Transport 2016 – Issues and themes

Transport Ireland 2016, a conference organised by Eolas last week included a wide range of speakers on a range of transport issues, providing an update on public transport investment plans as well as technological developments, for example electric vehicles and alternative fuels.

The conference programme is available here.

A couple of the following presentations were of particular interest to the WDC and the Western Region.

Ethna Brogan from the Department of Transport outlined some of the transport commitments of the Capital Plan 2016-2021 Building on Recovery noting that unlike other elements of the Plan which cover a 6 year period, Transport covers a 7 year period to 2022.

The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport received an allocation of €9.6 billion for transport investments comprising €6 billion for roads and €3.6 billion for public transport. The stated objectives of the transport investments are two fold

  1. Develop and maintain transport networks to the required standard to ensure the safe and efficient movement of people and freight
  2. Encourage modal shift to ensure transport makes a contribution to Irelands’ climate mitigation targets.

The objective of greater modal shift is welcome given the significance transport has in Ireland’s energy emissions. As noted in a recent WDC Insights publication (245kB) though Agriculture is the single largest contributor of emissions in Ireland (33.3%), it is followed by Transport (19.5%) and more importantly, in the last fifteen years (1990-2014), Transport has shown the greatest overall increase in emissions – by 120.9% over the period.

Therefore, the Transport sector represents a major contributor to energy emissions which is forecast to increase further in line with economic growth, for example emissions from transport have increased by 2.5% from 2013 to 2014. With this in mind, and along with the urgency to tackle climate change, the questions arises as to whether we have we got the balance right between conventional and alternative and more sustainable modes of transport?

That being said, the WDC Western Region is a largely rural region, requiring significant investment in maintenance and improvements in the roads network, national, regional and local roads, which support bus transport as well as car travel. For example the continued funding for the Gort-Tuam motorway and other roads projects is very welcome.

Edgar Morgenroth from the ESRI gave a presentation on The Regional Development Impact of Transport Infrastructure noting that ‘significant accessibility differences remain across Ireland’ and he noted that much of the North West along with West Kerry are the only regions were accessibility to a motorway junction is 120 minutes drivetime or more. There was also reference to the positive effect of transport infrastructure in national and regional economic development, with roads having the largest productivity effect in contrast to other transport modes.

Martin Nolan, CEO of Bus Éireann noted that Bus Éireann services are particularly important to regional and rural Ireland. There are three aspects to their business; public service obligation (PSO) routes, Commercial and School Transport services, which all combined delivered 79 million customer journeys in 2015. He noted that while lower fuel costs benefit the company’s operating costs, they also impact on some of their customer base, making it more attractive to travel by car!

One of the most interesting presentations and the only one to exclusively examine rural transport was by Carmel Walsh of Kerry Community Transport Ltd, soon to be renamed Local Link Kerry. She outlined the Rural Transport Programme and its work since 2002, the various changes it has undergone and its current status, managed by the National Transport Authority and now delivered nationally by 17 Transport Coordination Units (TCUs).

In 2015 there were 1.76 million passenger journeys delivered by 400 private operators who are mainly local businesses, with a strong knowledge of their community and their needs. There is a focus on ensuring accessibility but the service is for and is used all the community, young and old. There is recognition that further integration with Bus Éireann services will improve services for Rural Transport users.

Technological developments will be important in reducing transport emissions and many of the speakers focused on the ways in which technology can reduce urban congestion.

One technological development which will impact on regional and rural areas is the electric vehicle. According to Declan Meally of Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), while the technology is now available, the price is somewhat prohibitive. This looks set to change in the next few years.

Finally, a study entitled Greening Transport is actually looking at a fairly logical option – lowering transport emissions by reducing transport use, through behavioural changes such as more telecommuting. The WDC is also examining this in forthcoming research on tele-working/e-working.


Deirdre Frost



Transport Infrastructure Priorities

Following years of budgetary contraction and reduced capital investment in infrastructure, there is now a return to consideration of what capital investment is required and what should be prioritised. The last Government published its plan for capital investment Building on Recovery: Infrastructure and Capital Investment 2016-2021 in September 2015. It seems possible that a new Government may revisit some priorities.

