Irish Rail’s chairperson has used the company’s annual report to “take aim” at the National Transport Authority and Minister Eamon Ryan’s Department of Transport over “bureaucracy” delaying projects and the ordering of trains, according to an interpretation by Rail Users Ireland, a campaign group.
Irish Rail has just related its Annual Report for 2022 and it says that planned rail projects support the Government’s regional spatial strategies and the national Climate Action Plan but that these are being delayed in Ireland with “no evidence that Ireland achieves better value or greater compliance with good planning”.
Frank Allen, chairperson of Irish Rail, said: “The timely delivery of new projects, and maintaining safety and quality on existing services, depend on certainty about funding and on appropriate institutional arrangements.”
He said that the company is “We are very pleased that our main funders, the Department of Transport and NTA,” including supporting the order of DART+ vehicles and a new National Train Control Centre, but he then went on to outline the issues of project delay.
“All of the relevant agencies, including Iarnród Éireann, need to ensure that we have the appropriate skills to plan and implement new projects. The lengthy period between an in-principle decision to proceed with an investment and the award of contracts to begin implementation is a cause of concern,” he wrote.
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Allen, who is a former head of the Railway Procurement Agency which delivered Luas, said: “We have regular engagement with railway companies in other countries who are also expanding their services and often contracting with the same supply chain. It is fair to say that decision-making processes to grant approval for complex infrastructure internationally do not take as long as in Ireland and there is no evidence that Ireland achieves better value or greater compliance with good planning.”
He added that the issue “needs attention if we are to meet the ambition of our sustainability strategies”.
The National Transport Authority (NTA) were contacted this morning for this article but referred this website to contact Irish Rail.
Barry Kenny, a spokesperson for Irish Rail, said: “The Chairman’s primary concern is the length of the statutory planning process, and the need to suitably support and resource those charged within our planning systems, to align with the ambitions within the wider public transport, public infrastructure and sustainability agenda.”
But Allen referred to more than just the planning system and included “ordering DART+ vehicles”, a process which does not include the statutory planning process.
This morning, Mark Gleeson, a spokesperson for Rail Users Ireland, said: “Irish Rail board finally has taken aim at the NTA and DoT for holding up approvals on projects. Frank Allen gets the knife in.”
He said that orders of new trains are also being delayed and that the delays with infrastructure are so-far at a pre-planning stage.
Gleeson said: “We welcome the frank comments of the chair of the Irish Rail board, Frank Allen, who for the first time has drawn attention to the inexplicable delays in the approval of major capital investment projects. This statement is reinforced by comparison with other railways elsewhere who are undertaking similar projects who are not experiencing such prolonged delays.”
“It is a very rare occurrence for the board of a semi-state company to publically and vocally complain that their work is being delayed by the Government.
Gleeson added: “While Government policy is to invest in public transport when the money is sought it does not appear to be available resulting in months of delays at a time when cost inflation is rife. Streamlined processes are required to ensure approvals are prompt.”
The campaign group said: “DART+ West to Maynooth was to be completed by the end of 2025, unlikely any actual work will take place until 2025 now DART+ South West lost 5 months after approval internally within Irish Rail before permission to submit the planning application.”
Rail Users Ireland said that the first order for new Dart trains was delayed by around 8 months between the Irish Rail board signing off on the order in March and the order finally being made in October of that year.
Dart+ South West, the Dart expansion onto the Kildare Line, was delayed between Irish Rail board approval at the end of September in 2022 with the plan to submit the route for planning in December of that year but it wasn’t until March 2023 when the project went to planning — a resulting pre-planning delay of five months.
However, this evening, a spokesperson for the Department of Transport defended the approval process, said that the Public Spending Code must be followed by all public bodies, and said that the process has been streamlined already since March.
“With input from the Department of Transport, among others, in March this year the Department for Public Expenditure, NDP Delivery and Reform published updated Public Spending Code guidance as part of a package of actions aimed at enhancing delivery of the NDP. The newly streamlined Public Spending Code should assist the efficiency of the project decision-making process,” the Department said.
The Department of Transport spokesperson added: “In relation to DART+ Fleet, two orders of electric/battery-electric DART carriages have been made since December 2021, totalling 185 carriages, with no delay between Government approval to make the purchases and Iarnród Éireann placing the orders with Alstom. The first carriages are due to start arriving for testing from the middle of next year and enter into service in 2025 as planned.”
While the Department states that there were no delays between Government approval and Irish Rail ordering the trains, Rail Users Ireland has said that delay is between Irish Rail’s decision to make an order and the order, including the Government approval process.