Telephone: (+353 1) 677-1871
Web site: https://www.cie.ie
Sales: $1.4 billion (2017 est.)
NAICS: 485112 Commuter Rail Systems; 485113 Bus and Other Motor Vehicle Transit Systems
Based in Dublin, Ireland, the statutory corporation Córas Iompair Éireann (Irish Transport Company; CIÉ) serves as Ireland's national public transportation provider, dividing its activities among three primary operating companies. The subsidiary Iarnród Éireann provides intercity and regional rail passenger and freight service and also operates Rosslare Europort, a seaport on the southeastern coast of Ireland. Another subsidiary, Bus Átha Cliath (Dublin Bus), operates a fleet of 950 buses that service a variety of Dublin-area passenger bus routes, including sightseeing tours. Another CIÉ subsidiary, Bus Éireann, offers interurban coach services; Eurolines coach services to England and Europe; city bus services in the cities of Cork, Galway, Limerick, and Waterford; commuter bus services radiating from Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway, and Waterford; local bus service in smaller communities throughout Ireland; and school bus services. Nearly 500 of the company's 1,200 coaches and buses are dedicated to school transport services. An additional CIÉ subsidiary, CIÉ Tours International, Inc., provides tour packages, mostly catering to visitors from the United States. CIÉ is a government-owned enterprise.
Ireland's rail system took shape during the mid-1800s. The Transport Act of 1944 brought together the Great Southern Railways and Dublin United Transport under the auspices of a single private company, Córas Iompair Éireann, which was formed on January 1, 1945. At its first annual meeting held the following year, CIÉ established an ambitious plan, including rate and fare cuts by as much as 20 percent and a conversion to diesel engines. The plan also called for the withdrawal of main-line stopping services and the closure of certain branch lines. However, CIÉ had to first overcome fuel shortages caused by World War II. With the end of the war later in 1945, supplies improved temporarily but soon a lack of fuel forced the suspension of all passenger services. Coal began arriving in large quantities from the United States in 1947 and rail service was gradually restored as supplies accumulated. Regardless, CIÉ found its financial situation growing increasingly precarious. The company had managed a small profit in 1945 but two years later it was operating with a deficit of £1 million.
In 1958 the Great Northern Railway, which served all of Ireland, was dissolved as part of the Great Northern Railway Act. CIÉ inherited about half of Great Northern's locomotive and rolling stock fleets and the southern routes, while the rest of the assets and routes were allocated to the Ulster Transport Authority. Over the next decade, CIÉ modernized its rail system and made other improvements, and in 1963 it adopted a new corporate identity.
Over the years, CIÉ continued to accumulate a deficit, which increased to more than £3 million by 1969, due primarily to the rail system. A study was commissioned from McKinsey, a U.S. consulting firm, which concluded that closing the railway would actually cause more economic damage to the country than investing in changes and improvements. Those improvements would include the creation of the Dublin Area Rapid Transit (DART), an electric rail system. When it opened in 1984, it was met with immediate approval from the public.
The McKinsey consultants also examined CIÉ's structure and recommended that it be divided into three operating companies: railway services, provincial road passenger services, and bus services. It was not until a 1984 government report, Building on Reality 1985–1987, that steps were taken to reorganize CIÉ. However, instead of eliminating it altogether, CIÉ became the holding company for the three operating entities. In February 1987, pursuant to the Transport (Reorganisation of Córas Iompair Éireann) Act of 1986, the changes to CIÉ were completed, which resulted in three subsidiary companies: Irish Rail, later assuming the Gaelic name Iarnród Éireann, was responsible for all rail services within the country; Bus Átha Cliath was responsible for Dublin-area bus services; and Bus Éireann was responsible for the remaining bus services. CIÉ also owned miscellaneous assets, including nine Great Southern Hotels that were divested in 1990.
After a fare increase in 1991, fares remained unchanged for much of the decade, due in large part to CIÉ's efforts at cost containment. In 1997 these reductions and the largest number of passengers in 20 years allowed CIÉ to post a IEP 5 million profit, after having lost IEP 56 million the year before. However, it was an isolated occurrence. The railway continued to accumulate losses that required tax payer subsidies.
Demands that CIÉ find a way to pay its own way intensified from politicians and the public. During the late 1990s the government moved slowly toward a privatization program that would affect CIÉ, as well as the state bank, health insurance, electricity, airports, oil and gas, telecommunications, and state-owned ports. Plans for CIÉ included Bus Átha Cliath and Bus Éireann becoming separate independent companies and the removal of geographical operational restrictions. Iarnród Éireann was to be split into two independent entities. One would be responsible for the railway network and remain state-owned, while the other, a private company, would provide the actual rail services.