The Exchequer capital allocations for the period are €27 billion, of which Transport accounts for 29%. €6 billion is allocated for national, regional and local roads and €3.6 billion is for public transport. While the roads budget appears significant, most of this is for maintenance of the existing network, with just €1.6 billion allocated for new projects. The WDC has posted recently on the importance of maintaining local and regional roads especially in rural areas, see here.

Public Transport

The COP21 Agreement in Paris last December has renewed attention on the need to reduce greenhouse emissions and the development of sustainable transport projects. The recent European Commission country report for Ireland highlighted congestion in Dublin as an issue and this is suggested as an issue for consideration by the incoming government, for example see blog post . The WDC supports more sustainable transport and has highlighted potential for emissions reductions through use of more rail freight, read more here (245kb). However this should not mean that road priorities should be relegated, especially where the road network remains relatively weak.

At a recent Infrastructure Summit a presentation by Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) highlighted some of these issues. The map below illustrates Ireland’s current road network, noting the motorway, primary and secondary routes.

TII road network prioirties

The map shows how the motorway network extends across the southern half of the country and the Dublin-Belfast corridor. The development of the motorway network is of great benefit to those regions and centres they serve. However by default those areas without such road improvements have reduced accessibility relative to other parts of the country.

The capital plan includes funding for one motorway project underway in the Western Region, from Gort to Tuam – part of the Atlantic Road Corridor. This is very welcome, however once complete in 2018, the relative weakness of the road network north of Tuam will be even more apparent.

This is not to argue that there is a need for motorway infrastructure to all parts of the country but there does need to be investment to improve journey times to relatively inaccessible urban centres for example to Ballina, Sligo and Letterkenny.  A 2012 study by the NRA on the impact of national road investment 2006-2010 on the effective density of urban areas including their accessibility to employment’ found that Sligo, Ballina/Castlebar and Letterkenny among others had no or very small improvement.

There are plans for improvements on the N4 (Collooney to Castlebaldwin) and the N5 Westport to Turlough as well as improvements to the N56 in Donegal all of which are welcome and will improve accessibility to Sligo and Castlebar respectively and should be progressed asap.

According to the TII other sections of the Atlantic Road Corridor, to the north of Tuam, (for example N17 Tubbercurry ByPass and Collooney to Tubbercurry) have been suspended and it is not clear if there are any timelines for reinstatement and funding of these projects.

Regional priorities not modal!

A by-product of the improved motorway network has been the relative dis-improvement in journey times on main-line rail services and reduced patronage on some services.  As investment in transport is often considered on a mode specific basis, the cumulative effect on specific geographic routes and regions is often not considered. So proposed investment in rail is now focused on those routes with better road access (motorways), in order to stay competitive. Therefore the cumulative effect of little funding for improvements in both road and rail on some routes, for example to the North West, is not considered from a broader, transport accessibility point of view.


Western Region Needs

In terms of transport most of the Western Region and rural Ireland travels by road. As the WDC noted in its submission (300 KB) to the Department of Transport, over 40% of the population (68% in the WDC region) live in rural areas and smaller settlements. There must be more consideration of transport issues for smaller settlements and rural areas which currently account for 48% of all trips (compared with 32% for the four main cities). Even with plans for higher density living and the planned National Planning Framework,  the majority of the population will continue to live in the historical settlement pattern and spatial planning will not change that pattern significantly even in the long term. Thus transport investment needs to focus on current spatial patterns as well as any future growth in demand.

From a rural perspective the recent Luas strike brought the options available to rural and Dublin commuters into sharp focus. As reported on RTE’s Morning Ireland, once alighting from a commuter train at Heuston, passengers had just four options: – the bus, bike rental, taxi or travel by foot. Most rural dwellers only have one option, travel by car! Of course roads can facilitate cycling, walking and bus services but in reality there are few footpaths, even fewer cycleways and not very frequent bus services (apart from on intercity routes).

Of course city dwellers will have more options, this is to be expected, but just because some of these are not working optimally is not a reason to forget what transport needs are required for rural and regional locations.

Now that the country has returned to economic growth and consideration of capital investment projects it will be important to ensure that there are improvements in accessibility to all regions especially to those centres which were relegated when funding was severely constrained.


