CS ‘Todd’ Andrews was never a name recalled with great fondness by my late Grandfather when he and I discussed the decline of the Irish railway system.
“That man wrecked the railways,” was how he put it during one of several conversations we had concerning the man who charged with running the Republic’s rail system from the late 1950s to the mid-60s.
Such a sentiment was one he wasn’t alone in sharing; indeed it was echoed to The Munster Express last week by Damien Cassidy of the National Conservation and Heritage Group (NCHG).
“What’s going on now is a throwback to the Andrews era, without question,” said Damien, recalling the closure of the lines connecting Tramore and Cork to Waterford.
“It’s a regrettable period in our country’s history yet it would appear it’s one that the authorities have learned absolutely nothing from.”
Mr Cassidy was speaking in reference to Iarnród Éireann’s (IE) proposed closure of the line running between Plunkett Station and Rosslare Europort.
IE management and press officer Barry Kenny (who really ought to be re-titled as ‘Chief Company Apologist’ at this stage) have repeatedly referred to the low-level of usage on the existing service.
But the picture that IE has painted these past few weeks has been all too convenient, since they’ve done absolutely nothing to market or promote the line for decades.
Is it any surprise that a single service, which leaves Rosslare at 7am and returns from Waterford at 5.20pm, doesn’t do particularly good business?
Imagine if the only train serving Dublin from Waterford left at 7am every day.
In any such scenario, how easy would it be for an IE boffin to trot out a survey and claim that the line was unviable when setting passenger numbers against the expense of keeping it open? No need for answers on a postcard to that particular poser.
A little like newspapers putting every word of its printed content online at the expense of selling printed copies, one wonders is there a file labelled ‘common sense’ in the Department of Transport? Because if it exists, it’s not been opened for quite some time
Why is it, whenever rail lines are discussed by Government ministers or by IE management that references are made, almost instantaneously, to the losses incurred by keeping lines open?
Contrast that with the complete absence of a similarly-themed discussion the viability of our new motorways. Why is it we never, ever hear ministers referring to talk of a potential return for the taxpayer in lieu of a new road being opened?
Why? Because there is never, ever a return for the taxpayer who, despite already coughing up the tax euros for these new routes, ends up paying further tolls in order to avail of them.
Of the many which undoubtedly exist, tolling is arguably the single greatest example of stealth (and multiple) taxation in our newly ‘motorwayed’ State.
Yet a railway line, which costs considerably less to build than six lanes of tarmac running for 100 miles (and roads, like rail lines, need continual maintenance), regularly has its fate called into question on loss-making grounds.
This is a plainly daft argument (since all State-owned rail in Europe is subsidised), yet it’s trotted out ad nauseam by those with the power to maintain a line or carve up the rural landscape for new roads.
Damien Cassidy, a passionate rail advocate, was forced to walk six miles back to Rosslare Europort on Sunday week as no Bus Éireann service he encountered on the route would stop to pick him up.
“Given my first hand knowledge, if this rail closure goes ahead from Rosslare to Waterford – which I discovered upon my visit doesn’t operate on Sundays, then South Wexford will have no public transport whatsoever that day. What sort of insanity is this?”
Damien added: “And when I have used the line previously, on a train with no trolley service of any kind I might add, these large signs virtually hit you in the face as you pass by, telling you that works undertaken on this line received EU funding.
“You’d wonder why Irish Rail bothered since they’ve never done anything to promote the service to Waterford or timetable it to suit the needs of most people living in or visiting the area. Talk about shambolic. What’s going on now has all the hallmarks of the Andrews era – and that’s an appalling vista.”
The Cork-Swansea ferry route was re-established thanks to an impassioned local campaign to see it restored and it appears that a campaign of a similar nature will be required to save this regional rail route.
And given Iarnród Éireann’s utter and ongoing timetabling incompetence then this line should be wrested from their ownership and placed into community and tourist-minded private hands.
That’s surely better than setting it to rust like the 1,000 miles Todd Andrews condemned throughout Ireland a half century ago.