rail freight revival

Irish freight project bridges last gap

Better days. Infrastructure train on the Limerick - Foynes line. Image: © Iarnród Éireann.

Ireland’s rail renaissance continues. The Limerick to Foynes rail freight line project has taken a further step forward. The Robertstown Viaduct, the last river crossing on the approach to Foynes, has been reinstated. Work to bring freight traffic back to the port town is now less than two years from completion.

There are many ambitious projects in the Irish Rail Freight Strategy 2040. Among the most prominent is the plan to reopen the Limerick to Foynes rail freight line. That project has reached a significant milestone with the completion of the Robertstown Viaduct. This 46-meter structure, a key element of the route, brings the railway to within four kilometres of the eventual terminus at Foynes.

Embedded rail system

Robertstown Viaduct, spanning the river of the same name, still has some way to go before accepting its first train. Work on the steel viaduct, carried out over the past year, will now be followed by the construction of a concrete bridge deck and the integration of an embedded rail system. The project, which began in early 2023, has also seen the near completion of boundary fencing along the route – a necessary upgrade for twenty-first-century operations.

Track laying commenced westwards from Askeaton earlier this year. Those final twelve kilometres are projected by the project team to be laid by the end of this year. The next phase of the project will involve the installation of a signalling system, CCTV at level crossings, a train communications system, and track connections and upgrades at Foynes Port.

The line had been mothballed

Within the context of the Irish economy, the scale of the project is considerable. The entire project is being funded by the Irish Department of Transport and the National Transport Authority. The remainder of the work is expected to take approximately a year and a half. However, its completion in that timescale is subject to funding allocation. The aim is to have the rail line operational by December 2025, with freight services starting in early 2026.

Definitely a ‘before’ picture. Mothballed Limerick to Foynes Railway in 2017. Image: © Redmond O’Brien at geograph.org.uk.

The line had been mothballed, with old infrastructure mainly left in place. That strategy has helped speed up the restoration. By January of this year, vegetation clearance and the removal of old tracks were completed, along with the installation of ducting and drainage pipes along the route. Replacement of the track formation and installation of a new ballast bed started in February 2024, followed by the reinstallation of new bridges at the River Deel, the River Maigue, and finally the Robertstown Viaduct.

Ireland’s radical modal shift to rail

It is unusual for rail development in Ireland (and in the neighbouring UK) to be freight-driven. However, the 42km stretch between Limerick City and Foynes Port will see goods transported by rail along a route originally opened in 1858, and which has been inactive since 2001.

Under the stewardship of Iarnród Éireann (the Irish national railway administration), the line is being renewed as part of the Iarnród Éireann Rail Freight 2040 Strategy. The plan aims to place rail at the heart of Ireland’s freight transport system. A vanishingly small proportion of goods are currently moved by rail in Ireland, but the strategy aims to promote a radical modal shift to rail for more sustainable logistics solutions.

Scope for mixed traffic in future

The project also supports multiple strategic plans, including the Shannon Foynes Port Company Masterplan, Vision 2041. It aligns with national, regional, and local development objectives and meets EU transport guidelines. Key benefits include intermodal transport, enhanced environmental protection by reducing road freight, and improved transport interconnections.

While the current focus is on freight services, the regeneration of the line leaves open the possibility of future passenger services, pending further infrastructure upgrades and funding.

Several local engineering companies delivered the Robertstown Viaduct project. They included management engineers O’Connor Sutton and Cronin, and main contractors John Sisk and Son. Gabriel O’Brien Crane Hire and Mack Engineering played important supporting roles.

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Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is RailFreight's UK correspondent.

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Irish freight project bridges last gap | RailFreight.com
rail freight revival

Irish freight project bridges last gap

Better days. Infrastructure train on the Limerick - Foynes line. Image: © Iarnród Éireann.

Ireland’s rail renaissance continues. The Limerick to Foynes rail freight line project has taken a further step forward. The Robertstown Viaduct, the last river crossing on the approach to Foynes, has been reinstated. Work to bring freight traffic back to the port town is now less than two years from completion.

There are many ambitious projects in the Irish Rail Freight Strategy 2040. Among the most prominent is the plan to reopen the Limerick to Foynes rail freight line. That project has reached a significant milestone with the completion of the Robertstown Viaduct. This 46-meter structure, a key element of the route, brings the railway to within four kilometres of the eventual terminus at Foynes.

Embedded rail system

Robertstown Viaduct, spanning the river of the same name, still has some way to go before accepting its first train. Work on the steel viaduct, carried out over the past year, will now be followed by the construction of a concrete bridge deck and the integration of an embedded rail system. The project, which began in early 2023, has also seen the near completion of boundary fencing along the route – a necessary upgrade for twenty-first-century operations.

Track laying commenced westwards from Askeaton earlier this year. Those final twelve kilometres are projected by the project team to be laid by the end of this year. The next phase of the project will involve the installation of a signalling system, CCTV at level crossings, a train communications system, and track connections and upgrades at Foynes Port.

The line had been mothballed

Within the context of the Irish economy, the scale of the project is considerable. The entire project is being funded by the Irish Department of Transport and the National Transport Authority. The remainder of the work is expected to take approximately a year and a half. However, its completion in that timescale is subject to funding allocation. The aim is to have the rail line operational by December 2025, with freight services starting in early 2026.

Definitely a ‘before’ picture. Mothballed Limerick to Foynes Railway in 2017. Image: © Redmond O’Brien at geograph.org.uk.

The line had been mothballed, with old infrastructure mainly left in place. That strategy has helped speed up the restoration. By January of this year, vegetation clearance and the removal of old tracks were completed, along with the installation of ducting and drainage pipes along the route. Replacement of the track formation and installation of a new ballast bed started in February 2024, followed by the reinstallation of new bridges at the River Deel, the River Maigue, and finally the Robertstown Viaduct.

Ireland’s radical modal shift to rail

It is unusual for rail development in Ireland (and in the neighbouring UK) to be freight-driven. However, the 42km stretch between Limerick City and Foynes Port will see goods transported by rail along a route originally opened in 1858, and which has been inactive since 2001.

Under the stewardship of Iarnród Éireann (the Irish national railway administration), the line is being renewed as part of the Iarnród Éireann Rail Freight 2040 Strategy. The plan aims to place rail at the heart of Ireland’s freight transport system. A vanishingly small proportion of goods are currently moved by rail in Ireland, but the strategy aims to promote a radical modal shift to rail for more sustainable logistics solutions.

Scope for mixed traffic in future

The project also supports multiple strategic plans, including the Shannon Foynes Port Company Masterplan, Vision 2041. It aligns with national, regional, and local development objectives and meets EU transport guidelines. Key benefits include intermodal transport, enhanced environmental protection by reducing road freight, and improved transport interconnections.

While the current focus is on freight services, the regeneration of the line leaves open the possibility of future passenger services, pending further infrastructure upgrades and funding.

Several local engineering companies delivered the Robertstown Viaduct project. They included management engineers O’Connor Sutton and Cronin, and main contractors John Sisk and Son. Gabriel O’Brien Crane Hire and Mack Engineering played important supporting roles.

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Want full access? Take advantage of our exclusive offer

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Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is RailFreight's UK correspondent.

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