Road verses Rail. Part 1: The case for roads.

By The Helpful Engineer / On / In Infrastructure

Road verses Rail. Part 1. Why do most people prefer rail to road?

Most people, myself included, if asked would say that they prefer train travel to road travel. This is strange when you consider that trucks and cars are far more useful. Quite simply trucks and cars can deliver products and people to the door of virtually every premises or property in the country. In fact the benefits of road over rail are many, see below.

The case for roads 

1. Density of the road network. Ireland has 95,750 km of roads but only 1,900km of rail, some parts of the Country have no train service at all. For delivering small loads, say one container, trains are virtually useless, as they usually have to rely on trucks to bring the product from the nearest station to the destination. Freight trains only become practical when moving large loads from point to point i.e. ore from mines to a seaport or coal to a power station. But those points still need to be on the rail network. However, Ireland has only a few examples of these situations and as an island can use sea transportation if these points are located on the coast. For example, the coal supplied to Moneypoint, the largest coal fired power station in the country is by ship.

2. Speed. With the development of our motorway network, see here, all Irelands cities are now linked with high quality, free flowing roads where the speed limit is usually 120kph. As a result it is now generally slower to travel by train between our cities than road. This is despite much investment in rail infrastructure. For example it can take less than 2 hours and 30 minutes to travel the 252km distance between Dublin and Cork by road. By comparison the average train takes 2 hours 45 minutes, with only one express a day taking 2 hours and 30 minutes.

3. Breakdowns. If there is a problem with a train on a track, i.e. accident or breakdown, it ends up blocking the whole track which has a knock on affect across the network. It is difficult to get the repair crew and their machinery to the stuck train as the line is blocked and there may not be road access close to the rail line.

Compare this to a road, where if there is a breakdown it is hardly noticed by other users. Even if there is a very serious accident which closes the road, you may be able to simply turn around and take a different route.

4. Practicality. Unless the user is travelling to a destination in the immediate vicinity of the train station, they will need to make separate onward travel arrangements if using the train. If a group are travelling together with luggage a car or bus is much more suitable, as everyone can be dropped to the door of their destination.

5. Expense. For people who already own cars and have already paid for insurance, tax etc train tickets are not usually that competitive with the price of petrol. It is generally better for these people to travel by car the exception being if there is no cheap car parking available at their destination.

6. Comfort. In my experience driving or travelling in a car is becoming more comfortable compared to travelling by train. With the ever increasing use of mobile phones and iPods it is hard to relax on train while listening to one side of a conversation, loud music or the smell of someone having crisps or lunch. People seem to speak louder on mobile phones in a train even though it is a relatively quiet environment.

All the reasons above suggest that travelling by road is better than rail, so in our next post we will look at the benefits of trains and try and draw some conclusions.

2 thoughts on “Road verses Rail. Part 1: The case for roads.

  1. Like I said, 10 years on, the proposal to bring 4 tracks down to Kildare never got off the ground and never will, now that there is no money. At the time, I proposed a by-pass track system, which rely on main line trains passing suburban trains at stations. Split the lines into 4 at stations. Adjust the time table to suit. A sophisticated European signal system will have to be adopted, expensive and puts lives at risk, but cheaper than attempting to purchase the land that wasn’t available to either side of the tracks. I remembered a time when it only took 25 mins to get into Dublin from Kildare. Now it’s 40 minutes just to Newbridge. And it’s still 30 minutes on the express to Newbridge. In rail track terms, what they wanted was a 2 up 2 down, 2 slow and 2 fast. It didn’t make any economical sense to have 2 fast tracks that never gets used. Especially when there is only a single track to Limerick, Cork and Galway. Rail has definitely been let down during the boom years. I think despite the recession, Ireland should invest €10B on twin tracks to all major cities. If there is no land, then elevate the train track. You can then double the capacity. Secondly, although pretty pointless for such a small country, High Speed Rail to reduce journeys down to 1 hour between Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick. Obviously no demand for such a service, maybe 2 trains a day.

    1. They have just finished installing four tracks to Hazellhatch. I agree though its doubtful whether four tracks will ever reach Sallins, much less Kildare town. You are right as well about journey times, with all the extra stations the commuter train times are getting slower and slower on the Kildare line. In addition the line is not electric and the disel trains used are very slow accelerating.

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