By Ronan Dodd
junior Minister for Public Transport Alan Kelly has defended his decision to encourage Iarnrod Eireann to lay on a special train along the Ballybrophy line to bring Tipperary fans to this year’s All-Ireland hurling final.
“I look forward to many more trains being put on the line for future All-Irelands. The people along the line from Birdhill, Nenagh, Roscrea and at Ballybrophy are as entitled to proper public transport as anybody else,” he told the Tipperary Star.
The Labour Minister pointed out that the service was 90 per cent full and pointed to Iarnrod Eireann’s statement that the service had made a profit.
“I expect Tipperary to get to many more finals over the next decade and I expect to see match trains on all lines serving Tipperary - and that includes the Ballybrophy line,” he said.
With regard to claims that alcohol was served on the train, Deputy Kelly said that the train had a trolley service serving tea and coffee and it was well used and much appreciated.
“I saw no alcohol being served. I wasn’t even aware whether it was for sale or not,” he said. Deputy Kelly told the Tipperary Star that Irish Rail had confirmed to him that no alcohol had been bought on the train.
He described the train as being “family oriented. There were a lot of families on the train because it was good value.”
Deputy Kelly also stated that he was “only doing my job encouraging people to use public transport. It was good to see people getting on from areas that should have been provided with a proper services down the years and which I hope to provide with better services.”
He said it was “a good use of public transport” as it meant that people used the LUAS when they got to Dublin and it had cut the number of cars travelling to Dublin for the match.
The Junior Minister revealed that he was in discussion with Iarnrod Eireann about the feasibility of direct services on the Ballybrophy to Dublin, eliminating the need for to change trains at Ballybrophy.
“I am also looking at a review of all track for rail safety reasons and to see what changes can be made to lines where there are restricted speeds to see if they can’t be upgraded,” he said.
The Ballybrophy line has large sections of line that are restricted to slow speeds, often as low as 25mph.
Deputy Kelly also said that the match special had to be put in context with the E168,000 being made available for improvements to Tipperary railway stations.
The match special was also defended by Mayor of Nenagh, Cllr Virginia O’Dowd, who is also chair of the Nenagh Rail Partnership. The partnership has campaigned for improved services on the line for the past six years.
“Nenagh Rail Partnership has asked Irish Rail in the past to provide match specials, not just for All-Irelands, but also for major sporting occasions, such as rugby internationals in Dublin or Heineken Cup matches in Thomond Park. We never had any success. We met Deputy Kelly to put our case to him. We are delighted that he was able not just to deliver the service, but that it proved that such a service would be supported,” she said.
The Labour councillor also said that she, too, was looking forward to many more match specials on the line, as well as improved services.
Cllr O’Dowd also said that she had not seen any alcohol being served on the train.
“I overheard an elderly man ask if he could have a bottle of stout, but the train conductor told him no alcohol was being served,” she said.
“The GAA special operated by Iarnród Éireann from Birdhill, Nenagh and Roscrea on 4th September was an important step in reconnecting and raising the profile of Limerick to Ballybrophy line with the community it serves. The line is one of the more marginal routes operated by Iarnród Éireann and anything to raise its profiles is important in ensuring its long term viability and prosperity.
“We are pleased that after years of lobbying by the Nenagh Rail Partnership, Iarnród Éireann agreed to run the special. Providing special trains for key sporting events plays an important role in making the railway relevant again to the community it serves. It shows potential users that Iarnród Éireann still offer a viable but under used service which needs to be supported.
“The comments attributed to Rail Users Ireland are, therefore, unfortunate for an organisation which is supposedly pro rail. By operating the service, over 300 potential car journeys were removed from our roads with many people using the train for the first time in many years.
“Iarnród Éireann was supportive by introducing the service at short notice and kept the operating cost down to a minimum. By operating the special it has provided a valuable marketing tool, reminding potential users that a viable rail services exists.
“We hope that Iarnród Éireann will continue to operate special services for major sporting fixtures as part of their overall marketing strategy for the route. Special trains are important marketing tool in reconnecting and revitalising the line with the communities it serves.”