Comment & Analysis: The deadline for the All-Island Strategic Rail Review public consultation was Friday night at 11.59pm — but like the story of Cinderella panicked as the clock struck midnight, the prominent discussion and coverage of the Rail Review is all a bit of a fairy tale.
The media and some commentators are putting the plan across as Cinderella in full gown and glass slippers. While the proposals are hardly comparable to a girl in rags with her carriage turned into a pumpkin, it’s also certainly not in full gown and glass slippers.
In reporting a battle between Government parties over spending on public transport vs roads, an Irish Times article reported this week how there is a Green Party “believe that there has been a historic underinvestment in public transport”. This isn’t a belief — it’s a fact that there has been an underinvestment in public transport compared to roads.
IrishCycle.com’s coverage of the review highlighted how the Railway Review is vague on new infrastructure delivery up to 2030 (that article also has the main delivery timeline).
But what’s maybe more stark under the plan is the planned network by 2040 — parts of the Dublin-Galway line will still be single-track and so too will be the Dublin to Wexford line, including the Bray and Wicklow commuter section (where more road expansion is being looked at rather than an inland-railway away from the crumbling coastal line). On the map below the narrower lines of all colours represent single-track, with or without passing loops.
Electrification is also highlighted on the map below, with red showing electrification (ie with overhead wires to power trains) and green showing lines without electrification. The gap will be bridged “hybrid” and hydrogen rolling stock according to the plan — hydrogen has been found to be far more expensive than battery electric but the lack of electrification with wires is also a sign of the lack of vision here.
The combination of narrow lines (single track) and green colour (no electric wires) really shows there is a lack of vision for the Galway-Limerick-Cork route between the Republic’s three main cities outside of Dublin and also the Dublin to Wexford line which has no cities but has enough substantial towns to justify investment.
The lack of short-term clarity on what — if much — will be built up to 2030 and long-term vision is worrying. That shouldn’t be masked by playing catch-up on a historic underinvestment in public transport. The half-decent shoe fits.
Yet those who have always been against rail investment will continue to say that they are fans of railways, will also continue to try to claim that this is a gold-plated plan. This has an impact on media coverage, public discourse and then, in turn, on funding decisions when Government parties are fighting out over where spending is directed.
Elements such as completing the electrification and decarbonisation of the railways, and just starting to build higher-speed rail on the main routes between the main three being pushed out to 2040 to 2050 doesn’t seem to be in line with any vision for quick decarbonisation of transport in Ireland.
If you value our journalism, please subscribe today.