Future of rail freight
In Dáil today I asked the Minister for Transport, Eamon Ryan, about the future of the rail freight. It seems to me that we are on the cusp of changing how we do transport in this country. For 60 years, the rail system has been starved of investment. Unlike other countries, Ireland did not see a future for rail. It perceived that the future would involve a transport system based on private cars and, to some extent, city and intercity buses.
In recent years, the Government has invested in rail, and Irish Rail is building up its capacity to develop a pipeline of new projects. One of the critical elements of expanding and turning around the six-decade decline of rail in this country is rail freight. I was very happy to see some clearance on the Limerick to Foynes line happening in the past week or two. This 41-km-long line was built in just nine months in the mid-19th century, and I wonder how they did that. It is good to see the line being cleared now. All going well, it will be reopened for freight purposes at least. We would like to see it opened to passenger rail standard and the building of a number of stations along the line in the coming years in places such as Raheen, Patrickswell, Adare, Askeaton and, indeed, in Foynes. It also complements the ambition to develop our west coast renewable-energy resources. It is a good project that chimes very well with Government policy.
Another project the Minister is well aware of is the western rail corridor, which has been talked about for a long time. Phase 1 of the corridor was the Limerick to Galway leg. Phase 2 goes north from Galway towards Tuam and Claremorris, connecting to Westport and Castlebar. I believe there is significant potential for rail freight in the west of Ireland. This project would support rail freight and the development of the rail network. I was in Tuam last Saturday. I took the train as far as Galway and got the bus to Tuam, where about 250 or 300 people, from all parties and from none, attended the gathering. Various presenters made the case for the reopening of the western rail corridor. A critical piece of that argument is rail freight. Since then, I have been speaking to business owners in the west who said they would use the rail network. They would have a clear use for rail freight if the infrastructure existed. This is a critically important project but there is a wider question about the future of rail freight in this country. It seems to me that there is a lot we can do to shift much of the freight, which is carried using road haulage, onto the rail system for transit within the country and for export.