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Wednesday 6 December 2023 Dublin: 8°C
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New rail plan for Ireland could double passenger numbers and increase intercity speeds to 200km/hour

However, firm timelines for specific projects included in the All-Island Strategic Rail Review have not yet been published.

PASSENGER NUMBERS ON trains on the island of Ireland will double under a major new rail plan, according to modelling for the strategy.

Upgrades to the intercity rail network could allow top speeds of 200km per hour on routes connecting Dublin, Belfast, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford – making train journeys significantly faster than travelling by car.

ARUP The potential future all-island railway ARUP

The All-Island Strategic Rail Review, prepared for the Department of Transport and the North’s Department for Infrastructure, recommends electrification, new and enhanced routes, greater regional balance and improved speeds and frequency between Ireland’s cities.

If accepted in full by the government, the plan would see an additional 600km of track across the island. It sets out 30 recommendations for developing the rail network along new and old routes, particularly across the west and north.

The plan will cost €36 billion between now and 2050 with €9.2 billion to come from the North.


Firm timelines for specific rail projects under the plan have not yet been set. This is unlikely to happen until strategy is finalised and adopted as government policy.

Three time periods for implementation have been set: short-term ‘interventions’, which are to be delivered by 2030, medium-term interventions to be delivered between 2030 and 2040, and long-term interventions to be delivered between 2040 and 2050.

Transport officials have said that more detailed work will be needed to test the feasibility and affordability of many of the recommendations.

Transport minister Eamon Ryan said this afternoon that the strategy represented a “vision” and was the “most vital step” for the improving the island’s rail network. 

Quizzed by journalist about specific timelines for the plans, Ryan said he had a meeting with Irish Rail yesterday where he asked the company similar questions.

“They’re confident the likes of the Foynes [to Limerick] will be up and running the year after next, with services operational.

“They’re talking to companies today about putting rail freight on that currently isn’t available and running it into Waterford Port in the next year,” he said.

The Green Party leader said the “first timeline” is for consultants to carry out a “freight analysis” for Dublin Port, Rosslare Europort and Limerick Junction.

“In terms of the Northern elements, we need to see the northern administration come back. Some of the big, big spending decisions are in their area, but in terms of the elements in the south, what we can progress we will,” he said.

“Other projects will take longer, but having the vision of what we want to do and where we want to go is the first, most vital step.” 

The review leaves the door open for whether a new, fully segregated 300km/h (186mph) high-speed rail network could be a viable option on the island.

Analysis undertaken for the review found that the benefits of delivering this would be “significantly outweighed by the costs”, according to the Department of Transport.

Launching the plan after Cabinet approved it today, Ryan said it’s a “new age of rail” for the Ireland.

“This country back in the 1920s probably had the most dense rail network in the world. We’re going to add to what’s existing and bring back high speed rail, frequent rail, rail freight, better balanced region development,” Ryan told reporters. 

“There’s a huge amount in this document, it will take three decades to deliver it [and] it’s not cheap, but the same time not doing it will be incredibly expensive. Our country will be gridlocked. Our emissions will keep rising.

“This gives us a better alternative transport system that works for everyone.”

The draft review was commissioned and overseen by both government departments and carried out by engineering firm Arup. Recommendations, based around six goals, are to be delivered over the coming 25 years, aligning with net-zero commitments in both jurisdictions.

Among the key recommendations are:

  • Decarbonisation of the rail network, including an electrified intercity network as well as hybrid, hydrogen and electric rolling stock.
  • Intercity Speed and Frequency – the aim is to see Dublin, Belfast, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford reach top speeds of 200km/h ensuring that train journeys are faster than the car.
  • New Regional Connections – increase regional and rural lines speeds to at least 120 km/h
  • Sustainable cities – Connect Dublin, Belfast International and Shannon Airport to the railway and improve existing rail-airport connections
  • Transforming Freight – strengthen rail connectivity to the island’s busiest ports.
  • Prioritising Customers – this includes providing on-board catering, ‘clock-face’ timetable and better integration with other modes of transport.

As reported by The Journal, the strategy has recommended reinstating the Western Rail Corridor between Claremorris and Athenry.

A rail line connecting Rosslare to Waterford will also be revived, allowing a trans-Atlantic spine for freight stretching from Ballina in Co May to Waterford. 

It seems to boost connectivity in the North Midlands, from Mullingar to Cavan, Monaghan, Armagh and Portadown.  

The review also proposes extending the railway into Tyrone, from Portadown to Dungannon, Omagh, Strabane and Derry, and onto Letterkenny.

There are also set to be upgrades to create a dual-track railway and four-track in certain places. The latter will allow trains on those routes to pass by each other without having to wait for one to pass first. 

The plan is to open for consultation and submissions can be made by email to by 11:59pm on Friday 29 September 2023.

Following the consultation period, the Minister for Transport and Government in Ireland as well as Minister for Infrastructure in Northern Ireland, will be asked to approve the final review incorporating any changes as a result of a strategic environmental assessment (SEA).

It is anticipated, subject to those approvals, that the final Review will be published around the end of the year. Should there continue to be an absence of Ministers in the NI Executive, approval will be considered taking into account the relevant legislation in place at the time.

Flood risk

The department said that a Strategic Flood Risk Assessment of the existing railway network has concluded that there are sections of the existing network which are at risk of flooding.

Further assessments are being carried out at the planning stage of any projects arising from the implementation of the Review, either associated with the existing railway network or future proposed railway infrastructure.

Following the conclusion of the public consultation and subsequent finalisation of the review, it is expected that the final document will be published before the end of the year.

All material associated with the SEA consultation process can be accessed via the Department of Transport’s website here and the Department of Infrastructure’s website here.

Additional reporting by Muiris O’Cearbhaill

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