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Irish Rail sets out stall

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Iarnród Éireann (IÉ) recently responded to the Irish Government’s ‘National Planning Framework’ (NPF) consultation in relation to the future national transport needs of the Republic, Tim Casterton reports.

This in lay terms was the key opportunity for IÉ to set out its market stall to the government. IE outlined the benefits of rail for passenger journeys, commuting and longer-distance business and leisure and also the carriage of freight.

The ability to reduce national carbon emissions through modal transfer from road is a key theme, with IÉ stating that a four-lane motorway has just one third the carrying capacity of a two-track commuter railway (noting also the difficulty in constructing new road capacity in urban areas).

Roads in Dublin are now amongst the worst congested in Europe – testimony that past policy failings have facilitated continued car dependency in Ireland. The NPF consultation is additional to the land transport policy review undertaken by the National Transport Authority (NTA) and the Department of Transport, Tourism & Sport’s (DTTaS) to assess future investment levels for rail within the Republic to 2040 and beyond.

IÉ has developed a business vision which extends infrastructure and rolling stock investment to enable maximum contribution to the transport network by journey time improvements, better service frequencies on high-volume commuter and Intercity lines and better connectivity across Dublin. The IÉ response is not slow to point out that rail has the greatest potential for attracting motorists from cars – a principal objective in ‘Smarter Travel’.


IÉ expounded the key benefits of the railway in a national planning context with rail enjoying a high market share on routes between key economic centres, for example Westport-Dublin (40 per cent), Cork-Dublin (39 per cent), Sligo-Dublin (33 per cent) and Limerick-Dublin (26 per cent), the correct use of such data rather than misleadingly including areas where there are no rail services and road transport taking 100 per cent of the market.

Rail enables tourism, a key economic factor in Ireland, with around 260,000

overseas tourists and 770,000 domestic tourists using the rail network each year – this without a rail connection to Dublin Airport. The luxury tourism market now uses rail with the Rail Tours Ireland ‘Emerald Isle Express’ launched in 2014 followed by Steam Dreams ‘Emerald Isle Explorer’ and the Belmond Grand Hibernian sleeper train introduced in 2016. Cruise liner passengers can now use dedicated trains from Cobh (near Cork) to get to Cork or Killarney.


Other benefits of rail are also highlighted, such as social inclusion and accessibility for persons with disabilities (11 per cent of journeys made under Government free travel scheme), safety – IÉ having one of the best safety records in Europe (highlighting 1,300 road fatalities from 2010-16 cost the Republic over €2 billion), environmental and sustainable (IÉ’s 2020 emission reduction target already surpassed), almost 75 per cent less greenhouse gases per passenger km than road vehicles and freight using 15-25 per cent of the direct energy per tonne-kilometre than transport by road.

In the Greater Dublin Area, road congestion is estimated to cost up to €650 million per annum whilst services like the DART have alleviated the problem with over half a billion passenger journeys since opening in 1984. Growth of a third in commuting with matching increases in road congestion are expected by 2041 and rail therefore needs to help alleviate this even more.


The IÉ response highlights the need to address previous journey time advantages between cities that were eroded with recent motorway construction in the Republic, mostly completed by 2010. Recently some redress of this has taken place on the Dublin – Cork main line to increase the number of 100mph stretches and the 06:15 Cork to Dublin service now achieves a 2hr 15min schedule. More infrastructure investment on all major rail routes to allow more competitive journey times and increased train frequencies is crucial to allow rail to be a part of the sustainable and balanced national transport network.

Adequate funding for maintenance and renewal is vital for rail and further capacity works in the Dublin area is also required. The cross-border service from Dublin to Belfast, part of the European TEN-T Core network, requires infrastructure investment to raise speeds to 100mph and service frequency to hourly as well as future electrification. End-to-end journey time improvements are recommended as: Dublin – Belfast 1.5 hours, Dublin to Cork: two hours and Dublin to other provincial cities: less than two hours. This aim is to underpin the future viability of Intercity service operations and promote better regional and inter-regional transport attracting more tourism and discretionary rail travel giving environmental and economic benefits and savings.


