A DRIVER shortage in Cork is forcing Irish Rail to transfer passengers onto buses on commuter routes to Cobh and Midleton, adding to journey times and raising questions about the Government’s commitment to public transport.
Commuter passengers from Midleton and Cobh have been transferred onto buses on a number of occasions in recent months while Irish Rail drivers are prioritised for the Cork-Dublin and Cork-Tralee trains, and the privately-run Belmond Grand Hibernian service, which is pulled by an Irish Rail engine.
The situation, which adds to commuter journey times, has led to sharp criticism of the Government’s commitment to improving public transport and raised concerns that people will continue to opt for car travel.
Figures obtained by Fianna Fáil enterprise spokesperson and Cork North Central TD Billy Kelleher show there are meant to be 54 drivers based out of Cork, but Irish Rail is down 16 drivers due to long-term sick leave, retirements, and deaths. Irish Rail said there are currently five vacancies in Cork, but the availability of staff has been impacted further by long-term illnesses and annual leave.
Mr Kelleher said the Government has made “grandiose” promises about public transport in the new national development framework, but this is what is happening in reality.
“The idea that we don’t have enough train drivers is a damning indictment on this Government’s failure to invest in the public transport system.
“It’s a betrayal of what we are trying to do as a city in trying to encourage people to use public transport,” he said.
A spokesperson for Irish Rail said the company is aware of the issue and that it is not unique to Cork.
“While we make every effort to operate all services, and to ensure peak times and other times of highest demand are unaffected, commuter services can be impacted. However, we have ensured that — in what is a half-hourly Service to and from Cobh and Midleton — that there are not two trains in a row on the same route affected, and that bus transfers are provided where possible,” they said.
They said driver training has resumed and the situation will improve after the summer.
“Unfortunately the extended industrial relations issue over two years which saw driver training halted, while recently resolved, has resulted in a stretch in our driving resources at what is a busy time of the year.
“While this will be an issue through this summer, the resumption in driver training and other transfers internally will see the situation improve thereafter,” they said.