IRISH RAIL is considering replacing the Waterford to Limerick Junction services with a “rail bus” – a hybrid vehicle which can run on road and rail.
The vehicle, which has double sets of wheels, is one of a number of cost-cutting options on the route which has passenger traffic of only 54,000 people a year.
The rail bus, similar to an ordinary mini bus, is able to drive on either railways or roads and Irish Rail believes its capacity of about 20 seats would meet demand.
Rail bus operations around the world traditionally allow high-cost signalling to be removed from the line, and a rail-mounted vehicle with the operational characteristics of a bus can then run instead. The rail bus offers significant fuel savings.
The Irish Times understands Irish Rail is studying reports on the introduction of such vehicles on little-used routes in Japan
It is also understood that the company is looking at a second tram-like rail carriage which is employed on some low-usage lines in the UK.
The Waterford to Limerick route suffered a near catastrophic setback in 2003 when a cement train derailed on the Cahir viaduct. Twelve wagons fell through the bridge into the River Suir.
The route was reopened after a €3 million repair, after which services between Limerick and Waterford were increased to four per day in each direction. Passenger numbers remained minuscule.
A source said: “The future of the line has been the focus of speculation in years past. But the current cost-reduction programme is very much on achieving savings while maintaining services, and the company is examining some innovative bus-rail type operations suitable for this route.”
Irish Rail estimates a rail bus system on the route could cut costs by 50 per cent.