05 Jul 2022

Cross-border train service every hour ‘could be in place by end of next year’

Cross-border train service every hour  ‘could be in place by end of next year’

A cross-border hourly train service linking Belfast and Dublin could be in place by the end of next year, the head of Irish Rail has said.

Jim Meade, chief executive of Irish Rail, said extra train fleet coming in this year could see a hourly Enterprise service during peak times in place by the end of 2023.

Discussing the All-Ireland Strategic Rail Review at the Oireachtas transport committee, Mr Meade said moving to a high-speed hourly service linking Belfast, Dublin and Cork is more than an ambition.

He said Irish Rail is looking to replace the entire fleet as part of its plan to revamp the cross-border service.

Jim Meade said Irish Rail is looking to replace the entire fleet (Brian Lawless/PA)

“That would move us to an hourly service because we don’t have an hourly on currently and we believe there’s demand for that service,” Mr Meade said.

“The hourly service is more than ambition, it’s something we’re going to deliver over time.

“I have been working with Chris Conway (chief executive) of Translink and looking at how we would, at least in the peak, bring in an hourly service in the morning and evening as we wait until we develop the full service for 2027.

“We have some extra fleet coming in the back in this year.

“We’re looking to try and allocate some of them to allow us to do a morning and evening peak initially.

“There is a requirement to get people into Dublin early morning and then out later in the evening.

“We should be able to do that probably by the back end of next year, it might be a bit sooner.”

He said work would then begin to replace the Enterprise fleet and introduce a full hourly service all day from about 2026 to 2027.

He said Irish Rail’s target is to cut the journey between Dublin and Belfast to 90 minutes. The current journey time is just over two hours.

Mr Meade said there are plans to upgrade existing lines to 200kmph operation.

He said this is something which is “feasible and achievable”, and would strengthen journey time competitiveness significantly.

Plans to upgrade train lines to 200kmph would serve the main routes only.

“We all suffer from the same issue. We would like to get on at the station of our preference and be non-stop to the station of our preference,” he added.

“If you do that, you’ll get there in an hour but obviously we serve a lot of intermediate stations as well.

“The ambition is, that certainly on the Belfast to Cork corridor, we will achieve those kinds of speeds and an equivalent improvement on the branch lines.

“The principle we are working to is that we bring all our major cities to under two hours.

“We’re currently on the two-hour mark, depending on which service you get.

“But the ambition is to continue to improve services incrementally to get all the cities under two hours.”

Mr Meade also said there is a “great opportunity” to take on more train freight. Irish Rail currently moves just over 1% of freight on the island.

“We believe we should be in double digits,” Mr Meade added. “Any piece of containerised traffic that moves by rail, it reduces the carbon footprint of that individual container by 75%.

“So in some ways, it’s a no-brainer.”

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