EY Report on the reopening of the Western Rail Corridor Flawed & Gold-Plated – West=on=Track

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The West on Track community campaign has described as ‘fundamentally flawed’ and ‘not fit for purpose’ a report by EY DKM consultants on the reopening of the Mayo-Galway section of the Western Rail Corridor. The EY report, believed to have cost in the region of €0.5m, has been published by the Department of Transport together with a ‘Peer Review’ by Jaspers.

Speaking in Dail Éireann in September, the Minister for Transport, Eamon Ryan, openly criticized the EY report for being ‘too narrow’ in its focus and said that any examination of the Western Rail Corridor had to be looked at in a ‘wider context’ than merely the passenger route from Athenry to Claremorris.

A spokesman for West on Track said: ‘This EY report is riddled with inaccuracies, many of them schoolboy errors, and it seeks to gold plate the costs of reopening the railway in a most extraordinary manner while understating the benefits in order to ensure that the resultant cost-benefit analysis will be negative. It is unthinkable that such a flawed report could ever be allowed to form the basis for an informed decision on the future of this key piece of infrastructure.’

‘Crucially, while the report projects initial passenger numbers of more than half a million, and admits it would have major economic benefits, the Chapter on Financial Assessment opens with the extraordinary statement that: This chapter does not consider any of the wider economic benefits which might also arise should the WRC be reactivated, meaning that it does not consider the full benefits associated with the Western rail Corridor.

This, despite the specific requirements of the Terms of Reference and the assurances provided by Iarnród Eireann to the Joint Oireachtas Committee that it would not be a narrow financial appraisal.’

‘The fact of the matter is that this report is a blatant example of how cost benefit analysis can be manipulated at public expense. The capital costs are more than doubled and the benefits are understated by 60%. The accompanying Jaspers review reflects how unaware that EU institution is of the fact that the West of Ireland is in economic decline due to lack of transport connectivity.’

‘The arguments for reopening the WRC are as valid now as they have ever been. Balanced regional development based on connectivity and sustainability is the only justification needed for reopening this rail line and no consultant’s report, however expensive, can be allowed to alter that fact. Not surprisingly, the heavily ‘gold-plated’ EY report fails to give proper consideration to the development of the Atlantic Economic Corridor or to Balanced Regional Development, and ignores the Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy.’

‘There is widespread political cross-party support for the reopening of this railway. In fact, 65 TDs and Senators supported a submission to EY to that effect. We now call on all public representatives in the West to stand up for our region and to insist that this flawed report will not be allowed to become yet another case of Cost Benefit Paralysis at the expense of the West of Ireland,’ he concluded.

Observations by West=on=Track on the EY Report on the Reopening of the Western Rail Corridor. A Report riddled with Basic Errors & Factual Inaccuracies

The following list shows some of the glaring errors in this report:

  • Page 10; discussing the testing of scenarios; “with a strong existing bus service from Tuam to Athenry”. There are no direct bus services between Tuam and Athenry.
  • Page 19; “Those under 16….and older travellers are less likely to use rail for transport…(due to cost), according to a Rail demand forecasting study prepared for the Department for Transport in the UK”, where there is no Free Travel, unlike Ireland where over a million and particularly those over 66 enjoy Free Travel.
  • Page 20;Tuam Population 1059; Actual Population 8767 ( 2016 Census)
  • Page 20; Population of Ballyglunin Unknown
  • Page 22; While stating that under Project Ireland 2040, the Government intends to reconnect the Port of Shannon Foynes to the national rail network it goes on to declare “opportunities for rail freight are limited”
  • Page 26; While discussing Phase 1 and the consequential introduction of a direct (rail) connection between Galway and Limerick, with a (catchment) population of 270,000 the report suggests that “passenger numbers in 2019 were 160,100,” when in fact according to Iarnrod Eireann the passenger numbers were 531,000.

The report addressing Phase 1 fails to acknowledge that Oranmore and Sixmilebridge were constructed within the budget of Phase 1 (@ a cost of €10.6m) and fails to credit the passengers using these stations to the performance of Phase 1.

