25 Jan 2010
The curious case of Irish Rail
One might have expected that the replacement and renewal programme in Ireland would have gone at about the same rate as in Britain or elsewhere, with the mark 3 fleet running for at least another 30 years. But then came a huge investment under the Irish Government's Transport 21 Plan, with all the mark 3 fleet being replaced by a large fleet of diesel multiple unit trains for both inter-city and commuter services. The mark 3 stock is now stored ready for scrapping.
The cost of the DMUs is given at just over €2.3 per vehicle, which means that over £250 million has been spent on replacing the mark 3 stock prematurely. The weight of these DMUs is given as an unbelievable 63 tons per vehicle, which must surely be an error since a tilting Voyager is 52 tons and an HST power car weights 70 tons.
What would it have cost to refurbish the stock and purchase a fleet of new diesel-electric locomotives? Allowing a generous £200,000 per vehicle for the refurbishment and £70 million for the purchase of, say, 30 locomotives, a total of just under £100 million, it still sounds as if this modernisation has cost 2.5 times what it needed to have done. If other forms of modern traction had been considered, the cost might have been as low as £60 million. If the weight of these DMU cars really is 63 tons, then these trains are going to use a lot of fuel and wear out a lot of track.
This scheme was of course put in place in when Irish Republic's illusory boom seemed as if it would continue for ever. It now looks like profligacy. If times had been otherwise, prudence would still have ruled. However, with the money gone as a result of the choice of priorities , what has been lost is the opportunity to re-connect large areas of the country to the railway system, including the proposed West Coast Rail Corridor, now stalled.
Nor is that the end of the story. Given the shortage of stock in Britain, one might have thought that someone would have looked seriously into the prospect of acquiring the fleet. Obviously there would have been costs involved in re-gauging, refurbishing and dealing with compatibility problems, but it is hard to believe that these would have been bad value compared with new build.