Iarnród Éireann considers that the DART expansion programme should be the priority transport project for the greater Dublin area and that, once completed, it would benefit the network as a whole. Further electrification out to Drogheda, Maynooth and Hazelhatch would bring major environmental benefits and reduced emissions. The construction of the DART Underground tunnel to link the ‘northern line’ with the Kildare line is a key factor and includes a number of new city centre stations. IÉ are currently engaging with the NTA to look at technical solutions that could reduce costs for the project.


IÉ considers that a DART link to Dublin Airport, where passenger numbers are hitting new records each year, is vital despite this not being included in the National Transport Authority (NTA) strategy for greater Dublin.

IÉ has identified an undeveloped alignment and has noted that it should be preserved to enable future connection from the airport to the DART and the Dublin – Belfast Enterprise service with a new junction at Clongriffin. This aim supports the EU White Paper – ‘Roadmap to a Single European Transport Area’ which sets as a key objective the connection of core EU airports to the TEN-T rail network which includes Belfast – Dublin – Cork in Ireland.

Dublin Airport was accounted Europe’s fastest-growing airport last year, handling 28 million passengers with growth expected to hit 40 million passengers in the relatively near future. The government currently favours the ‘Metro North’ scheme, a brand new standard gauge rail link between Dublin and the Airport, however IÉ considers the DART extension would complement the New Metro North proposal and significantly reduce road congestion on the approaches to the airport, particularly along the very congested M50 and its approach roads.


Rail to regional cities requires sustainable development within the rail network catchment areas to support existing and possible new stations. Several routes suffer presently from low population densities. In the Cork area, the local authorities are seeking new stations on the Cork to Mallow main line, these linked to local developments that would increase population density. IÉ supports this proposal. Galway requires additional track capacity between the city and Athenry to support enhancement for commuter services and, on the Galway to Limerick line, IÉ would wish to see the flooding issues in east Clare (Ennis area) addressed to warrant increased service frequencies.

The key message from IÉ to the NPF is that the targeted development of rail services along with other wider initiatives could support a critical mass of population and economic activities in the regional cities and counter balance the concentration of growth in the Dublin area.


The response touches briefly on freight highlighting that, despite generating less than a quarter of the emissions of road haulage and advantages in road decongestion, it is not supported in any way by state funding and operates on a purely commercial basis. The NPF looks towards ways of improving both the national carbon footprint and reducing road congestion.

There is a clear message in the response that the absence of state funding for capital investment to attract modal switches, new traffic will only be gained where there is a very strong commercial focus, this currently limiting it role to niche markets. Capital funding would be required to invest in both new terminals and rolling stock unless a third-party funded those elements. New rail freight business opportunities that could require investment and policy support include biomass, mineral ore and pulpwood amongst other traffics. Many of the Republic’s export comedies use rail including zinc ore, timber products, soft drinks and health supplies (this being the top export commodity with an annual value of $31 billion).


IÉ owns and operates Rosslare Europort, situated in the south east of the country and the nearest port to the European mainland. The port is the second-largest seaport in Ireland for unitised road freight and is crucial for the economy and employment in the regional hinterland and the national economy. IÉ states the need to improve connectivity to the Port, noting that the direct link to mainland Europe will be more vital post Brexit.

A desire to deepen the port to accommodate modern larger high-capacity vessels and develop the port into a multi-modal facility including the development of a rail-freight interface is expressed. The South Eastern coast line from Dublin serves Rosslare for passengers and there is also the currently out of use (but still intact) line to Waterford and the west. The two priorities would deliver great benefits to the regional and national economy and take some pressure off an increasingly congested Dublin.


IÉ’s highlighting these proposals in its response isn’t just a shopping list for funding, but a list of proposals that will help the Irish economy develop and help meet environmental targets.

Relief of congestion in cities will keep business flowing and reduce CO2 emissions, new commuter services will get people in to work, improved Intercity will help boost the tourism market and better airport connectivity will boost Dublin International Airport.

More rail freight would assist manufacturing businesses and the economy with better links to Europe via the ports, however a fresh look at the benefits of modal-change funding for economy boosting businesses by the Government may be needed. So clearly not just a wish list, but a list of proposals to lift the Republics economy.