On April 7, 2021, Ireland’s Transport Minister Eamon Ryan came forward with Northern Ireland’s Minister of Infrastructure, Nichola Mallon, to announce an upcoming review of a proposed “all-island rail network.” This review will entail looking into various ways can improve connectivity between major cities and support regional development; additionally, the feasibility of the use of high-speed rail will be considered. The aim of these improvements is to boost sustainability and bolster economic growth across the entire island. Rail freight is also hoped to see better results.
Successful implementation of this proposal could have other benefits as well, such as reducing emissions from automobiles and mitigating regional economic imbalances on the island. Further, the project could lead to the creation of new jobs, both during and after its duration.
The next step for ministers is to find experts to conduct the review.
Though this proposal came jointly from Ministers of both the Republic and Northern Ireland, of particular focus is the northwestern region of the island. It is thought that this area has generally fallen behind in railway connections compared to others; substantial improvement could be game-changing, especially for the northwest.
This announcement reinforces both governments’ commitment to the “New Decade, New Approach” agreement, which, among other things, aims to encourage cooperation between the two. Additionally, it comes in the midst of the European Commission’s declared “European Year of Rail,” a campaign encouraging rail development throughout 2021 across the entire continent.
Ireland is not necessarily known for rail today, but that has not always been the case. In the 1920s, Ireland had roughly 3,400 miles of railway. The rest of the twentieth century saw it ultimately fall out of favor. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, roads and automobiles saw many improvements; this increased their popularity, to the detriment of trains and rail transport. At present, the total rail distance is less than half that of its peak. However, this newly announced review and proposal could be the first steps toward rail regaining its old prevalence on the island.
It is clear that the notion of a stronger island-wide rail network holds a lot of promise. It would demonstrate a commitment to cooperation between the governments of Northern Ireland and the Republic and sustainable, eco-friendly growth. It would allow areas that have fallen behind in development an opportunity to catch up. Additionally, the project would result in the creation of countless jobs in the course of its realization, and would likely create more in the long-run. Despite its inconsistent past, the future of rail in Ireland looks bright.