How a port in Limerick has become central to moves to reopen the Western Rail Corridor
During Minister’s Questions in Dáil Éireann on Thursday Transport Minister Eamon Ryan made a series of very positive comments about reopening the Western Rail Corridor.
Foynes Port, Co. Limerick, was specifically mentioned five times as a key component in reopening the Western Rail Corridor.
The minister said: "We need to consider this matter, not just as it relates to the section of the rail line between Athenry and Claremorris, but in the wider regional context.
"I would go even farther south and add to this the potential reopening of the Foynes freight rail line, which I understand is a prerequisite if Foynes is to get any support in developing as a European TEN-T international port, in that the port in any such development must have rail freight capability.
"That makes sense because Europe is moving towards rail freight as a significant part of our climate change agenda.
"We are going to examine this possibility in real detail. If we include it, and I believe we should, then it opens up a strategic question.
"Putting in a rail connection between Athenry and Claremorris opens up the whole north west to the rail freight capability of Foynes, which is a high-quality deep water port.”
He returned to this point a number of times off script and said: "As I understand it, Iarnród Éireann has commissioned a study by AECOM to look at the future of rail freight.
"That will be available at the same time as we publish the JASPERS study and the EY-DKM study on the Claremorris-Athenry link.
"We must be real about this. At the moment, it is mainly fertiliser and other bulk goods coming into Foynes. We have to look at port strategy, which is connected to the rail issue."
He then went on to state: "The EY-DKM report and other reports argue that the distances are too short in Ireland for rail freight to work and that such systems only work where there are long-distance rail freight trips.
"My understanding is that the EU is changing its position in this regard. In the case of the development of a europort at Foynes, the requirement for a rail freight solution is because Europe is saying that as part of its low-carbon future, we must switch to rail freight and start designing around it.
"If I were to go to the Minister for Finance and say I want to build a new rail line from Ballina that extends right up to Sligo and right down to Waterford, I would be told it was a mad idea that would cost €5 billion or €10 billion and it could not possibly be done.
"However, it would be a different prospect if I were to say to him that we have an existing underused rail line running through Waterford, Clonmel, Tipperary town, Bansha, Limerick Junction and all the way up that has just two small sections missing.
"In the case of the first, from Limerick to Foynes, a station could be put in at Dooradoyle and another at Adare.
"The second missing section, the Athenry-Claremorris line, is relatively small and there would be no real difficulty in redeveloping it."
Minister Ryan concluded: "Developing those two small links would give us a national rail freight service connected to two international deepwater ports. I would go to Europe with that proposal.
"I would take it to the EU's climate action recovery fund and say that this proposal makes economic sense.
"This is a region with clean power, clean water, manufacturing expertise and two deep-sea ports that can be connected by rail freight. I do not see why it cannot work.”