New rail report proposes trains return to Donegal, Cavan, Monaghan for first time in decades

Ryan says new report envisages rail link running down country’s spine from Ballina to Rosslare to connect major ports

Counties Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan would be reconnected to the national rail network for the first time in decades under proposals set out in the new all-island rail review to be published later this month.

Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan said on Monday that one of the key elements of the new plan will be re-establishing rail links from Claremorris in Mayo to Athenry in Galway and from Waterford to Rosslare. He said this would mean there would be a rail line running down the spine of the country from Ballina to Wexford.

Mr Ryan spoke about the plan on Monday in New York after key elements of its contents had been revealed earlier by The Irish Times.

The move would be primarily aimed at facilitating the transport of freight from industrial plants based along the route but it would also allow for the future development of passenger services.


Mr Ryan told The Irish Times during a visit to New York that the plan – which includes short term, medium and long term projects – would also contain proposals for a new line to serve Donegal for the first time since the 1960s.

He said it would propose a route running from the existing Dublin-Belfast line at Portadown, through Dungannon, Omagh, Strabane, Letterkenny and on to Derry. Ryan’s plan deals with proposed rail investment over a 30-year period. Short term projects would be developed in this decade, medium in the 2030s, and so on.

This initiative would be largely for the Northern Ireland administration, he said, but “all the analysis we have done shows that this really comes out really strong”.

“Those towns are not small towns and Donegal needs a public transport connection south.

“It would not be cheap because building new railway lines is expensive but from Omagh north, there was an old railway line and we need to look at that configuration and see if we can revitalise it.”

The Minister said for Letterkenny the development of such a rail link would be a “game changer”.

The Minister said the bill for the rail development project would be “very significant” but represented a real benefit to balancing the country. He said it had a very strong economic case.

“It brings better balanced regional development. You can’t do everything in Dublin. Dublin is going to get significant development in the Metro, Dart Plus and Bus Connects. If we don’t invest in the rest of the country, particularly in rail infrastructure, we would see an imbalance develop in the country. These are the sort of investments we need to make to guarantee the economic future of the country.”

The Minister also said he wanted to see reforms to planning arrangements for transport projects.

“In our experience it takes about ten years to get a bus lane through planning to development. It is taking 20 years to build rail lines. And that is too long. For everyone’s sake we start improving those time lines. It is not to remove rights to appeal and the right to having good planning. But it cannot take so long. And the planned introduction of legislation in September to reform the planning system is critical.

“The current system does not serve anyone’s interest. It keeps everything in a very expensive, very convoluted, very uncertain legal process. And that has to change.”

However, he said the final part of the old western rail corridor from Claremorris to Collooney in Sligo was not expected to be earmarked for restoration in the report.

“I think the first and most important priority is doing the connection between Athenry and Claremorris. I think we can preserve that line [to Collooney].

“You do have to prioritise. And the connection to Donegal is in my mind, a real priority. And I do not think you can promise funding for both.”

There would also be another separate significant proposal in the report to have a rail connection running up through Cavan and Monaghan, he confirmed.

Mr Ryan said a rail line running from Ballina to Rosslare and connecting all the main ports would facilitate significant manufacturing industries who would need a low-carbon solution for shipping their goods out of the country.

The Minister also suggested that a rail freight route out of Dublin Port would be needed. “It requires a lot of development in the ports as well as on the railways.

“So it is that combination of reimagining the rail line, putting in the missing links, buying the freight trains, running them on a regular basis, that [will lead] to [industry] switching to that low-cost solution.”

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is the former Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent