ during GAA train violence >

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Rónán Duffy

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