  • Page 26; Level of service on Phase 1 is “only 4 trains per day”. There are five trains in each direction per day.
  • Page 37; While attributing extraordinarily high costs for a 90mph railway, that represents a 250% increase on the costs incurred in constructing Phase 1 (the same distance) to an 80mph standard, the report generates its projections based on the (90mph) journey from Claremorris to Tuam – a distance of 17 miles – as taking 30 minutes. Similarly the 16 mile journey from Tuam to Athenry is estimated to take 30 minutes at 90mph.
  • Page 39; This slow pace is then used to justify an conclusion that because it will remain faster by car, that few will transfer from cars and that the transfers to rail are more likely to be from current bus users.

In fact similar distance journeys at 90mph between Athlone and Ballinasloe take about 15 minutes, while those at 70mph between Castlerea and Roscommon take just 18 minutes.

This is a clear example of where the consultants have maximized the costs and minimised the benefits raising serious questions over the validity of their findings.

In fact, a 90mph or indeed 80mph railway could deliver a journey time between Claremorris and Galway with three intermediate stops of approx 1 hour or less.

  • Page 35; Origin and destination pairs modelled completely ignore potential passengers from Westport and Ballina; in fact the train service should be a Galway to Westport or Ballina service not a Claremorris service.
  • Page 41; It is claimed that at Dublin Port it is necessary to close Dublin Port Tunnel to allow a train to enter or leave” (the Port). In fact, on entering the tramway the train has a level crossing to cross but this does not shut the tunnel.
  • Page 42; “Ballina primarily supports Ballina Beverages”. In fact Ballina multi-modal freight trains are commissioned by IWT who have confirmed that they carry containers for a range of importers and exporters, while separate Coillte commissioned trains carry pulpwood to Waterford from Ballina and Westport.
  • Page 42; Waterford Port: This facility is currently closed down due to lack of This statement is not true. The facility is not closed – it currently has no commercial traffic except for IR steel traffic but two rail freight operators are currently in negotiations with Iarnród Éireann to commence freight services from Ballina to Waterford Port as soon as possible.
  • Page 42; “Only three types of goods are carried, all of which currently go in and out of Dublin Port”. This is factually wrong. The three types of goods are described as mineral ores, wood and cork, and general freight. Mineral ores go from Tara Mines to Dublin Port. The consultants reference to general freight is what is described in logistics terms as multi-modal freight, i.e. shipping containers carrying exports and imports. What the consultants describe as wood and cork is in fact pulpwood drawn from western forests and rail hauled from Westport and Ballina to Waterford. There are no pulpwood trainloads to Dublin Port.
  • Page 42; “The general cargo (shipping containers) carried primarily to support Ballina Beverages, with the trains picking up logs for export for the return journey to the port” This is an absurd statement that undermines the consultants’ credibility. Inter-modal and pulpwood trains are entirely separate fleets of rolling stock. Pulpwood is not exported. It is processed in Ireland at Smartply in Waterford. Inter-modal trains are loaded with containers in Dublin for Ballina and Ballina for Dublin.
  • Page 43; It is claimed that EY were informed in discussions with IWT, the main rail freight operator in Ireland, that “whilst the WRC would be used to transit freight it would not lead to significantly more trains running.’ In fact, we are aware that the minutes of the meeting between EY and IWT show no such statement.
  • Freight traffic potential is downplayed in the report. The report ignores the fact that all freight traffic is profitable but has further potential if track access charges are reduced and paths for freight trains increased. The report ignores the fact that the current routing of freight from Ballina must go via the already congested Athlone-Tullamore-Portarlington route.
  • Page 43; reference to a “congested Athlone Area” without explanation; “Waterford Port rail facility is currently closed”; in dismissing Shannon Foynes Port potential it states “The main potential for freight is therefore likely to be importing agri-feed or fertiliser to businesses in the Ballina area”. References are made to optimal distances in excess of 150km for freight trains and a disingenuous map is included to suggest that the West and North west are within 150km of a port. The fact is that the longest standing rail freight flow in Ireland is from Tara Mines to Dublin Port – a distance of 80kms and the West and North West are between 300 and 400 kms from Dublin Port and the southern ports serving continental Europe.
  • Page 53; While projecting a negative NPV based on exaggerated costs and minimised benefits, the Chapter on Financial Assessment opens with the statement that ,”This chapter does not consider any of the wider economic benefits which might also arise should the WRC be reactivated, meaning that it does not consider the full benefits associated with the Western rail Corridor.” This, despite the specific requirements of the Terms of Reference and the assurances provided by Iarnrod Eireann to the Joint Oireachtas Committee that it would not be a narrow financial appraisal.
  • Page 54; Revenue earnings are calculated using an average ticket price of €3.70. This appears extraordinarily low. According to Iarnrod Eireann the average intercity fare revenue per journey is €14.
    • The current single adult fare from
    • Claremorris to Ballyhaunis is €8.20
    • Westport to Castlerea €19.70 same distance as Claremorris to Galway
    • Westport to Claremorris €13.05 same distance as Tuam to Galway
    • Westport to Roscommon €21.30 same distance as Westport to Galway

