I have recently spoken with many people concerned about the ongoing overcrowding on commuter trains in the Dublin West area, particularly on trains heading to the City Centre from Clonsilla, Coolmine and Castleknock. I have been in touch with the Minister for Transport and the National Transport Authority (NTA) about this issue, and will continue to do so going forward. I encourage anyone with similar experiences to contact my office.
In response to my questioning, the NTA provided me with an information note setting out the current issues in relation to the rail fleet and the various actions that are being taken to address those issues. This note can he read here:
Information Note from the National Transport Authority
Rail passenger numbers have increased significantly over the last number of years. During 2018 there was overall growth of 5.5% across the rail network, bringing passenger numbers on Irish Rail services to 48 million for the full year. This followed even higher growth of over 6% during 2017, which saw passenger journeys increase from 42.8m to 45.5m.
The significant growth in passenger levels has resulted in capacity issues on a number of rail services during peak periods. Currently, all available operational rail fleet is in use during the peak periods each day and there is no spare fleet available to add into the system. Accordingly, to address the capacity issues, additional rail fleet is required.
National Development Plan 2018-2027
As part of the DART Expansion Programme included in the NDP, it is intended that a DART service will be provided on the Maynooth Line and the Kildare Line as far westwards as Maynooth and Celbridge respectively and to Drogheda on the Northern Line. A total of €2 billion has been allocated to the DART Expansion Programme under the NDP.
In line with the provision to provide fast, high-frequency electrified services to Drogheda on the Northern Line, Celbridge/Maynooth on the Kildare Line, Maynooth and M3 Parkway on the Maynooth/Sligo Line, it is intended to proceed with the acquisition of a bi-mode DART fleet (hybrid fleet) which can operate in electric mode along sections of the line that are electrified and will operate in non-electric mode (either diesel or battery) along non-electrified sections of the commuter rail network.
Procurement of New Bi-Mode DART Fleet
It is expected that the formal fleet acquisition tender process will be initiated in the next two months and that the fleet manufacturing contract will be awarded either at the end of this year or the start of next years. However, the process of having rail fleet built is a lengthy one and it will take between three and four years after the award of the contract before the new fleet will start to be delivered, probably during 2023.
Because it will be a number of years before the new DART fleet is available, there is need to provide additional fleet, if feasible, in the intervening period to deal with capacity issues. Currently, all available operational rail fleet is in use during the peak periods each day and there is no spare fleet available to add into the system.
As a measure to address this deficit in the short-term, a fleet refurbishment project was commenced in 2017 to refurbish a set of older train sets which had been taken out of operation by Irish rail a number of years earlier. However, following a tender process it was not possible to proceed with this refurbishment project as, based on tendered costs, the refurbishment approach no longer represented value for money.
Arising from the non-progression of the fleet refurbishment project, two other initiatives were commenced by the NTA and Irish Rail. The first initiative is assessing the potential to purchase some additional new fleet from the manufacturer who supplied the most recent batches of Inter City Rail fleet. Work is currently on-going in relation to that option and a decision on this approach will be taken in a number of months, following the completion of commercial and procurement analyses.
The second approach is the assessment of whether second-hand fleet could be acquired, either by lease of purchase, to provide the necessary additional capacity in the short-term. However, this approach is complicated by the fact that the Irish rail network operates to a different gauge (distance between the two tracks) than the UK and most other European countries, and any second-hand vehicles would require modification for Irish use. Accordingly, even if second hand fleet is available, it would take time, and incur considerable costs, to convert that fleet to suit the Irish network.
The NTA will be in position in a number of weeks to make a decision on the viability of acquiring and modifying second-hand train vehicles, taking into account the responses received to the published supply invitation.