Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

The Tunnel – how do you do it?

Posted in Freight, Infrastructure, Ireland by Chairman Pip on 6 January 2010

Not the Channel Tunnel of course, because that’s been done. The tunnel I’m thinking of is the Irish Sea tunnel that would potentially connect Great Britain and Ireland. But, you’ll be aware of the problems:

  • Ireland is a lot further away from Great Britain than France is, and so would likely need a longer tunnel.
  • Britain and Ireland have different rail gauges (4ft 8.5in and 5ft 3in)

The dream that most people think of is a direct high speed rail line between London and Dublin which would, if a sufficiently straight route of around 550km was used, take about two and a half hours. Except that would be really fricken expensive. So, my idea would be to build a standard gauge route between Holyhead in Anglesey and Dún Laoghaire in County Dublin – although these are small stations, they both have direct connections to their respective capital cities, but have it used as a shuttle service between the two, both for passengers and freight. This is where further investment would have to come in though, because the tunnel would need to be used for rail freight as well as road freight on shuttle trains (which is the case with the Channel Tunnel). Dún Laoghaire would need to be expanded into a major railhead, linking both with the road network and the port (which would need to be expanded), but also with the Irish rail network so that freight can be easily transferred by rail to the rest of the country. In addition, the passenger line would also need to be improved to allow increased frequency to Dublin, together with a need to link the Dublin-Rosslare line to the rest of the network (perhaps via Kildare), so that passengers would not need to go via Dublin to get to their destinations.

“But hold on” I hear you thinking, “there’s already a massive container port at Rosslare that is already linked to the railway network. Why not build the tunnel to there?”. This is true, but after Bray the line to Rosslare is single track with passing loops, which is not conducive to the kind of intensive service that would be needed. The same is true of the station on the other side of the Irish Sea, Fishguard Harbour, which is equally poorly served. In addition, although there is a line in situ that connects Rosslare to Waterford and Limerick, this again is single track. In economic terms, given that the line as far as Dún Laoghaire is already used by DART, it is of a high enough quality in terms of the track and the signalling (and, more importantly, is already double track), it would cost much less to simply lay a new double track route between Dún Laoghaire and Kildare, than it would to double track both the lines from Rosslare to Dublin and Limerick.

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