In fact the only ticket cheaper than the average fare of €3.70 expected from new Westport/Ballina- Galway trains would be a child travelling from Ballina to Foxford; while a child travelling from Claremorris to Ballyhaunis pays €4.10 today.

  • Page 110; The report states while considering an hourly Claremorris to Galway train service scenario, “ The biggest rail growth is Tuam -Galway which is to be expected due to the fact that there is currently no direct rail or bus link.” There are approximately 30 bus services between Tuam and Galway daily.
  • Page 112 As if to illustrate the lack of any real regional knowledge behind this report reference is made to Claremorris and Tuam as these two cities”.
  • Figures used on page 9 (figure 7) entitled CBA Outputs, Appendix F, in tables 75,76, and 77 do not add up. It would appear that economists are exempt from the rules of basic mathematics such as addition.

The above statements and errors contained in this EY DKM/Mott McDonald report are seriously misleading and, together with massive over-inflation of the costs have clearly contributed to a deeply flawed Cost Benefit Analysis and Financial Appraisal in this report.

Serious questions must now be asked concerning the reported €0.5m exchequer funds spent on this report and the oversight exercised in its preparation under the Terms of Reference and the Terms of Engagement.

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Gold-plating and Overpricing the WRC Project 

Section 5. Costs

This section does not quantify how it comes to its conclusions re costs. However, by only looking at a 90 mph railway, costs are immediately inflated. It is clear that the consultants have not visited the line north of Tuam, as the maximum line speed due to curvatures of the line is 80 mph.  It could not achieve 90mph unless realigned and rebuilt. Significantly, that is not proposed in this study

By pricing the project as a 90 mph project, all level crossings and user and accommodation crossing would have to be signalled or removed. This adds significant capital cost as is shown in the report. Phase 1 of the WCR was opened at a base speed of 60 mph and raised to 80 mph where appropriate. It would have been more appropriate to cost the line at a design speed of 80 mph.

Page 47; Mott McDonald, for EY DKM, benchmarked their costings for the 55km Athenry to Claremorris railway against projects such as the £1.1bn Oxford-Cambridge East West Rail Phase 2 in the UK (which involves a double track, acquisition of private lands estimated at £55m, tunnels and  bridges at £36m, earthworks estimated at £337m, highway works of £108m, professional advisors at £73m).

Instead of benchmarking it against the equidistant Phase 1 of the Western Rail Corridor which was conducted in-house on budget by Iarnród Eireann at a total cost of €96m, for the new 55km section between Ennis and Athenry to an 80mph standard with three new stations, EY have chosen to compare it to a hugely expensive project in England.

5.3.1 Permanent way

This is costed at €63.6 m for 52 km or 33 miles of track. This is seriously excessive. IE in house can deliver a mile of new CWR installed and stressed, including the digging out of 300mm of old ballast and replacement for approximately €1m per mile or €635k per km.  This suggests that the capital costs for renewing the track would be €33m or approximately half the EY estimate. With a 20% contingency a budget of €40 million would certainly be deliverable. This should include switches and points.

