During 2015 Iarnród Éireann (IE) plans to invest €10 million on track improvements on the main Dublin to Cork line with most work concentrated on the 80-kilometre stretch between Hazelhatch in County Kildare and Portlaoise.
Work will take place at weekends between March and November – excluding the holiday period in July and August – and will involve the removal and replacement of degraded ballast, track drainage work and the track geometry will be improved.
Works will progress during 34-hour long possessions and a 54-hour possession over the Easter holiday. IE estimates that up to 80,000 tonnes of ballast will be required.
As a prelude to the introduction of faster running on the Cork to Dublin line, a new non-stop morning peak time service will be introduced after Easter this year. By the end of 2016 much of the route between Hazelhatch and Portlaoise will be available for 100mph running and this will shave around eight minutes off journey times to the west and Limerick.
Additional works over the following two years, including the removal of level crossings and some bridge work, will allow a further journey time reduction from the current two hours 30 minutes to around two hours 15 minutes from Cork to Dublin.
Since the boom years of ‘the Celtic Tiger’ when motorway construction led to a loss of passengers from rail to private cars and coaches, passenger numbers on the Cork route have been eroded. The speeding up of services aims to build on recent successes in post-recession rebuilding of passenger journey numbers.
2014 was a pivotal year for IE, the first year for some time when overall passenger numbers increased, with journeys over the year up by around one million more than in 2013.
Finances over the last few years have become critical due to reduced use of rail as a direct result of the recession. However by tailoring operations to fit circumstances and looking at niche markets such as sporting events, tourism from cruise ships and major concerts, the generation of some additional revenue has been achieved and it is expected that faster journey times on the principal inter-city route will give further opportunity to increase revenue.
Report by Tim Casterton