Efforts at cost control inevitability led to confrontations with labor. In January 2003, 9,000 bus and rail workers went on strike for a day in response to reports that Seamus Brennan, the minister for transport, was making plans to break up CIÉ, which was seen as a prelude to the privatization of public transportation. Unions feared that such a move threatened jobs. In subsequent talks with union chiefs, Brennan did not back away from the idea of abolishing CIÉ. In early 2004 union representatives walked out of ongoing talks, furious over Brennan's proposal to divide CIÉ into three companies and privatize a quarter of Dublin bus routes. On the eve of a nationwide bus and train strike, Brennan was able to coax the unions back to the table.
Brennan failed to achieve the breakup of CIÉ before his death in 2008. The Dublin Transport Authority Act of 2008 did, however, give the minister for transport the power to appoint the directors of the subsidiary companies, rather than the CIÉ chair. The following year brought the establishment of the National Transport Authority (NTA), which assumed oversight over CIÉ's greater Dublin-area operations. Government funding also began to be reduced, starting in 2008. Over the next five years the annual subsidy was cut 41 percent.
In early 2009 plans were unveiled to restructure Dublin bus routes, changes that could result in the loss of about 300 jobs. Other CIÉ operations were expected to shed another 300 jobs. CIÉ also sought rail fare increases but was turned down by the NTA during the summer of 2010. After bus ridership was reduced by 25 million that year, CIÉ applied in February 2011 to the NTA for fare increases on both rail and bus tickets. As the year came to an end, NTA approved the fare increases, which became effective at the start of 2012.
The fare hikes did not provide immediate relief, and in July 2012 CIÉ informed the government that it would run out of cash by the end of September and be forced to start shutting down public transportation services. The government responded with an emergency infusion of €36 million. In return, CIÉ was expected to sell some assets and find additional ways to cut costs. Subsequently, CIÉ began cost-cutting talks with union leaders but little progress was made. In January 2013 Bus Éireann workers voted to go on strike, a move that had the potential of spilling over to Bus Átha Cliath as well as to rail workers. Renewed negotiations averted the strike, but with no progress in May 2013, Bus Éireann workers went on a two-day strike before an agreement on a 48-hour stay was reached to enter into mediated talks with the Labour Relations Commission. To add pressure, Bus Átha Cliath and Iarnród Éireann drivers threatened to join the Bus Éireann strikers. Despite the two-year deadline, the cost-cutting negotiations lingered into the fall. Finally, temporary wage cuts were imposed.
CIÉ's financial and labor problems were far from resolved. Iarnród Éireann continued to struggle and threatened to pull down all of CIÉ with it. In 2014 Iarnród Éireann considered the appointment of an examiner to run the company, a move that would invariably result in severe cost-cutting measures and create a ripple effect with CIÉ's sister bus companies. In protest, rail workers conducted a two-day strike in August 2014.
Iarnród Éireann managed to stay out of receivership, but CIÉ's problems persisted. After a Labour Court recommended an 8.3 percent pay raise for Bus Átha Cliath workers and the raise failed to materialize, drivers engaged in a series of two-days strikes in 2016. An indefinite strike by Bus Éireann workers followed in March 2017 after Bus Éireann's management's decision to proceed with unagreed-to measures related to work practices and the cancellation or reduction of some Expressway routes.
Bus Átha Cliath; Bus Éireann; Iarnród Éireann.
Arriva PLC; FirstGroup plc; National Express Group PLC.
“CIE in Race to Offload Key Assets.” Sunday Business Post (Dublin), July 29, 2012.
“Commuters Could Dodge Fare Rises by Ditching Cash.” Times (London), October 28, 2017, 2.
Moonan, Niall. “Commuters Face 20% Transport Price Jump; CIE Demands Hike and Drivers Will Be Hit Too.” Mirror (London), July 29, 2002.
O'Connor, Michael M. “Ireland Sales Ahead.” Privitisation International, October 2000, 18.
“Plans to Slash Dublin Bus Service Put on Hold.” Belfast Telegraph (Ireland), December 14, 2010.
“Public Faces Fourth Day of Travel Disruption.” Irish Examiner (Dublin), March 27, 2017.
Schiller, Kistan. “Irish Roots: A Thriving CIE Tours International Draws on the Appeal of Irish Heritage and Caters to the Agent Community.” Travel Agent, September 16, 2002, 50.