The E&Y report suggests three passing loops (again inflating costs), when in reality only one (1) would be required at Tuam, to maintain an hourly service and provide an hourly freight path.

Conclusion: We know from phase 1 the cost is €1m per mile. This base cost seems to have been over costed by €40m

5.3.2 Signalling

At €55m approx. this is one of the most overpriced elements of the report. We are informed that the signalling could in fact be done for £8.4m. Their figure may include the price for a loop at Tuam (€7m) and perhaps contingency for connecting in the line at both ends (€3m), but even with this it is over priced by €35.9m

5.3.3 Bridges

€18.4 million has been allocated for this. With 78 structures this is €236k per structure. CIE/IE are legally required to maintain structures particularly where they interface with public rights of way. A more reasonable allocation would be about €100k per structure which would suggest a base line budget of €7.8 m. Even with a 20 % contingency this would suggest the base line budget should be €9.36m (again half the EY estimate). Phase 1 had a  80 bridges with a budget of  €8.8m or an average spend of £110K per structure.

This indicates that the costs here have been inflated by 100% i.e. overcosting it by €9m.

5.3.5 Stations

Despite the importance of reopening Tuam, no figure has been given for stations. Gort station with 2 platforms was delivered for €2.7m, so a contingency for Tuam station should be no more than €4m. Bizarrely, the report also fails to acknowledge that Claremorris is an open station and that the facilities being proposed such as car park and ticket machines are already in place.

5.3.6 Civil Engineering

€4.5m has been allocated for civil engineering works. The key element is for the subsidence south of Tuam for 1200m at Cloonascragh 73¾ MP. However, railway engineers estimate that €2m may be enough, again half the cost estimated by EY.

5.3.7 Passing loop

A passing loop for Oranmore, is incorrectly included by EY at a cost of €7.4m. This loop project is an already-existing rail proposal and is being funded elsewhere! Over costing of €7.4m.

5.3.8 Rolling stock

€25m is allocated for Rolling Stock. The consultants should have been aware of DART expansion and the fact that IE have no plans to purchase DMUs. A tender for 600 + BEMU has been issued and with the Maynooth Line electrification sufficient DMUs will be released to operate the WRC. So there is no net cost to the WRC. Over costing of €25m.

 Preliminaries

There is no clear explanation as to what is included in the ‘Preliminaries’ budget of €49.5m. Presumably this is for Surveys of assets, designing, office facilities, acquisitions of land and legal expenses. As this is an operational line marked as an engineering siding, and the right of way has been maintained, a railway order is not required. In addition, IE should have an up-to-date asset base of all structures and assets on the route, which might require remedial work to return them to operating condition.  Designs already exist for the signalling and proposed layout for Athenry, Tuam and Claremorris, as outlined in the Faber Maunsell 2005 report and subsequent work by IÉ as recently as 2013.  As all the land is IE/CIE ownership, very little land will need to be acquired. Even if we generously allocated €10m for Preliminaries, this has been over costed by €39.5m.

Conclusion re Overcosting

In summary, based on the above, the actual cost of the project should be circa €95-€100m. With a contingency of 30% we are confident, based on figures supplied to us by railway engineers, that the railway can be reopened for a figure in the region of €130m.

As stated above the project costs have been so grossly inflated that any CBA (Cost Benefit Analysis) will inevitably give a negative result. This is exactly what has happened here.

The EY report overestimates the cost of delivering phase 2 and 3 by some €168.8m

Flawed Demand Modelling

The Demand analysis is seriously flawed and calls into question the entire validity of the report. The forecasts of modal shift between cars and rail is grossly underestimated and shows the limitations of the NTA model used. Forecasts for passenger numbers appear to plateau after 2029. The underlying assumption appears to be that there will be no population growth in the areas served by the railway. This needs to be challenged as the regional development strategy for the next 20 years in the region is geared towards population growth and consolidation of towns such as Tuam.

