Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

The Irish Rail network – my thoughts on expansion

Posted in Commuter, Customer service, High Speed, Infrastructure, Ireland, Rolling stock by Chairman Pip on 13 December 2009

Boring I know, but this has been floating around in my head for some time, so I thought I’d note it down. In background, the island of Ireland, as most of you will know, is split between two countries – six counties in the north-west of the island (Antrim, Armagh, Derry, Down, Fermanagh, Tyrone) are called Northern Ireland which is part of the United Kingdom, while the remaining 26 form the Republic of Ireland. Today, the railways are run by two state owned companies, Northern Ireland Railways and Iarnród Éireann. In Northern Ireland, the railway is primarily formed as a commuter network around Belfast, with only two significant inter-city lines. One runs to Northern Ireland’s second city, Derry, while the other connects Belfast and Dublin. In the Republic, the majority of inter-city lines radiate from Dublin, to Cork, Sligo, Galway and Westport, and Rosslare, with services to other cities branching off these lines. The only inter-city line not out of Dublin is the line from Limerick to Rosslare; Dublin has a significant commuter network, as does Cork.

The Irish government has begun a major programme of railway expansion – it is restoring a major line from Limerick called the ‘Western Railway Corridor’, which will link several towns in the west of the country. The commuter network around Cork is being expanded, while the network is also being restored to the commuter town of Navan. Northern Ireland Railways meanwhile has spent money improving its existing network, with the lines from Belfast to Bangor and Larne completely re-laid, while work is due to begin relaying the Derry line from Coleraine.

So, what do I think should be done?

High Speed Rail – the highest speed on the rail network is 100mph, which puts Belfast and Dublin potentially two hours apart with four intermediate stops, while Dublin and Cork are just under three hours apart with three intermediate stops. So, first off, a pair of true high speed lines, with a speed of at least 140mph, that would connect Dublin with Belfast and Cork, which, if non-stop, would shave over an hour off the time. This would run parallel to the existing lines, but would be built to standard gauge (the distance between the two rails) rather than Irish gauge. To explain, standard gauge, as in Great Britain, is 1,435mm, while Irish railways are gauged at 1,600mm for historical reasons. Building these high speed lines to standard gauge would allow connection through an ‘Irish Sea Tunnel’ to any potential British high speed network, allowing through rail travel.

Cross-Country network – because the majority of rail routes radiate from Dublin, most rail journeys need to go through the capital, even if they don’t terminate there. This obviously will take significantly more time. The Western Railway Corridor will alleviate this by linking Limerick, Athenry, Claremorris and (eventually) Sligo. However, this will still not allow travel across the country without going through Dublin. A small but significant connection would be between Mullingar and Athlone via Moate, which will connect the town of Galway to an alternate route into Dublin, while a route off the Sligo line to Cavan could then connect with the Belfast main line.

Northern Ireland Network Enhancement – not my idea. An independent researcher from Dublin has made the suggestion to enhance the network in Northern Ireland by restoring links to several major towns in the west, including Omagh, Enniskillen, Strabane and Armagh to both Belfast and Derry. This would also have the effect of linking the currently railway barren portion of the north-west of Ireland into the rest of the network, and would also increase the cross-country coverage.

The north-west – the counties of Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan currently do not have a foot of operational railway. The Northern Ireland proposal would potentially link to the town of Letterkenny in Donegal via Strabane, which would allow direct rail travel between Donegal and Dublin. There are also proposals to link Letterkenny and Sligo, which would create a complete rail loop around the whole island. As I’ve also stated, there was a prior route from the Sligo line to Cavan, which could restore through travel to both here and Monaghan.

Anyway, that’s what I think.

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