New Irish freight service launched

Iarnród Éireann / Irish Rail puts faith in rail freight with a new twice-weekly service. The national rail operator in the Irish Republic has taken a bold step towards environmentally sustainable logistics by announcing a twice weekly service connecting customers in the west with the Port of Waterford. The operation is in partnership with XPO Logistics, an American-owned multi-national with interests in thirty countries worldwide.

A new mixed traffic service, tailored to the Irish market is to start operations in June. The service will see mixed traffic and freight only lines utilised to convey bulks and intermodal traffic between customers in the west of Ireland and the important ports of Dublin and Waterford. XPO Logistics, who will work in partnership with the national railway operator Iarnród Éireann / Irish Rail have already identified intermodal flows to and from Ballina in the north west of Ireland. However, the willingness to mix traffic is seen as a direct response to environmental considerations, and will, according to the partners, eliminate 5,000 long-distance truck movements annually.

Service begins end of June

Iarnród Eireann and XPO Logistics, have jointly announced the commencement of a new twice-weekly rail freight service in each direction between Ballina, County Mayo in the north west of the country, and the Port of Waterford in the south west.

The new rail service – which begins from  the end of June – will offer Irish industry a greener and more efficient mode of transporting freight between the west and south east of the country. “It will see the potential for over 5,000 truck movements a year to switch from road to rail, with a resulting reduction in road congestion, and 75 per cent reduction in emissions per unit”, says a joint statement from the partners.

New freight strategy

The new service comes as Iarnród Éireann is finalising a new national rail freight strategy to identify growth and investment opportunities to significantly grow rail freight operations. Iarnród Éireann / Irish Rail chief executive Jim Meade said this was a very exciting phase. Meade hopes to grow substantially the tiny fraction of freight that is currently conveyed by rail. “Rail freight can offer key solutions for the movement of freight as the country addresses both environmental and congestion challenges in this sector”, he said.

Irish Rail freight is only a small percentage of logistics in the Republic, but with strategic plans to grow significantly (Iarnród Éireann / Irish Rail)

Iarnród Éireann / Irish Rail, in collaboration with government departments, are currently finalising a very ambitious strategic plan for the growth of rail freight between key locations across the country. Meade made reference to the importance of mixed traffic within the Irish context, where train load traffic is not necessarily the mainstay for the future. “Today’s announcement with XPO and Waterford demonstrates the viable opportunities that can be developed that will not just support industry and the logistics sector, but is also fully aligned with the country’s climate action plan.”

Flexibility and growth

Dan Myers, managing director, transport – UK and Ireland, at XPO Logistics, said the company takes environmental protection seriously. “We are pleased to work in partnership with Irish Rail in delivering an intermodal solution, with the flexibility of loading and unloading goods in a drop-trailer setting. Our goal is always to manage supply chain activities as efficiently as possible whilst helping our customers lower their carbon footprint.”

XPO staff tend to be enthusiastic, and any excuse for a party. Plenty of Irish green on display (XPO Logistics)

Ireland’s minister for transport, Eamon Ryan, who has already expressed interest in rail freight development, said the way Ireland chooses to connect communities and businesses will be critically important as the country aims to halve emissions by 2030. “Rail and other sustainable solutions will play an important role on our journey to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050”, he said. “This new freight service offers a climate friendly option connecting enterprises from the west to the south east of the country and onwards to export markets. We look forward to growing our rail freight operations soon.”

Mainland Europe connections

There is plenty of scope for increased delivery in Ireland. Currently only one per cent of freight is moved by rail in the Republic. In Northern Ireland, the part of the island under UK administration, there is no rail freight traffic whatsoever. Port of Waterford chief executive Frank Ronan said he welcomed the new service which will see rail freight facilities reactivated at the Belview terminal of the port. “These trains, carrying container freight, will work very effectively with the Port’s Lift on-Lift off shipping services to provide businesses in Ireland’s west/north west with a compelling logistics solution to and from mainland Europe”, he said.

There is talk of connecting Northern Ireland with a fixed link to Great Britain, which may revive rail freight. However, Waterford is already the port of choice for UK trade via South Wales. The new rail freight service between Ballina and Waterford is in addition to existing rail freight operations, which include intermodal flows from Ballina to Dublin Port, bulk wood pulp from Ballina and Westport to Waterford Port, and zinc ore from Tara Mines, in Navan in the heart of Ireland, to Dublin Port.

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is RailFreight's UK correspondent.

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