Putting communities on Track for a New Age of Rail

Date published: 25 July 2023

First All-Island Strategic Rail Review recommends electrification, new and enhanced routes, greater regional balance and improved speeds and frequency.

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If all the recommendations in this Review were delivered:

  • The rail network would be decarbonised
  • 700,000 more people would live within 5km of a railway station
  • Rail journey times between some major cities could be halved
  • Services on busiest intercity routes could run every 30 minutes in some cases
  • Rail passenger numbers could double
  • 90% of aviation passengers could travel to the airport by rail
  • Two thirds of freight tonnage would pass through ports served by rail
  • The island’s economy could be boosted by €20 billion

The Department of Transport (Ireland) and the Department for Infrastructure (Northern Ireland) today published a joint draft report of the All-Island Strategic Rail Review (AISRR) putting communities across the island on track for a new age of rail.

It is the first All-Island Rail Review, setting out 30 recommendations for developing a rail network that would significantly benefit commuters, communities, businesses, the environment and economies, both north and south. If the recommendations are implemented in full it could transform the rail system in the coming decades with electrification, faster speeds and greatly improved frequency, opening a number of new routes particularly across the West and North of the island, and widening accessibility and connectivity across the island.

The Review was launched in April 2021 by Eamon Ryan, Minister for Transport Ireland, and Nichola Mallon, then Minister at the Department for Infrastructure, Northern Ireland. It is now being published alongside the associated Strategic Environmental Assessment for consultation and is expected to be finalised by the end of this year.

Today, the island of Ireland has about 2,300 km (1,440 miles) of public rail lines. If the recommendations in this new rail review are implemented this would increase to 2,950 km (1,845 miles) of new low-carbon, faster rail lines. Investment in rail between 2011 and 2019 contributed to a 37% growth in passengers across the whole island. While Covid interrupted this growth, passenger numbers are returning strongly in both jurisdictions, giving an indication of the potential for a new and greatly enhanced rail network.

The draft review was commissioned and overseen by both departments and carried out by engineering firm Arup. Recommendations, based around six goals, are to be delivered over the coming 25 years, aligning with net-zero commitments in both jurisdictions. Among the key recommendations are:


  • Decarbonise the rail network, including an electrified intercity network as well as hybrid, hydrogen and electric rolling stock.

Intercity Speed and Frequency

  • Upgrade the core intercity railway network (Dublin, Belfast, Cork, Limerick, Galway, Waterford) to top speeds of 200km/h ensuring that train journeys are faster than the car.
  • Upgrade the cross-country rail network to a dual-track railway (and four-track in places) and increase intercity service frequencies to hourly between the main city pairs.

New Regional Connections

  • Increase regional and rural lines speeds to at least 120 km/h.
  • Reinstate the Western Rail Corridor between Claremorris and Athenry.
  • Extend the railway into Tyrone (from Portadown to Dungannon, Omagh, Strabane) Derry- Londonderry, and onto Donegal (Letterkenny)
  • Reinstate the South Wexford Railway, connecting to Waterford
  • Develop the railway to boost connectivity in the North Midlands, from Mullingar to Cavan, Monaghan, Armagh and Portadown

Sustainable Cities

  • Connect Dublin, Belfast International and Shannon Airport to the railway and improve existing rail-airport connections.
  • Segregate long-distance and fast services from stopping services, ensuring quicker times on city approaches

Transforming Freight

  • Strengthen rail connectivity to the island’s busiest ports and reduce Track Access Charges for freight.
  • Develop first-mile-last-mile rail access for Dublin Port

Prioritising Customers

  • Improve service quality, provide on-board catering, ‘clock-face’ timetable, better integration with other transport options, and cross-border structures to streamline travel north and south.

If the review’s recommendations are implemented in full across the coming decades, the capital cost is estimated to be €36.8bn/£30.7bn in 2023 prices.

Of this, the estimated capital cost that would apply to Ireland would total approximately €27.6bn/£23.0bn. If this investment was split evenly across 25 years in 2023 prices, then it would amount to annual capital investment in the rail system of €1.00bn/£0.92bn per annum over and above existing plans. This is roughly equivalent to peak annual investment in the motorway network in the late 2000s.

Similarly, for Northern Ireland the total capital cost estimate in 2023 prices is €9.2bn/£7.7bn, which is approximately €0.37bn/£0.31bn per annum over a 25-year period.

The Review’s recommendations provide policy makers and Ministers in both jurisdictions with an evidence-based framework to inform future investment decisions. More detailed work will be needed to test the feasibility and affordability of many of the recommendations to inform decision making.

