The Ballybrophy rail which serves parts of North Tipperary is coming under increasing threat following a report on operating costs in Irish Rail.
A new report, which will be brought to Cabinet, claims that it costs €550 per passenger to operate the service that serves Birdhill, Nenagh, Cloughjordan, Roscrea and Ballybrophy.
The report compares this cost to running the DART in Dublin which costs the taxpayer 90c in State subvention.
However, Labour TD Alan Kelly has defended the line, claiming the report's authors were not comparing like with like.
"They are not comparing apple with apples and oranges with oranges," he said this Tuesday on RTE Radio 1's Morning Ireland.
Deputy Kelly maintained that most of the line's problems stemmed from a lack of investment down the years, which left the line with multiple level crossings and, consequently, low speeds. Some of the crossings facilitate landowners move cattle from field to field.
Deputy stated that the line needed to stay open if Tipperary was to continue to attract investment such as First Data in Nenagh and the proposed hydroelectric power station in Silvermines.
He also took issue with a report in the Irish Times which stated the route began in 2012, when he was Junior Minister for Transport, pointing out that the line opened in 1863.
In 2012, following representations by Nenagh Community Rail Partnership over a number of years, Irish Rail introduced a changed schedule to allow for more trains, including an early morning service to Dublin. This service has since been withdrawn.
The report, part of a review by the National Transport Authority, claims that only 73 people use the line daily, generating €753 per day. That would give an annual passenger rate of 26,645 passengers.
Deputy Kelly further stated that the Ballybrophy line could not be taken in isolation and that threats to the Waterford line must also be taken into account.
“Most public transport services are not profitable. The reason they are there in the first place is to facilitate the greater good and members of the public,” he said.
Fianna Fail TD Jackie Cahill also defended keeping the line open, saying that any attempts to close it will be met by "fierce opposition by the people of North Tipperary".
"We all know there are challenges with the train service, but just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. We can increase capacity through a variety of measures – change the operating times to reflect working times and increasing the frequency of services. One of the biggest mistakes this country ever made was ripping up hundreds of miles of railway lines across the country in the 1950s. Entire generations of people across rural Ireland have not had the opportunity to develop a relationship with the train network. This takes time, and effort and support, and the communities living along the Limerick to Ballybrophy should be encouraged, not discouraged, from using the train service," he said.
Deputy Cahill said that Minister Ross needed to understand that an Ireland existed beyond the M50, and that communities in rural North Tipperary deserved access to commuter rail services as much as anywhere else.
"Before the Minister attempts to close this rail connection, he needs to ask himself: 'Has everything been done to increase passenger numbers that can be done, and can changes be made to the frequency to entice passengers out of their cars and onto trains?'" he asked.
Meanwhile, Nenagh Rail Community Partnership's Virginia O'Dowd, said it needed to be emphasised to Minister for Transport Shane Ross that the line served a social as well as an economic role.
She also pointed out that the Harcourt Street line in Dublin had been closed in the late 1950s by Todd Andrews only for the Government to spend thousands of millions buying back land and property to build the LUAS line that now serves south Dublin. Much of the line is on the bed of the old rail line.
“The nearest stations to Nenagh would be Thurles, Templemore or Limerick. People will simply take their cars to Dublin and clog up the roads,” said Ms O'Dowd. "Would Minister Ross be prepared to drive from his South Dublin constituency to Newbridge in County Kildare to catch a train?” she asked.
The former county councilor also pointed out that there were no public transport links between any North Tipperary towns and Thurles, Templemore or Ballybrophy.
“The train will cease to be an option and Irish Rail will simply lose what ever revenue they were getting on the Ballybrophy line,” she said.
Ms O'Dowd said that the line should not be looked at purely as a line to Dublin and should be seen as a way to travel between towns along its route.
"The line has never been properly marketed. You can't have a main line marketing strategy for a branch line," she said. "The Ballybrophy line could be used as a tourist line in the way some local lines are used in Scotland, Wales and England."
She pointed out that her group had encouraged promoting the line under its own brand along the lines of the Silver Line or something similar but this did not sit well with top management.
"We have always had a fantastic relationship with local management and staff within Irish Rail," she said.
The former Labour county and Nenagh town councillor also took pointed out that, online, the Ballybrophy line was not given as an option to travel from Limerick to Dublin, with passengers only being directed along the Limerick to Limerick Junction route.