Dublin Port rail link suspended due to Brexit congestion

Green Party criticises ending of direct rail route favoured by firms such as Coca Cola

Ship movements from Europe have spiked at Dublin Port following Brexit and the operator of that part of the port terminal can no longer  facilitate trains in the area. File photograph: Aidan Crawley

Ship movements from Europe have spiked at Dublin Port following Brexit and the operator of that part of the port terminal can no longer facilitate trains in the area. File photograph: Aidan Crawley

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A busy rail freight line that ran cargo directly from Dublin Port to Ballina in Co Mayo for local businesses such as Coca-Cola has been suspended because the port is so clogged up following Brexit.

Dublin Port Company invested €1.2 million just a decade ago in a rail spur at Ocean Pier to facilitate the rail service, which last year ran almost 10,000 goods containers that were loaded off ferries directly onto trains to bring them to the west. Port sources said drinks company Coca-Cola, which operates a manufacturing facility near the Mayo town, was one of the service’s biggest users.

Ship movements from Europe have spiked following Brexit and the operator of that part of the port terminal is no longer able to facilitate trains in the area, as ship working must be given priority. Dublin Port said the rail spur will be ripped up in two or three years anyway to facilitate construction work.

Truck use

The Dublin Port to Ballina service was suddenly halted last week, prompting dismay among businesses in the west and prompting criticism of the port from Green Party MEP Ciarán Cuffe. He fears that much of the cargo bound for the west coast will now be hauled via the road network by trucks from Dublin, and wants the rail service reinstated.

“Replacing freight trains with road transport is deeply problematic. It will result in increased road congestion, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions,” said Mr Cuffe.

He acknowledged that Brexit has increased strain on Dublin Port, but he suggested it should have “planned ahead”. Eamonn O’Reilly, the port’s chief executive, rejected the criticism.

“What were we supposed to do? The port is full. This is a pinch point. We’ve invested €365 million in the last five years and we will invest a further €400 million in the next five. We’ve had Brexit. We had Covid. Nobody could have predicted the exact shape of all this on the operation of the port,” said Mr O’Reilly.

‘Shunting’ solution

He said the port has also lost 14.6 hectares, roughly equivalent to 20 football pitches, to other State agencies for border inspection activities due to Brexit.

The rail service’s operator, International Warehousing and Transport, is examining the possibility of whether cargo for Ballina can be “shunted” across the road to an Irish Rail yard, and have the service operate from there.

Dublin Port also suggested that cargo bound for the west could, instead, be shipped to Waterford, which also has a direct port rail link to Ballina.

Another longer-term potential remedy is for Dublin Port to build a bridge across East Wall Road to the Irish Rail yard, creating a link that could be utilised by all three container terminals at the port. Mr O’Reilly said the port sent this proposal to Irish Rail in March. “It would take a lot of civil work,” he said.

Mr Cuffe suggested the port should look to access funding from the European Union’s €5 billion Brexit Adjustment Reserve Fund to build new rail links.

“One freight train can take dozens of HGV trucks off the roads,” said Mr Cuffe.