Deirdre Frost


Regional and local roads – maintaining connectivity in rural Ireland

Regional and local roads are the core of regional and rural transport. They are crucial to rural economic activity, and the importance of commuting to work across counties and to towns and cities is well recognised see here  (1MB) and here (2MB) .

While motorways and national primary route have received considerable investment and have a very important impact on regional transport, good quality regional and local roads are essential for balanced regional development and for social inclusion providing vital linkages among communities, and between communities, their towns and larger urban centres.

There are almost 91,000kms of regional and local roads in Ireland, which accounts for 94% of the country’s roads network and they carry around 54% of all road traffic[1].   It is important that these local and regional roads are maintained to a reasonable standard according to their traffic load for local importance, and that there is a planned cycle of maintenance implemented by the local authorities who manage these roads.

Primary responsibility for improvement and maintenance of regional and local roads rests with local authorities.  State grants are provided to supplement realistic contributions by local authorities from their own resources. The recent announcement of the general grant allocation for regional and local roads budget allocation for 2016  is therefore of interest. It also provides a timely opportunity to highlight to decline in this budget over the last 8 years.

The regional and local roads grant allocation for 2016 is €298m which less than half that for 2009. The graph below shows the very significant decline in spending in this area since then.

 Figure 1: Annual Budget allocation for Regional and Local roads 2009-2016


road allocation graph 09-16

Source: Department of Environment, Community and Local Government announcements, Dáil Statements

When considering the very significant decrease in the annual budget allocation, it should be recognised that there have been important changes to local authority funding, most particularly the Local Property Tax. Resources from the Local Property Tax can, in more wealthy counties, ensure that there is a sufficient budget to maintain regional and local roads to appropriate standards. In fact none of the Dublin local authorities received any in 2015[2]. Poorer counties with less expensive property and fewer residences, which are usually the counties which also have relatively fewer commercial rate payers, have less money in their own budgets to spend and are more reliant on this roads funding. Roads in these counties are likely to be feeling the greatest impacts[3]. The changes in individual local authority allocations in the Western Region will be considered in a future blog post.

It should also be noted that while this post looks at annual regional and local road allocations as announced early each year, there are often additions to this allocation during the year, either for specific projects or as a supplemental allocation to each county[4] but while these supplements to the budget as very welcome, they cannot be relied on and of course this also make the planning of road maintenance more difficult.

While the reduction in the government grant allocation for regional and local roads budget is very stark, its impact needs more detailed consideration as do the levels of allocation to the different local authorities and their own resources available for local and regional roads.

Nonetheless for many local authorities it is increasingly difficult to maintain the regional and local road network and the impact of reduced budgets, since 2009, has a cumulative effect on the quality of the local and regional road network.

Users of these roads are well aware of this as they, in turn pay the higher costs of wear and tear on their vehicles, when, in most cases there are few alternative transport options.


Helen McHenry




[2] Arising from the introduction of the local property tax, the four Dublin local authorities were in a position to self-fund for regional and local roads in 2015 and the funding allocation for county Cork was reduced. Similar details were not provided in the 2016 announcement

[3] Leitrim, for example, received €14m from this budget in 2010 and €7.4m this year. Reported in Leitrim Observer 10.02.2016

[4] . For example an additional €50m was allocated for regional and local roads in July 2013

Sustainable Transport and Rail Freight

Just last week, the Minister for Transport, Paschal Donohoe, T.D., announced the allocation of €13.5 million in 2016 for sustainable transport projects in our regional cities. The Minister noted, ‘Providing more sustainable travel options in our regional cities is becoming increasingly important as congestion levels are on the increase again’.  Projects that will benefit are road improvements and junction upgrades to improve bus priority, the provision of additional cycle infrastructure and improvements to railway and bus stations.

Another option for promoting more sustainable transport, saving on CO2 emissions and relieving our congested road network is to support greater freight traffic by rail.

