Freight News, Rail

Ireland unveils plan to revitalise rail freight

[ December 6, 2021   //   ]

Iarnród Éireann (Irish Rail-IR) has launched a Rail Freight 2040 Strategy to revitalise the market for freight and increase the mode’s share from its current low base.

Rail Freight 2040 envisages a five-fold increase in the number of rail freight services, to over 100 a week across the network.

IR would seek funding from the European Commission and including the Innovation and Networks Executive Agency as well as the Irish government to fund the plan.

The Strategy encompasses 25 initiatives with a cumulative investment of €500 million, including enhanced connections with sea ports with an ambition to have all the country’s Tier 1 Ports connected to rail. The plans suggest terminals at the container ports at Dublin, Waterford and Cork, along with a connection to the bulk port of Foynes, although this latter would require reinstatement of 20 miles of closed line from Limerick, a project that IR would pursue together with Shannon-Foynes Port. A currently disused line to Cork’s Marino Point would also be reinstated for bulk commodities to and from the port.

Although Shannon-Foynes is currently a bulk port, IR notes that new container services are planned for introduction in 2022 targeting 2% to 6% of the container market nationally within two years, and with aspirations to offer an alternative to Dublin.

A network of intermodal terminals including more inland terminals would be developed, including strategic terminals at Dublin Eastern Gateway and Limerick Junction Western Gateway, along with smaller ‘Tactical’ terminals in Cork, Sligo, the Galway area and Ballina. The latter already has a daily container rail service from the port of Waterford, operated on behalf of logistics firm XPO mainly, though not exclusively, to move products to and from a Coco Cola plant. Prior to that a container train operated from the port of Dublin to Ballina by logistics firm IWT but was halted due to the road congestion caused by a section of street running needed to access the port of Dublin. Routes between Waterford and Dublin and Ballina are cleared for 9’ 6” high containers.

The report suggests that a grade separated junction at the entrance to the port be considered and in the interim operation of off-peak and night time services.

Industrial sites would be connected directly to the rail network, according to the 2040 plan.

There would also be a major investment in the intermodal and bulk wagon fleet  which would allow higher speeds, longer trains, the ability to carry 45’ boxes, temperature controlled units and support track and trace systems.

New bi-mode locomotives would replace the aging diesel fleet which will be life expired by 2030 and would further enhance the green credentials of rail freight and help reduce operating and maintenance costs.

More passing loops would be added to Ireland’s many lines of single track route and some sections would be doubled. There would also be dedicated freight paths to provide competitive journey times and improve reliability.

Historically, IR operated a comprehensive network of container services, centred on Dublin and the port of Waterford, which was the major hub for the former Bell Lines intermodal sea-rail operation.

Although distances in Ireland are mostly relatively short, IR notes that rail is beginning to compete with road on distances of as little as 100km in Europe – for example, the service between Teesport and the new iPort Terminal in Doncaster in North-east England, introduced in 2019.

It also suggests that, with suitable infrastructure, a shuttle service could be developed along the Kildare/Meath-Dublin axes, which currently sees the heaviest road freight flows.

In its report, IR says that Ireland has some of the highest freight track access charges in Europe at around €0.0077 per gtkm, which is not attractive to potential customers. It would carry out a review charges to understand why they are so high compared to other European countries and then identify any additional compensatory funding that may be required.

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