Ireland: Translink and Irish Rail Launch Cross-Border Rail Strategic Development Plan

As the negotiations for Brexit continue it seems that all aspects of it are having an impact on the rail industry. This includes one of the most vexed questions in the debate: the Irish border. Most of the discussion focusses on security and customs, but the logistics of transport will also be affected. This uncertainty, however, has not stopped Translink (Northern Ireland) and Iarnród Éireann/Irish Rail (Republic of Ireland) from launching their Cross-Border Rail Strategic Development Plan in 2018 to improve services on the Belfast – Dublin Corridor. Brexit is, of course, not the only issue which affects the delivery and improvement of passenger services and joint-operations.

Chris Conway Translink
Chris Conway, Translink Group Chief Executive © Translink

Chris Conway, CEO of Translink tells Railway-News how both organisations are approaching the initiative from all perspectives.

Translink and Iarnród Éireann have launched an ambitious new strategic development plan for the Cross-border Enterprise Rail Service between Belfast and Dublin. Called ‘Better Connecting Dublin and Belfast’ the strategy sets out a road map of how both companies jointly plan to further enhance the service on this important north/south Ireland rail corridor.

The plan envisages a three-staged approach – starting with the introduction of a new fleet to allow for an hourly frequency between the two cities and with additional investment in infrastructure and line improvements – and sets out the ambition to reduce the average journey time to less than two hours. From there, the longer-term aspiration would be to introduce electrification on the line and new rolling stock which would achieve further frequency improvements and a journey time of potentially ninety minutes or less.

Translink hosted a business networking event to announce its ambitious Enterprise Strategic Development Plan ‘Better Connecting Dublin and Belfast’. Pictured are l-r Jim Meade, Irish Rail/Iarnród Éireann Chief Executive, Frank Allen, Irish Rail/Iarnród Éireann Chairman, Frank Hewitt, Translink Chairman and Chris Conway Translink Group Chief Executive. © Translink

The development plan, which has been well received by businesses and stakeholders is essential to further strengthening economic links and is key to building competitiveness and increasing close communication links between the two capital cities on the island of Ireland. It aligns with Programmes for Government in Northern Ireland and Dublin to support the growth of public transport, while also delivering social and environmental benefits by decongesting roads, promoting all-Ireland tourism and reducing carbon emissions.

Last year Enterprise rail services carried almost one million passenger journeys. We are committed to building on this success and to supporting economic growth on the island of Ireland, while also bringing the social and environmental benefits of rail infrastructure and public transport.

There are around 3.3m people living within a 40-mile commute from the Belfast – Dublin Corridor and this is expected to grow to four million by 2030, demonstrating that there is a clear opportunity and demand for an enhanced rail service.

Within five years of commencement of this plan, a new fleet providing hourly frequency and infrastructure improvements leading to a journey time of less than two hours would be possible.

Belfast to Dublin Enterprise Train
The Belfast to Dublin Enterprise Train © Translink

Generations of Working Together

The joint Strategic Development Plan, which was launched at a business event during Translink’s Bus and Train Week 2018, builds upon a legacy developed between NI Railways and Iarnród Éireann, within which generations have worked together from platform to boardroom to build the joint service we offer our customers today. This strategy builds upon that legacy to continue to enhance the role we can play for the customers and communities we serve. The partnership with our stakeholders in business, tourism, central and local government and other major sectors is also reflected in this strategy. Our stakeholders have engaged with us as we have developed this strategy, and we value their continued partnership as we seek to support each other in what our rail services achieve for our economy and society in the years ahead.

The plans have been shared with various organisations and business bodies North and South to seek their views and help shape the strategy. The Joint Business Council of business organisations CBI NI/IBEC (Irish Business and Employers Confederation) said: “The CBI NI/IBEC Joint Business Council welcomes Translink/Iarnród Éireann’s proposals to upgrade this vital service. The UK’s decision to leave the European Union has added to the strategic importance of having comprehensive, reliable and sufficient all-island transport connectivity. Now is an appropriate time to re-examine the current service and put the plans in place to upgrade it to the necessary standard in both the immediate and longer term.

“Ultimately, businesses believe that the service must be upgraded to the point where the train journey between Belfast and Dublin is ‘commutable’. This means it must be faster than the comparative car journey and as flexible as a car journey, offering a sufficient range of arrival times to suit both business commuters and tourists and other passengers.”

‘The JBC has long been a supporter of an hourly service and businesses across the island will welcome the proposals outlined … to procure additional train sets to allow services to operate on an hourly schedule.”

The next steps are to secure funding to take this project forward and Translink and Iarnród Éireann are keen that approval is granted to start procurement of a new Enterprise fleet and to fund a project to undertake a detailed technical and feasibility study to further assess the journey time improvement options.

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