Real Ireland Tour
Created: 31 March 2003
2. THE CAR KINGDOM OF IRELAND
2.1 The Cost of the Car
The motor car is slightly over 100 years old. So far motor car accidents
have killed more than 25 million people, and have injured and disabled 600
million people. In Ireland, over 400 people die annually on the roads and
over 20 are permanently consigned to wheelchairs. Road accidents also cost
an enormous amount of money - £653 million in Ireland in 1994.
The combustion of petrol in the motor car produces carbon dioxide (CO2) and
water. Every car produces four times its weight in CO2 per year. The
build-up of CO2 in the atmosphere is causing the world to warm up and cars
contribute 20 per cent of global CO2 emissions.
Petroleum is a fossil fuel a limited precious resource. We are burning the
Earth's fossil fuel 100,000 times faster than the resource is being
replenished. Almost all petrol burned by motor cars can be considered to be
to be wasted. The average weight of a saloon car is one tonne. The
average weight of an occupant is less than 100kg, so 90 per cent of the
fuel is used to move the car and only 10 per cent to move the occupant.
Because of the various inefficiencies only 10 per cent of the fuel is used
productively to overcome drag, which means that only 1 per cent of the fuel
is used to carry the passenger and 99 per cent is wasted.
2.2 Glen Of The Downs Crossroads.
No one location better epitomises the cross-roads at which Ireland
currently stands. It can continue to spiral blindly into the globalised
economy, consumer disposable , agrochemical industry, motor and heavy goods
vehicle transport dependent system into which the post industrialised world
is engulfing itself. Alternatively its still strong legacy of local
economies and remains of a once great railway system can provide the
foundation for real Sustainable Development.
The country boreens are for the tourist brochures only, as the major
part of the current tranche of European Structural Funds are put into a
massive road building programme, whose effect has only for the first time
provoked any real environmental concern by the road widening through the
Glen of the Downs. At the same time, the Irish rail system, which was one
of the finest in Europe at the time of the foundation of the State, is now
an under invested skeleton. For an independent tourist to travel around
Ireland by public transport, and particularly on the coast, is a difficult
experience and particularly one who wishes to escape the air conditioned
experience of the endless Bus Ring of Kerry tour .
The Glen of the Downs, one of the most evocative names in Ireland, is a
great glacial cut through the landscape, and one of the few areas of
surviving regenerating broad leaf forests in the country. It is also on a
EUROROUTE the officially designated European network of roads, which are
deemed to represent the core of the transport system throughout the Union.
The policy of the European Union willingly abetted by successive road
worshipping Irish governments, is to provide a motorway link between the
container and roll on roll off ports of Rosslare and Larne, tied into a C
Ring Route around Dublin with access to the Port. From the hub of Dublin is
then stretched the whole series of National Primary Routes, so that
ultimately, the dream of Padraig Flynn will be realised, and the road to
Kerry, as well as Castlebar will be of the same capacity, scale and
construction standard as the Newbridge by-pass which was the first section
of the future national motorway network to be completed in Ireland and
rendered the scale of the existing Naas dual carriageway redundant. Other
motorway sections all across the country have since been completed,
including the massive Dunleer by-pass and others such as the Arklow By pass
near completion. Within the next few years, the pieces will all start to
add up and Ireland will suddenly be like everywhere else with its own big
car and lorry choked motorways.
2.3 Moving the Bottleneck.
The effect of the Glen of the Downs scheme is part of a plan to drag the
country into the dreary motor car domination of places like Belgium. It
will also expose Wicklow and Arklow to increased dormitory town road
dependent commuter first time home buyer development and thus generate
increased traffic levels defeating the very purpose for which the road is
This dormitory traffic is already generating a huge arc of congestion
funnelling around Dublin from Drogheda, Navan and Newbridge and now in an
increasingly wider arc from Dundalk, Mullingar and Portlaoise. In order to
get on the housing ladder and find a place suitable to bring up children
couples are forced to accept longer and longer car dependent travel
2.4 The Statistics.
If anybody thinks that Dublin, in particular, and Ireland, in general, is
already a very much motor car dependent society, then the future plans
which the car manufacturing, petro-chemical industry, road haulage and road
construction sectors have for us are revealing. While in this current
economic "boom", Ireland may have reached record levels of car ownership,
it still has one of the lowest percentage ownership rates in Europe.
According to the latest figures available, France, Western Germany, Italy
and Great Britain, all have fifty private cars or more per hundred people.
Iceland, Switzerland, Belgium and Austria, have between forty and fifty
cars per hundred people. Norway, Finland, Holland, Spain and Denmark,
along with Northern Ireland (thirty-six) have between thirty and forty cars
per hundred people. The Republic of Ireland has 29.
The motor lobby regards this as not good enough. The Motoring
correspondent for the Sunday Business Post, Fergus O'Dowd epitomises this
attitude. Reflecting the grovelling Third World mentality, which
characterises Ireland's general begging bowl attitude for foreign
multi-national investment. Mr. O'Dowd goes on to plead that "the Celtic
Tiger still has a lot of ground to make up, featuring in the group of
countries with between twenty and thirty cars per hundred people. In this
group Ireland, with twenty-nine cars per hundred is along side Cypress,
Portugal, Greece, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia." Clearly, Mr.
