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The review is expected to be released later this year. Alamy Stock Photo

Officials to bypass Stormont deadlock to publish review of island's rail network

The All-Island Strategic Rail Review is examining how to improve links between the island’s regions and major cities.

TRANSPORT OFFICIALS WILL attempt to bypass the deadlock at Stormont to publish a report proposing reforms to the island’s rail network if the Assembly cannot return.

The All-Island Rail Review, commissioned in June 2021 to improve links between the island’s regions and major cities, requires the approval of governments in both jurisdictions due to its 32-county nature.

This is not possible until Stormont can resume sittings, as The Journal reported earlier this year.

The study is understood to be readying recommendations to reconnect Donegal with Derry and to reverse some greenway proposals in favour of resurrecting old train lines in the west and south-east.

But the department has now told The Journal it will seek to push ahead with publishing a draft review when it is complete in the coming weeks.

It follows calls from a coalition of the island’s rail groups demanding the immediate publication of the report so work can get underway on its proposals. Campaigners have said the mooted actions are needed to ensure regional development and to meet climate emissions targets.

Should the impasse continue in Northern Ireland, department officials will consider a “decision-making framework” set out in recently introduced legislation to see if it can publish the review.

This framework is contained in the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Act 2022 which was passed by the UK Parliament last November to push back the deadline by which a Northern Ireland Executive must be formed. The Bill also contains details on the decision-making powers for civil servants who have been leading departments in the absence of ministers.

The department with responsibility for the rail review in Northern Ireland is the Department of Infrastructure.

It is unclear if publishing the review without Stormont sitting might mean that only work on rail lines in the Republic could take place.


The Journal understands that the report contains draft proposals to construct a new rail-line connecting Letterkenny in Donegal with Derry, along with moves to reverse greenway plans elsewhere in favour of rail.

These include reviving the disused Wexford-Waterford link at Rosslare, and to resume part of the Western Rail Corridor connecting the towns of Athenry in Galway and Claremorris in Mayo.

These lines would focus on freight with the aim of removing haulage vehicles from the road. If successful, there is the possibility of passenger travel resuming on the lines.

Ireland’s Department of Transport said officials from both jurisdictions have worked closely on the All-Island Strategic Rail Review since it was announced almost two years ago.

“Work on the Review is now at an advanced stage, with a draft final report expected in the coming weeks,” the department said.

Following the completion of governance procedures and any environmental consultation, the department said it is “anticipated that the Minister of Transport and Government in Ireland as well as Minister for Infrastructure in Northern Ireland will be asked to approve the review”.

“Should there continue to be an absence of Ministers in the NI Executive, approval will be considered taking into account the decision-making framework set out in the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc.) Act 2022 or relevant legislation in place at the time,” it added.

While there had been calls from rail campaigners for the report to be published this month, the department and Transport Minister Eamon Ryan have confirmed it will be sometime in the “second half” of this year when it is released.

The department said that the review must also go through the appropriate governance procedures on “both sides of the border”, including screening for a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). 

This assessment is to check if any work involved in designing or reviving rail routes may impact on the environment in the vicinity. 

If any SEA is required, it believes a draft copy of the report will be “published for public consultation in Quarter 2″ to allow submissions on the proposals.

“The review will be finalised shortly thereafter, taking account of any changes deemed necessary as a result of the SEA process,” it said.

“It is expected that the final Review will be published in the second half of 2023.”

Joint call

Nine different voluntary rail groups – representing all 32 counties – issued a joint call in February that the review be released.

They sent a letter to the UK government’s Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Chris Heaton-Harris appealing for a way to release the report.

It was also sent to Ryan and a number of political party leaders in the North with the letter proposing four options for publishing the review.

These ranged from Heaton-Harris using the powers of his office or by mandating senior civil service figures in Northern Ireland to make the document public, or for Stormont’s political parties to agree to the release of the review.

The remaining tactic would be for Ireland’s Transport Minister to allow the release of the document in the Republic only.

Eamon Ryan recently told The Journal that there were rail lines that could be opened easily and at little cost.

“It doesn’t even have to be expensive, like reopening the Rosslare to Waterford rail line because it’s been maintained so it’s pretty much there. It’s more a strategic decision,” Ryan said.

He added: “That’s there, that’s sitting idle. If you were to build it new, it would probably cost you €10 to €20 billion.”

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