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FactFind: Is Navan the largest town in the country without a rail line?

Meath’s county town was promised a rail connection in 2005 but there’s still no delivery date.
Jul 23rd 2022, 7:30 AM 31,853 25

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MEATH WEST TD Peadar Tóibín recently claimed that Navan is the largest town in the country that doesn’t have a passenger rail line. Is this accurate and what’s going on with the town’s long-mooted rail link?

A simple look at population stats indicates that there’s another town that holds the title of being worst served on the rail front. The unfortunate honour goes to Swords, Co Dublin.

In the most recent fully complete census, which was carried out in 2016, Swords was found to have a population of 39,248 while Navan’s was 30,173.

The 2022 census hasn’t been finalised yet but preliminary electoral division data provided to The Journal by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) indicates that the populations of both towns have grown in the intervening years and the Dublin suburb remains comfortably larger than its Meath counterpart. (The population of Swords’ electoral divisions grew from 43,933 to 53,507 while Navan’s grew from 31,736 to 35,488)

However, Tóibín – who chairs the ‘Meath on Track’ campaign, which is pushing for the line to be built – argues that taking the train is a much more realistic travel option for people in Swords as there is a station around five kilometres away in Malahide. The closest station to Navan is approximately 27 kilometres away in Drogheda.

“The question of Swords has been mentioned to me before, all I would say is that in practical terms, there is a rail line within five kilometres of Swords. And indeed some people who have a Swords address would live three kilometres from that rail line. Which means, in practical terms, it’s far easier for people to use that station,” Tóibín told The Journal.

You could easily cycle there within 15 minutes or less. People in Navan don’t have that option.

Swords is also set to get a rail connection when Metrolink finally opens (all going to plan) in the early 2030s. Construction on that long-planned project is set to get underway in 2025.

So, what’s going on with Navan’s rail line?

In a story that will sound familiar to people from many places across Ireland, Navan had a passenger rail line for around 100 years before it was shut down as part of a wide scale rationalisation of the railway network in the 1950s and 1960s.

In 2005 residents of the Meath town were promised that a rail link with Dublin would return as part of the government’s Transport 21 investment programme. Phase one of that plan was completed in 2010 but it culminates over 30 kilometres from Navan at the M3 Parkway terminus station, just west Dunboyne.

commuter-rail-service-traveling-via-maynooth-to-dublins-pears-station-travelling-by-train-in-ireland Source: Alamy Stock Photo

Navan is a major commuter town, with thousands of its residents travelling the 45 kilometres to and from Dublin every day for work.

The line was originally due to open in the mid-2010s and Tóibín says many people bought houses in the town with the expectation that they would be able to take the train into jobs in the capital.

Indeed, in 2010 then-transport minister Noel Dempsey gave a “cast iron guarantee” that the rail link would be finished by 2016.

However, as things stand in 2022, no route has been selected and the only timeframe for delivery is sometime between 2031 and 2042 (as set out in the Greater Dublin Area Transport Strategy 2022-2042).

An assessment report carried out for the National Transport Authority (NTA) last year said there is “a need for intervention as the status quo bus service is not serving the transportation needs of people travelling the corridor between Meath and Dublin.”

It added that the situation is “likely to degrade further in the future as population and congestion along the route increase.”

Both the transport strategy and the assessment report note that Navan has experienced rapid population growth in the last two decades. Its population grew by 20% in the 10 years between 2006 and 2016 and projections predict the population of Meath, as a whole, will hit the quarter of a million mark by 2040.

“In Navan at the moment, you can’t stand still for too long because someone will build a house on top of you,” Tóibín said. “There’s literally houses being built all over Navan at the moment, at a fierce rate, and the population of the county is increasing quite significantly.”

Route options

Screenshot 2022-07-20 at 16.32.34 Route options A and B, which both largely follow the historical rail route.

The assessment report outlined two options for a rail route and the option of a “high-capacity coach-type bus” that would have a 15-minute frequency.

‘Option A’ follows the historical rail line that was shut down decades ago while ‘Option B’ broadly follows the same route along with a deviation near Dunshaughlin, to install a station east of Dunshaughlin town centre.

A feasibility study in 2009 selected Option A as the preferred route and it has been protected from development since 2011.

However, an NTA spokesperson told The Journal that work remains to be done on finalising the route and it may end up deviating from both Option A and Option B.

Screenshot 2022-07-20 at 11.50.30 The outcome of the assessment report is broadly outlined in this chart. Source: NTA

Another potential route that’s been touted over the years is to provide passenger services on the existing freight corridor between Navan and Drogheda.

This would then allow commuters to connect to existing services in Drogheda (such as Dublin and Belfast).

The NTA have dismissed this option, arguing that the journey time would not be competitive with driving and the demand does not justify the provision of rail services.

‘Commuter hell’

As well as offering commuters relief from lengthy car journeys Tóibín argues that the Navan-Dublin line would also help people struggling with rising fuel costs and would contribute to tackling the climate crisis by taking cars off the road.

peadar Peadar Tóibín chairs the ‘Meath on Track’ campaign. Source: Leah Farrell

He noted that transport minister Eamon Ryan spoke in favour of the project in recent Dáil debates but said the saga has run on for so long that it must go beyond the wishes of specific government ministers and timescales and finance need to be committed.

“Thousands of families every day are living in a commuter hell in Meath as a result of what’s happening,” the Aontú leader said.

“A commute to Dublin can easily take three hours a day. That has the effect of taking a father or a mother away from their kids for long periods of time.

“By the time they get home they’re not fit to go out to help with football training or any of the normal community activities that people get involved in when they live in an area.

“So it makes that community experience poorer as a result, because people are not fit for it. There’s also a significant cost to it,” Tóibín said.

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