It is not well known that three of the four rail freight services currently in operation start or finish in the West. A report published last month by the Western Development Commission (WDC), Rail freight and the Western Region notes that rail currently moves less than 1% of surface freight across Ireland and most of this rail freight originates in the Western Region[1]. Irish Rail plans to quadruple national rail freight traffic within 4 years and much of this traffic could be from the Western Region. In the short-term this could double from 4 to 8 trainloads per weekday and each trainload removes approximately 18 truckloads from the road network.

Rail freight, where available, offers several advantages over road transport. It generates less than a quarter of the emissions of road haulage, removes heavy goods traffic from the road network  and it can provide an alternative and efficient route to market for business, avoiding congested routes and availing of the existing rail network.

The WDC report identifies traffic which could be transported by rail and also identifies the policies needed to support this growth.

Demand for new rail freight services comes following a period of continued under-investment and rationalisation of rail freight infrastructure and rolling stock. To assist Irish Rail develop the traffic potential and associated direct / indirect benefits to the country, the WDC report highlights some policies which can support the growth of this sustainable mode including:

  • A policy framework for freight transport is needed which sets out the multi-modal context of road, rail, air and sea which is central to supporting the wider economy.
  • Safeguarding and/or enhancing rail access into ports is needed – Dublin and Waterford have played a valuable role in the recent growth of rail freight. Policy support and investment in other ports such as Shannon Foynes, Galway and other ports, will be needed to reduce potential congestion and/or over-dependency on Dublin.
  • Maximising the use of the existing rail network such as using longer trains, use of the rail network at night, and engaging a bigger fleet of traction and rolling stock will all help grow the traffic volumes carried by rail.
  • Across many counties there have been initiatives to support new rail freight services – in Europe this has been largely based on the environmental benefits of rail freight compared to road freight. This has been done in absolute terms for example the European Commission’s former ‘Marco Polo’ mode shift programme (which closed in 2013) provided grants to offset the costs of starting up new intermodal and multimodal freight projects, the level of grant based on rail’s societal advantage over road estimated at €0.004 per tonne km. The Commission is currently considering a possible replacement for the Marco Polo programme.
  • In the UK supports are available based on the benefit:cost ratio (eg 4.27:1 for Great Britain rail freight revenue support grants[2] and 12.51:1 for Marco Polo mode shift grants[3]). Most of the intermodal services in the UK serving maritime and domestic customers have at some stage received revenue support grants.

The Government needs to de-carbonise the economy and the transport sector represents a major contributor to energy consumption and emissions. If greater efficiency is to be derived from freight transport, both road and rail will need to be exploited to their maximum extent, with the rail network having considerable untapped capacity. This is even more apparent with the increasing congestion evident on parts of the road network.

It seems the Department of Transport is now considering whether and how rail freight can play a greater role. According to Building on Recovery: Infrastructure and Capital Investment 2016-2021 (September 2015) the Government will commission a feasibility study to examine options for expanding freight transport on the railways. This is to be welcomed and it is to be hoped work on this will commence very shortly so that opportunities to move traffic more suited to the rail network will not be lost.

While rail freight will continue to play a relatively small role compared to road transport, there is potential to grow volumes which will not only capitalise on our existing rail network but will also deliver wider public and societal benefits in terms of lower emissions and reducing traffic on the congested road network.


Deirdre Frost


[1] WDC counties; Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Mayo, Roscommon, Galway and Clare

[2] Department for Transport Review of Revenue Support Freight Grant Schemes Summary Report, Arup 2014

[3] Ex ante Evaluation Marco Polo II (2007-2013), Final Report for the European Commission, ECORYS Transport June 2004, section 10.4

Here is the reason there are so many new cars in Roscommon!

Just to update on the previous post, Understanding rural transport statistics: Why are there so many new cars in county Roscommon? the compiler of the vehicle licensing statistics in Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport has clarified that there is a Car Hire company office operating in Roscommon which taxes all new vehicles for the Car Hire Company (i.e. all the offices in Ireland)  for the first time in the County – the figures in the previous post were based on the first taxing of the vehicle and not the registration. This company taxed 2,236 vehicles out of the 4,877  vehicles in 2015. That is nearly 45% of the new private cars licensed for the first time in the county.

It is good to know there is a simple explanation, and again, a useful reminder that there can be unexpected patterns in the data we look at day to day !


Helen McHenry