High-speed train from Cork to Dublin and Belfast could be in place next year

An hourly cross-border rail service linking Cork, Dublin and Belfast could be in place by the end of next year, the Irish Rail official has said.

Jim Meade, managing director of Irish Rail, said the fleet of additional trains coming this year could see an hourly Enterprise service during peak hours in place by the end of 2023.

Discussing the All-Ireland Rail Strategy Review at the Oireachtas Transport Committee, Mr Meade said the move to an hourly high-speed service linking Belfast, Dublin and Cork was more than an ambition.

He said Irish Rail was considering replacing its entire fleet as part of its plan to reorganize cross-border service.

“That would take us to an hourly service because we don’t have an hourly schedule right now and we think there’s a demand for that service,” Mr Meade said.

“Hourly service is more than an ambition, it is something that we will deliver over time.

“I have been working with Chris Conway (General Manager) of Translink and looking at how we could, at least during peak periods, implement hourly morning and evening service while we wait to develop full service for 2027 .

Jim Meade, managing director of Irish Rail, speaking at a joint transport and communications committee. He said an hourly cross-border train service linking Belfast and Dublin could be in place by the end of next year.

“We have an additional fleet coming this year.

“We’re looking to try and allocate some to allow us to peak in the morning and evening at first.

“It is mandatory to get people into Dublin early in the morning and then out later in the evening.

“We should be able to do that probably by the end of next year, maybe a bit sooner.”

He said work would then begin to replace the Enterprise fleet and introduce a full hourly all-day service from around 2026 to 2027.

He said Irish Rail’s aim was to cut the journey between Dublin and Belfast to 90 minutes. The current journey time is just over two hours.

Mr Meade said there were plans to upgrade existing lines to 200km/h.

He said it is something that is “doable and achievable”, and would significantly boost the competitiveness of travel time.

Upgrade plans

Plans to upgrade 200 km/h train lines would only serve main routes.

“We all suffer from the same problem. We would like to board at the station of our choice and be nonstop to the station of our choice,” he added.

“If you do that, you’ll get there in an hour, but obviously we serve a lot of intermediate stations as well.

“The ambition is that certainly on the Belfast-Cork corridor we will achieve those kinds of speeds and an equivalent improvement on the branch lines.

“The principle we work on is that we bring all of our major cities within two hours.

“We are currently on the two hour mark, depending on the service you get.

“But the ambition is to continue to gradually improve services to get all cities through in less than two hours.”

Mr Meade also said there was a ‘great opportunity’ to take on more rail freight.

Irish Rail currently carries just over 1% of the freight on the island.

“We think we should be in double digits,” Meade added. “Any piece of containerized traffic that moves by rail reduces the carbon footprint of that individual container by 75%.

“So in some ways it’s a no-brainer.”

Jose P. Rogers