O'Dowd, and, indeed, all his motoring correspondent compatriots would
regard this as some sort of national tragedy that Ireland should be still
alongside what he is implicitly claiming to be a second, or even third,
league of European countries.
To met Mr. O'Dowd's vision of a serious European country, then we must
start having lots more cars to match up with the middle and top league
boys, and, of course all of the exciting by-passes, under-passes, tunnels,
Euroroutes and National Primary Routes, which this will require. Not even
to mention the massive areas of car parks, multi-storey, underground and
2.5 The Neglect of the Railways
It is forgotten that Ireland at the beginning of this century, had, in relation to the density of its population, one of the most impressive rail
systems in Europe, with lines stretching all the way to the perimeters of
the country, Clonakilty, Valencia, Achill and the furthest reaches of
Forgotten amid all of this, near the Glen of the Downs, parallel to the
Dublin/Rosslare Wexford route in which it stands, is one of the oldest rail
lines in the country. It is a meandering route, which follows a longer
distance than that of the comfortable road route from Dublin to Rosslare,
because it takes in both Wicklow and Arklow, and includes, what must be,
some of the most scenic stretches of the Irish rail system through the Vale
of Avoca. Originally it had branches serving Aughrim and Woodenbridge and
at the former Macmine junction a link to Waterford via New Ross.
Because of the complete under-investment in this route, the freight
trains, known as "liners", which once carried goods, no longer use the
line. CIE, itself, closed the Dublin/Rosslare, rail rate freight division
and replaced it with road vehicles. Even for the passenger service for
Wexford/Rosslare, as those who experience its leisurely service will know,
travel and journey times are no faster than they were in the days of the
great steam express locomotives of fifty years ago, and, indeed in some
respects are actually slower, because along areas of the line where the
train has speed restrictions, because of poor track maintenance. Recent
Roscommon and Kerry track subsidence caused derailments have highlighted
this issue, since the limited investment which has gone into the Irish
Railway system has been directed to the Dublin/Cork and Dublin/Belfast
2.6 Relative Travel Times Between Road and Rail.
Forty years ago before the knife of Todd Andrews, Ireland still maintained
most of the great railway system which it inherited on Independence, though
a number of the peripheral western lines and central branches had closed.
For most longer journeys, rail travel was faster than car. This fatal
balance, the attractiveness of rail, in time terms over road, suddenly
slipped in the early 60s with the savage cuts of what were the, admittedly
hugely loss making, peripheral and branch lines by Andrews and the real
beginning of road investment, symbolised by that great symbol of progress
at the time, the Naas dual carriageway.
The case of Waterford encapsulates the whole issue. Forty years ago it
stood in one of the largest and most complex rail hubs in the country.
From its north bank railway station, five lines spread out fan-like towards
Dungarvin, Limerick, Kilkenny/Dublin, New Ross and Rosslare. On the south
bank, just outside the walls of the - Mediaeval city, was the independent
seven mile rail route to Tramore.
From its five platforms, a whole series of journeys could be originated
from Waterford on any morning with a good system of connections and changes
to get to Cork, Galway or anywhere with reasonable efficiency. By the mid
60s, the balance was fatally tipped, passenger services were lost on three
of the lines. Instead of two morning Dublin trains an express and a "slow"
stopping at all of the country halts, one took their place. The closure
of the halts as part of the general Andrews Programme, smaller places in
Kilkenny, like Kilmacow, Mullinavat, Ballyhale and Gowran, meant the demise
of the slow train, and the move over of dependence of large catchment areas
to the motor car.
By the mid 60s, the construction of the Naas dual carriageway suddenly
started to chip into the relative distance between road and rail travel
time. The new diesel locomotives were not significantly more efficient in
time than the old steam express service, because of the speed restriction
on the very much curving railway line between Waterford and Kildare. At
that stage, a car journey from Waterford to Naas was still a drive through
leafy, tree-lined country roads, with winding bends and the prospect of
being trapped for huge intervals of time behind slow moving creamery vans
or other such users of the road.
As the 60s and 70s progressed, a clear strategy became obvious for
eliminating the major bends along the roads, on the grounds of safety and
enhanced speed. This has been followed by the ring road and by-pass
programme, which now means that, outside of peak traffic conditions, a
motor car journey from Waterford to Dublin may be done in under two hours,
whereas the rail journey is not much faster than the original 1940s steam
express time of two hours and twenty minutes, because it take a route
including Kilkenny and Carlow ten miles longer than the road journey via
Carlow only. The continuous track welding done on the stretch of double
line, between Kildare and Heuston Station, has not significantly affected
Railway passenger numbers, and possibility of getting a seat on a train on
a typical journey or finding a half empty carriage, have remained
relatively stable over the thirty year period, with the only increase being
at weekends, a factor caused by student mobility to the Regional Technical
Colleges and other institutions. But at the same time, the level of long
distance users of motor cars has increased hugely disproportionately to a
factor effectively absorbing all of the increased transport mobility demand
for the vastly more complex and mobile society which has developed over the
last thirty years. This disproportionate equation is fatal, and is clearly
worsening. Each new by-pass and each new stretch of dual carriageway
accelerates the process that bit more.
The Ballybrophy, Roscrea , Nenagh, Limerick line hangs on by a thread. On a
typical day a large Diesel and guards van heating tender will flank a
single carriage taking no more than a handful of passengers. Yet at the
same time on the road parallel the thunderous stream of traffic is incessant.