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.