Continued investment in and enhancement of Ireland’s rail and bus network is essential if we are to have any prospect of transitioning our national transport system to a sustainable, resilient model, according to An Taisce.

An Taisce was reacting to the release earlier today of a review prepared for Government by the State-owned rail operator and the National Transport Authority, which concluded that the State needs to invest €125 million in once-off funding to Iarnród Éireann over the next three years to avoid it facing potential insolvency. In the longer term, unless some €600 million is invested in the network, significant sections of it risk being shut down permanently.

John Gibbons, of An Taisce's Climate Change Committee stated “Promotion of rail and bus transport (commuter and inter-city) is important in achieving a strategic and sustainable public transport system and reducing our carbon emissions in the transport sector”. He continued “Greater investment in rail and bus is required, not funding cuts. Efficient rail services, over medium to long distances, connecting with bus services, enables a sustainable transport network for commuters to access jobs and activities over greater distance. The removal of funding from public transport would no doubt have climate emissions impacts through further increases in private car use”.

International experience shows that user confidence in public transport is the key to a successful transport policy. Cutting back service frequency or removing sections of a network degrades the viability of the whole network. Public transport requires continuous investment to maintain confidence in it as a viable alternative to the private car.

Continuing dependence on a vast fleet of private cars is the epitome of unsustainability. Apart from the billions spent on imported fossil fuels, the health and financial costs of air pollution from our largely diesel-engined national fleet are not being adequately factored into decision-making. Further, fossil fuels are not priced to reflect anything remotely approaching their true cost to current and future generations.

An Taisce reminds government that The Department of Environment, Community and Local Government Planning Policy Guidelines 2015, which is the overriding planning policy, states: The planning process plays a very significant role in promoting patterns of development which help Ireland meet its international obligation by:

  1. Tackling the sources of climate change by reducing Ireland’s carbon footprint;
  2. Securing less energy and travel from low carbon sources;
  3. Facilitating the generation of energy from low carbon sources; and
  4. Adapting to the effects of climate change.

Billions of euros have been spent in recent years on developing a national motorway network, which has the effect of favouring and subsidising the private motorist ahead of all other transport users. There are now almost two million cars on Irish roads, and gridlock is once again gripping our road infrastructure.

The well-known principle of ‘induced traffic’ is now at play in Ireland. When new roads are built or existing roads such as the M50 are upgraded, new traffic diverts onto it and competes with public transport. Many people may make new trips they would otherwise not make, buy cars they would not otherwise buy, and will travel longer distances simply because of the presence of the new road.

According to the Environment Protection Agency, some 29% of Ireland’s non-ETS emissions emanate from the transportation sector, which is second only to agriculture in terms of emissions. Taoiseach Enda Kenny has repeatedly argued that our agriculture sector must receive special exemptions from emissions-reductions targets.

Given this political reality, the onus falls therefore on the transport sector to deliver dramatic reductions in emissions. Slight improvements in fuel efficiency among private cars and trucks can in no way deliver the kind of revolutionary shift towards low-carbon transport that our international commitments under the soon to be ratified Paris Accord demand.

Realistically, public transport must, in the years and decades ahead, contribute an ever-growing share of total national transport mileage, and this in turn must be transitioned to clean energy sources as soon as possible. The popular DART and Luas systems in the Dublin area are both electrically powered, which means better urban air quality and fewer hospitalisations, with the option of powering these 100% cleanly from renewables as capacity increases.

John Gibbons of An Taisce’s Climate Change Committee concluded “Overdependence on the private cars takes us up a cul de sac of gridlock, pollution and ever-rising emissions. Cars, ideally electric, will be needed to plug the network gaps in more remote parts of Ireland but must play a much reduced role in urban areas. But the backbone of a climate-friendly, healthier and resilient transport plan for Ireland is a high-quality, high-frequency rail and bus network, between towns and cities, supported by quality public transport and cycle and pedestrian infrastructure within them.”


John Gibbons, An Taisce Climate Change Committee. Tel: +353 87 233 2689
Charles Stanley-Smith, Communications, An Taisce. Tel: +353 87 241 1995
email: [email protected]
An Taisce The National Trust for Ireland


[1] Iarnrod Eireann funding crisis puts lines at risk, report warns - Irish Times 24/10/2016 [2] The Smarter Travel document A Sustainable Transport Future A New Transport Policy for Ireland 2009-2020 [3] Investing in our transport future: A strategic framework for investment in land transport (only mentions Smarter Travel once)

The four overarching actions of Smarter Travel are:

  • Actions to reduce distance travelled by private car and encourage smarter travel, including focusing population growth in areas of employment and to encourage people to live in close proximity to places of employment and the use of pricing mechanisms or fiscal measures to encourage behavioural change.
  • Actions aimed at ensuring that alternatives to the car are more widely available, mainly through a radically improved public transport service and through investment in cycling and walking,
  • Actions aimed at improving the fuel efficiency.
  • Actions aimed at strengthening institutional arrangements to deliver the targets.

About An Taisce

An Taisce is a charity that works to preserve and protect Ireland's natural and built heritage. We are an independent charitable voice for the environment and for heritage issues. We are not a government body, semi-state or agency. Founded in 1948, we are one of Ireland’s oldest and largest environmental organisations.