Monday, April 12, 2010

Rail transport policy

To put all my cards straight on the table, I'm a massive train nut. Now not to the level of standing on wet and windy platforms writing down engine and carriage numbers - I'll leave that for others. However, I love the idea, history, engineering and potential of rail (heavy rail in particular) as a mode of transport for the future. So it has piqued my interest to see a couple of rail stories in the news recently.

Western Rail Corridor

At the end of March the Western Rail Corridor finally opened its doors to paying passengers. This is a project that I have been in two minds about since it started. The idea of connecting Cork, Limerick, Galway and Sligo with regular train service is a good one. However, investing in rail while at the same time building a HQDC or motorway in parallel to the route seems somewhat daft. For a fraction of the cost of the road the rail route could have been straightened and double tracked. With that investment, travel times would drop drastically, the timetable would be more reliable. This would push the train substantially ahead of the car along the route length and promote modal shift.

Unfortunately in this country we tend to not spend money in the most beneficial way. In 20-30 years time when petrol costs €10 per litre and personal, non-electric cars are a distant memory investment in rail will still be paying back. Consider the investments made in the 19th Century in rail - we're still using the same mainline alignment on all our major routes. Now consider how many times sections of the road between Dublin and Cork say have been re-jigged in the intervening period.


With the opening of the WRC it should almost be expected that there would be a closure elsewhere. The Waterford-Rosslare line, while never terribly popular, has had a terrible service on it over the last number of years. A couple of trains a day that don't match demand periods but rather the drivers' and conductors' personal schedules is not the way to manage a line. Instead with a small amount of investment, a commuter line servicing the south coast and then up to Wexford town. Re-opening the line to New Ross would also be of great benefit but the old alignment is now covered by the main road in parts. A spur from Campile to the town side of the river could be considered.

There are lots of other things that could be done to improve rail transport in Ireland. Everyone keeps going on about Dart Underground and Metro as the only things that count and while they are vital, smaller projects in rural and other urban areas can achieve a lot of good with small, targeted investments. More on this anon.


  1. And the 13-span Barrow estuary railway bridge is a treasure in itself and said to be in good condition.

    What is to prevent a Wexford - Waterford train service instead of the present non-timetable?

  2. The only problem logistics-wise is you would have to drive into Rosslare and then reverse up the track to Wexford town. Alternatively you could put in a new alignment to bypass Rosslare but the ground there is fairly damp.

    The major problem is staff rosters, manned level crossings and lack of public enthusiasm. First two can be fixed with some effort from IE and the third will come back if a regular, reliable service was delivered.