TRACKING IRISH RAILFREIGHT
By Tim Casterton
With increasing awareness of the environmental and economical benefits to be gained from efficient intermodal freight rail services, expansion of such systems in Ireland is progressing apace.
Here, Handling Network’s rail correspondent Tim Casterton outlines some important developments taking place on the existing Irish Rail network – and looks to what can be achieved in the near future.
Ireland’s rail network is continuing to buck the trend in respect of the carriage of freight. For example, International Warehousing and Transport’s (IWT) daily services between Ballina and Dublin Port are now using the recently opened terminal in the Dublin Port Common User Terminal. With a daily service each weekday in both directions, these trains now save in the region of 5,000 truck movements every year on the Dublin to Mayo routes – whilst the DFDS Mayo to Waterford Port services save a further 2,500 movements throughout the year.
The Dublin Port Company is currently giving consideration to extending its new rail facility and reintroducing sidings into the Eucon operated Dublin Ferry Terminal in the interests of the improvement of Port facilities and of fair competition within the Port.
While the Waterford Port to Ballina route (via Kildare) is already cleared by Iarnród Éireann’s engineers for the operation of standard rail wagons with hi-cube (9’6”) containers, the Dublin to Ballina route between Dublin and Kildare can currently only convey the 9’6” hi-cube boxes on special ‘pocket wagons’.
Hi-cube boxes are the preference of many companies now due to the additional 13% capacity per container and Iarnród Éireann has recently carried out trial runs for these containers between Dublin and Kildare, with clearance of the route expected very soon. This will then permit the transportation of the hi-cube boxes on the standard wagons, allowing for greater cost benefits as more units can be conveyed on each train. These gauge enhancements will release the ‘pocket wagons’ for other services where hi-cube cannot currently be carried on standard wagons.
Once Iarnród Éireann has clearance for the Dublin to Klidare section of route for hi-cube boxes, their engineers will be running a trial on the route between Portarlington and Cork. Completion of this enhancement is seen as essential for further growth of traffic from the port to destinations throughout Ireland.
At present Cork isn’t served by any rail freight services, however once the route is cleared for the conveyance of 9’6” containers on standard wagons, the Iarnród Éireann freight manager is fairly confident that latent demand will materialise. Cork has a freight yard located at North Esk, adjacent to the N25 East Cork Parkway and Eastgate, Waterfront and Euro Business Parks – and is just about 1km distant from Tivoli Dock and Industrial Estate. Once brought back into use, the North Esk yard would have the capacity to handle several intermodal trains daily if demand is required. It is understood that several logistics companies have expressed an interest in rail services between Dublin and Cork.
Although Dublin Port has stolen the limelight in respect of rail freight facilities in recent years, Waterford Port saw the re-introduction of intermodal liner trains onto Iarnród Éireann several years earlier with its quay being directly connected to the rail network and overhead crane loading facilities direct from ships. Norfolk Line (now DFDS Logistics) took early advantage of this facility for its traffic to Ballina for the Coca-Cola manufacturing plant in the town. DFDS also sells any available space on their trains to other companies who wish to transport containers along the same route.
Other major users of Waterford port are Fyffes, Hasbro, Samskip along with Glanbia and Target Fertilisers. Fyffes, famous for their bananas, have a weekly service from Belize and transport produce in containers – which would make ideal traffic for transfer to rail making use of refrigerated units. Waterford Port has rail links to all areas of Ireland including Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Mayo.
Other areas where rail freight intermodal services could be reintroduced include Limerick, Galway and Tralee, all of which have quite considerable industrial estates in the vicinity and from where a steady volume of traffic could be sustained. Tralee in particular is a long road haul from Dublin – around 192 miles (and much not on motorways) – and fuel savings on a liner train fully loaded with containers could be quite substantial taking into account the current price of a litre of diesel.
Even Limerick at 131 miles or Galway at 129 miles are worthy of consideration. The railway to Galway runs directly through the centre of the Oranmore Business Park and a new passenger railway station is currently being considered for the site. Further on from Limerick, the Port of Foynes is also currently keen to have the rail connection from Limerick re-opened for freight services to and from their deep water quays. However it is estimated that an approximate investment of €9 million is required to achieve this.
New businesses located near to railway lines should also be considering whether they will benefit from a rail freight connection, especially if their produce or supplies are either brought in or distributed using intermodal shipping containers. For example, Diageo Ireland is currently considering the construction of a new brewery on a 73-acre site in Leixlip – which would, if and when completed, be their largest brewery in the world with a capacity for around one billion pints annually. Ironically, Arthur Guinness established his first brewery in Leixlip in 1755 before moving to St. James’s Gate in 1759. The most famous of this company’s products, Guinness stout, is exported worldwide and a rail connection to allow movement of produce both to the ports and the rest of Ireland would surely be beneficial.
Likewise, looking north, the new Coca-Cola plant near Lisburn is located adjacent to the very lightly used Lisburn to Antrim branch line and the thoughts of connecting to it for the transfer of ingredients and products must surely have crossed the minds of their logistics manager!
Areas for potential additional intermodal flows include supermarket produce. Such produce is currently carried very successfully by rail in Scotland by both DB Schenker (DBS) and Direct Rail Services (DRS). Rail is capable of conveying refrigerated boxes to keep products fresh – and indeed these are regularly conveyed between Dublin and Ballina at present on the IWT services. The Grangemouth to Inverness service run by DRS in conjunction with haulier John G Russell takes no less than 13,000 lorry journeys per year off Scotland’s busy A9 route to Inverness, the equivalent of 1.67 million lorry miles! Estimations are that the service actually saves some 827,000 litres of diesel fuel each year.
Another road haulier that runs services in conjunction with DRS is W H Malcolm That company is keen to point out to customers the environmental benefits of rail freight – namely: 80% less Carbon Dioxide, 20% less Carbon Monoxide, 5% less Fine Particulate and 10% less Volatile Organic Compounds per tonne carried compared with their road transport operation! These statistics show what could be achieved in Ireland with even just a few more freight flows being launched across the rail network.
Iarnród Éireann currently have sufficient locomotives and platform wagons for the carriage of containers to deal with current traffic on offer with sufficient available to increase services. However with a mind on the future, Stephen Aherne, the freight manager, is considering ways of making further wagons available. One solution being examined at present is increasing the platform length on currently unused ‘LP’ type wagons to allow carriage of 45’ long containers rather than their current 40’ limitation. A prototype is likely to be constructed during the next few months to prove the design.
Companies in Ireland that think rail freight may be beneficial to them can now contact Ireland’s ‘Rail Freight Group’, facilitated by the Irish Exporters Association. This holds regular meetings in Dublin and brings together all aspects of the business to facilitate the rail freight needs of its members. Companies requiring more information in relation to this group should contact Howard Knott at firstname.lastname@example.org
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