Rail review proposes major Offaly upgrades

An upgrading of both the sole rail line through Offaly and the service provided is among the recommendations of the long-awaited All-Island Strategic Rail Review.

The review, launched in April 2021, was published on Tuesday alongside the associated Strategic Environmental Assessment for consultation. It is expected to be finalised by the end of this year.

The double tracking of the line from Dublin to Athlone, via Portarlington, Tullamore and Clara, is proposed, along with the electrification of intercity and commuter services between Portarlington and Galway (through Tullamore and Clara).

The review also recommends one train per hour on intercity routes, including between Dublin and Galway and one train per two hours on regional routes including Dublin to Westport,

The reinstatement of a single track rail link between Athlone and Mullingar is also proposed. The reinstated link is envisaged as a longer term proposal, with a delivery date between 2040 and 2050. This would allow the Dublin to Galway and Dublin to Sligo lines to be linked – allowing passengers from Tullamore, Clara and Portarlington easier access to the Dublin to Sligo line.

If the review’s recommendations are implemented in full, the capital cost in this State would total approximately €27.6bn. If this investment was split across 25 years in 2023 prices, then it would amount to annual capital investment in the rail system of €1.00bn/£0.92bn.

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.

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.

The report is now available online at https://www.gov.ie/en/consultation/4d4f2-all-island-strategic-rail-review-public-consultation-for-strategic-environment-assessment/#documents.

Public consultation has commenced as part of the Strategic Environmental Assessment process for the evaluation of the likely significant environmental effects of implementing the plan.

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

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 Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) consultation process.

Welcoming the recommendations, Minister Pippa Hackett said the recommendations would shift the emphasis of rail towards the Midlands.

“If implemented, there will be a ‘diamond’ of new and upgraded rail connections in the heart of Ireland. This diamond is formed by the welcome reinstatement of the Athlone to Mullingar route, dual track improvements from Mullingar to Maynooth, upgraded connections to Hazelhatch and on to Portarlington and finally, Portarlington to Athlone, via Tullamore.”

"It is now a very real possibility that within the next two decades we will have fast, decarbonised rail connecting Derry to Cork without the need to travel further east than Portarlington. It makes sense that extending the dual-track between Portarlington – Athlone and Maynooth – Mullingar will allow more commuter services to serve intermediate stations while intercity services can deliver faster city-to-city journey times with proposed speeds of 200km/hr. These journeys will become more comfortable and frequent as new rolling stock is procured.”

“I am already working with Cllr Mark Hackett to progress the cycleway from Edenderry to Enfield. This was on hold pending the rail review but now it is important to forge ahead with an active travel proposal joining the two towns along the disused railway. The approximate 20 km cycle would expand options for commuter and recreational cyclists and be a huge boost for Edenderry.”