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trains and automobiles

Varadkar and Ryan diverge over whether rail review makes case for more road investment

Varadkar says the case for further investment in roads is ‘really strong’.

LAST UPDATE | 26 Jul 2023

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has said the review into rail travel on the island of Ireland makes the case for even more road investment. 

Meanwhile, the Taoiseach’s coalition government partner Transport Minister Eamon Ryan has disagreed with such assertions, stating that the targets contained in the review, which was carried out by his department, are merely a starting off point. 

Speaking to reporters following yesterday’s Cabinet meeting, Varadkar said even if all the measures recommended in the review are achieved by 2050, the amount of freight going by rail will go from 1% to 10%.

“So still 90% of freight will go by road,” he said.

“The percentage of people who get around by train, commuters, passengers will go from 3% to 6%.

“So, this still means 94% of people travelling by road or by footpath even if we did all of these things that are in that plan between now and 2050,” the Taoiseach said. 

He added: 

So that makes the case to me for more road investment, because 90% of freight will still be by road and 94% of passenger journeys will still be by road, even if we do all of those things by 2050.

“So, I think the case for further investment in roads is really strong,” he added. 

He went on to state the the he believes the review also makes a “very strong” case for ramping up the roll out of electric vehicles. 

“Whether it’s haulage, whether it’s cars, because that’s actually how 90% of freight and 94% of people are still likely to be travelling in Ireland in 2050,” said Varadkar. 

“If there was ever a case for more road investments and the need to electrify vehicles, electrify haulage and use new fuels, I think the case is made… I don’t think it could be more ambitious, quite frankly.

“We’re going to see a train station in every county, but even so, there are limitations in a country of our size as to what can be done with rail,” the Taoiseach said. 

Ryan says targets just a starting point

Responding to the Taoiseach’s comments, Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan said that 10% of rail freight was a “starter” target, and that he “absolutely” sees the demand being above that figure.

“I’m absolutely confident when we provide the service, the business community, which know they have to decarbonise, will roll in behind that.

“The same with public transport numbers, every single occasion where we’ve provided new public transport services, the public flock to it – so don’t see that as a limit on ambition. That’s actually the bare minimum of what we need to do.”

He added: “I believe when we create a freight option in Dublin Port, a real one, and in Rosslare, and in Cork and Waterford and in Limerick, we will see that switch to freight way beyond 10%. That was set as an indicator of the medium-lower average is in the European Union – we’re currently at 1%.”

He acknowledged that the all-island rail review was “ambitious”, but said that “we won’t stop there”.

“I don’t believe that will be the limit of our ambition, and I believe in a world that is changing the way this world is changing, because of climate change, no one can set a restriction in terms of how we’re going to go.

“We know we have to decarbonise and I believe it’ll be easier in particularly in the haulage sector to do that via rail freight, rather than any other method. So I expect us to blow through that sort of ambition to go far (further). 

He said in addition to that, Ireland had an obligation to boost its rail network in order to reduce its emissions.

While Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 1.9% in 2022 overall, missing its target of 6/7%, emissions in the transport sector of the Irish economy increased by 6%.

“We need to lower our emissions for transport, they went up last year, they have to start coming down radically,” Ryan said on Tuesday.

“Those indicative figures, 10% of rail freight, was just set out as a starter as to what we could achieve.

“We have to make sure that in every area, we’re investing for the future. By the time this investment is rolled out by 2050, we’re going to be in a world that is changing.

“That’s going to require every country to play its part in stopping the burning of this planet. And that inspires the vision. It’s one of future sustainability where we’re actually green in everything we’re doing.”

The split between investment in roads and public transport has long been a contentious issue between the Greens and Fine Gael, with backbenchers in Varadkar’s party only two months ago launching a series of attacks at a parliamentary party meeting over scrapped or delayed road projects.

Reacting to the row this morning, Green Party Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman said that Ireland “under invested in public transport for for most of the history of our State”.

He told RTÉ Radio One that the government will continue to invest in the “maintenance of roads” and “implement bypasses” but that the “really big changes” needed to meet climate targets are in public transport.

Additional reporting by Eoghan Dalton

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