Report Proposes Huge All-Ireland Rail Expansion
A huge expansion of the rail network across the whole island of Ireland has been proposed in a new report, published after a lengthy consultation.
The All-Island Strategic Rail Review was launched in 2021 to develop a co-ordinated expansion of the network across the island, so travellers could move not just between Northern Ireland and the Republic more easily, but make more internal journeys.
Although the review formally closes on September 23rd, draft proposals have already been published that envision a vast expansion, with 30 different recommendations. The cost would be between €35bn (£29.2bn) and €36.8bn, with 75 per cent of the cost borne by the Republic’s government and the rest by Stormont.
The project would take an estimated 25 years to deliver, meaning big order books for many construction firms. Diggers will be required in some places where new track is being laid or old lines have been partly built over, but some former lines that were closed in the second half of the 21st century may be restored more easily, as many trackbeds still exist.
Bringing back old lines and reconnecting towns presently isolated from the network is part of the plan, such as restoring the line between Portadown and Armagh, Cavan and Mullingar. Across the north, Fermanagh is the only county that would not see the return of rail services under the draft plan.
In addition, proposed new rail links to Dublin, Belfast and Shannon airports would mean 90 per cent of air passengers having rail access to their terminals.
The proposals are linked to a desire both to boost the economy and to achieve net zero with electrified railways and fewer cars on the road. To an extent, this resembles plans in parts of Great Britain to restore many closed railways, particularly lines shut after the 1963 Beeching Report.
However, the UK has not devised a concerted network expansion plan in the manner of the Irish proposal. Instead, there are various individual plans to reinstate specific routes, like the ‘Varsity line’ that ran between Oxford and Cambridge.
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