The new year is upon us and it is time for another round of rail revenue projections for the year ahead.
Railway revenue is expected to reach €1.9 billion for the whole of 2018.
That is an increase of almost 4 per cent on the €1 billion it was expected to generate in 2019.
However, there are still a number of key issues to be addressed, and these have been laid out in a report released by the Irish Railways (IR) on Tuesday.
The key areas to address are the new investment required by the new rail link to the north-east of Ireland, and the fact that there is no certainty the project will be completed in time for the 2020 Christmas period.
According to the IR, there is an expectation that a new rail line will be laid by the end of the year.
However it is understood that the project has been delayed and that a second phase is required to accommodate the new link.
The report also outlines the need to address the issue of overcrowding on the lines that the new railway link will cross.
According the report, the overcrowding issue has been a major problem for some of the projects that have been completed since 2020, but it is also expected that the issue will get worse over the next five years.
“The problem with the overcrowded lines is that it takes a while for the new line to get through.
It is also not clear if this will be the case in 2021, or 2019, 2020 or 2021.
The new line will not be finished for at least six years,” the report states.”
If this issue persists, then it would be wise to plan for the worst case scenario.”
In the event that the train line does not reach completion, the IR estimates that there would be a loss of €2.2 billion over the following five years, with €1bn of that amount going to the State.
The main concern with the line being closed is that the loss of revenue is likely to be offset by the loss in tourism.
“We are concerned that the closure of the line may not offset the loss from the loss that is being made from the overcrowdage issue.
The loss of tourism is going to be a major issue,” said the IR report.
The IR is forecasting that passenger volumes will fall by about 5 per cent in 2021 compared to the previous year.
This is a blow to the existing business model of the Northern Ireland Railways, as well as the sector overall.
The Northern Ireland Passenger Service, or NIROS, currently employs 2,000 staff across Northern Ireland, with 1,000 of these in the city of Belfast, with another 500 employed at a number a bus station and other venues.
However there is a suggestion that the number of people employed by the NIRS could be reduced by the closing of the railway link.
“At the moment, we have about 1,200 staff in Northern Ireland and the rest of the region.
That is down from about 1.5,000 people in 2020,” said one source close to the project.”
But that figure will likely be down significantly if the line is not completed in the next year.
The project will have a massive impact on our workforce, and if it goes ahead, that will also impact on the overall economy.”
The report outlines that the existing infrastructure is not sufficient to support the line, as the main infrastructure needed is the rail network itself.
“To accommodate the increased traffic, it is clear that the cost of the rail link needs to be cut in order to provide the same level of service to all the passengers as it did in 2020.
It also needs to continue to attract new travellers and business,” the IR states.
A new rail connection between the Irish Sea and the Atlantic Ocean would also be needed to replace the existing railway link, which currently carries trains between the city and the south-west of Ireland.