The report states that the demand modelling is based on the following assumptions (P6):

  • An hourly train service in each direction running over a 15-hour day. 15 services each way, hourly
  • 90 mph design speed
  • Claremorris to Galway direct
  • Stations serviced – stopping at Claremorris, Tuam, Athenry, Oranmore and Galway
  • 2 car ICR fleet
  • Fare – in line with existing fares
  • Interchange at Athenry for Limerick service – no demand for travel to Dublin modelled
  • 1 additional freight train
  • Population growth over next 20 years is Nil
  • Tuam population reduced from 8767 (2016 census figures) to 1059 (EY report)
  • Only 22% of car journeys would switch to rail

The model used to forecast demand is the model used by the National Transport Authority (NTA) to forecast demand.

On its website the NTA states the model is based on the following assumptions:

The modelling methodology can be summarised as following:

  • Projected land use and population distribution is agreed upon for a future year, and the area under examination is divided into zones.
  • Based on this land use, the number of trips generated by and attracted to each zone is calculated.
  • Following this the number of trips between each origin and destination is calculated, as well as the mode share for each pair.
  • These trips are assigned to the future year transport network.”

Source: https://www.nationaltransport.ie/planning-and-investment/transport-modelling/

However, the NTA model has been fed wrong data:

  • The population figures for Tuam quoted in the EY report are one eighth of the actual population figures.
  • No population growth is assumed – the Northern and Western Regional Assembly Spatial Strategy and the Ireland 2040 project for population growth are completely ignored.
  • There is no model of any trips to Dublin from the proposed catchment area.

The NTA model itself is heavily biased towards road outcomes; the draft NTA transport strategy for Limerick was rejected recently by stakeholders as it almost completely ignored the local rail infrastructure in the Limerick Metropolitan area, resulting in an instruction to the NTA to go back and rewrite the report. In the case of the proposed rail extension to Navan, the same NTA model forecast that an express bus route would meet the needs of commuters to Dublin alone. The result was that the Navan rail extension was cancelled and the Bus Eireann Navan Express service was introduced instead, which has resulted in passengers being left behind due to full buses and no discernible modal shift to public transport from the private car for that route.

The estimates for reduction of road traffic are not credible, there is an underlying assumption that most car commuters will not get out of their cars and there is no provision for examining longer distance journeys e.g. from Tuam to Dublin.

The whole modelling in this section has to be questioned. The demand modelling should have been based on the proposed maximum line speed of 90 mph yet the timings indicate an average speed of only 33 mph! Why was only one demand model looked at? Most railways in Ireland are not 90 mph. A 90-mph cost will require all user crossings to be removed, adding significant cost. Both the Galway and Mayo Main lines have a top speed of 80, as does Ennis-Athenry which was initially delivered as a 60mph railway when reopened in 2010.

A 90 mph inflates the cost by at least 30 %.

Why is there one option and no engineering option appraisals?

The ‘Logit Model’ used by EY treats rail as a high-class bus service and experience elsewhere shows that it is poor on picking up new journey opportunities. A prime example of this was the reopening of the 30 mile Borders rail line in Scotland. When the line reopened in September 2015 it forecasted 568,023 journeys for 1st six months but it actually carried 694,373 journeys, so an underestimation of 126,350.

Of 3 key baseline models outlined in appendix D, Model B is used as the baseline for the business case. Model B, is based on 30 min Claremorris- Tuam and 30 min Tuam-Athenry.  This proposes a journey of an hour to cover 33 miles and call at one station between Claremorris and Athenry   – an average speed of 33 mph on 90mph capable railway.

A realistic journey time would be Claremorris – Tuam based on 80 mph running of 20 minutes for 17 ¼ miles (an average of 51.75mph) and 15 min for 15¾ miles between Tuam and Claremorris (63mph) or 45 min for Claremorris -Athenry at average speed of 56.5 mph with 2 stops. It is also estimated that with some improvements between Athenry and Galway – a 15-minute journey time would be delivered. This would deliver a Claremorris – Galway journey of 46 miles in 60 minutes with 4 stops.

EY Appraisal Report – Download

JASPERS’ Project Screening Report – Download