All material associated with the SEA consultation process can be accessed via the Department of Transport’s website here and the Department of Infrastructure’s website here.

Interested parties can make submissions by email to strategicrailreview@arup.com by 11:59 pm on Friday 29 September 2023.

Following the consultation period, the Minister for Transport and Government in Ireland as well as Minister for Infrastructure in Northern Ireland, will be asked to approve the final Review incorporating any changes as a result of the SEA consultation process. It is anticipated, subject to those approvals, that the final Review will be published around the end of the year. Should there continue to be an absence of Ministers in the NI Executive, approval will be considered taking into account the relevant legislation in place at the time.

Notes to editors: 

1. Strategic All-Ireland Rail Review

The All-Island Rail Review was jointly commissioned by the Department of Transport and the Department of Infrastructure NI, and is the first all-Island review of this nature. It will inform investment in the rail sector in both jurisdictions to 2050, with the aim of supporting decarbonisation of the transport sector in line with both governments’ net-zero commitments.

The draft review was approved at official level in April 2023 by the steering group overseeing work on the review. In addition to the Department of Transport and the Department for Infrastructure, this group comprised representatives from Iarnród Éireann and Translink, as well as the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, the National Transport Authority, and the Commission for Railway Regulation. JASPERS, an agency under the European Investment Bank, also provided independent advice throughout the development of the review.

As part of the review, a public consultation was undertaken between November 2021 and January 2022 to gather views on the role of rail and priorities for investment. More than 7,000 submissions were received as part of this process, demonstrating the keen public interest in the development of the railway system. These responses formed a key input into the draft recommendations and proposals.

2. Timelines: The Review’s implementation timelines involve three periods: short-term interventions to be delivered by 2030, medium-term interventions to be delivered between 2030 and 2040, and long-term interventions to be delivered between 2040 and 2050.

The review also considers whether developing a new, fully segregated 300km/h (186mph) high-speed rail network could be a viable option on the island. Analysis undertaken for the review finds that the benefits of delivering this would be significantly outweighed by the costs.

3. Strategic Environmental Assessment: Given the potential environmental impact of investment in physical infrastructure such as rail, the review was screened-in for Strategic Environmental Assessment, Appropriate Assessment and Strategic Flood Risk Assessment under the relevant national and European regulations. As such, the consultation launched today is supported by an Environmental Report, Natura Impact Statement, Appropriate Assessment Screening Report and Strategic Flood Risk Assessment Report. The various background papers and analyses that informed its recommendations have also been published to assist respondents in preparing their submissions, in addition to the draft report from the review,

Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) is a process for the evaluation of the likely significant environmental effects of implementing a plan or programme before the decision is made to adopt the plan or programme.

The SEA Environmental Report documents the baseline environment of the plan area (the entire Island of Ireland), the potential environmental effects (including cumulative effects) associated with the implementation of the AISRR (during both construction and operational phases), an assessment of alternatives considered, and proposed mitigation and monitoring measures.

The recommendations of the draft AISRR are also set out in the SEA Environmental Report and are assessed against a range of established environmental objectives and targets. A predominantly positive environmental effect is predicted as a result of the provision of a more efficient and more accessible rail network which will ultimately encourage a modal shift from private to public transport.

4. Appropriate Assessment: An Appropriate Assessment (AA) is an assessment of the potential adverse effects of a plan or project (in-combination with other plans or projects) on Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas (Natura 2000 sites) which are protected under the Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC) and the Birds Directive (2009/147/EC.

An AA Screening Report and Natura Impact Statement have been prepared to determine whether the implementation of the AISRR is likely to have significant adverse effects on Natura 2000 sites. With the implementation of appropriate mitigation measures, no significant adverse effects on Natura 2000 sites are predicted.

5. Strategic Flood Risk Assessment: A Strategic Flood Risk Assessment of the existing railway network was carried out to determine the vulnerability of the network to flooding. This report concludes that there are sections of the existing network which are at risk of fluvial, tidal, pluvial and groundwater flooding. It is recommended that further assessments are carried out at the planning stage of any projects arising from the implementation of the AISRR, either associated with the existing railway network or future proposed railway infrastructure.

6. Following the conclusion of the public consultation and subsequent finalisation of the review, it is expected that the final review will be published before the end of the year.

7. All media queries should be directed to the Department for Infrastructure Press Office at: press.office@infrastructure-ni.gov.uk

8. Follow the Department on Twitter @deptinfra, on Facebook @DepartmentforInfrastructure and on LinkedIn at Department for Infrastructure.

9. The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours service for media enquiries only between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.

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