A STRATEGIC review of Ireland's railway network was published on April 3. Prepared by Booz Allen Hamilton, it is said to be the first report since the founding of the Irish State in 1922 to recommend an extensive rebuilding and revitalisation of the national network.

Transport Minister Seamus Brennan said the government has accepted the broad thrust of the recommendations as the basis for planning. Although the recommendations would bring Ireland's rail system up to world class standards, he felt the report was not ambitious enough because it did not cover the development of a dedicated high speed network or main line electrification.

The Recommended Investment Strategy proposes a 20-year capital programme totalling €8·5bn, with a net present value of €3bn over a do-nothing scenario. The money would be split equally between renewing Iarnród Éireann's life-expired assets and schemes to increase capacity. A total of €1bn would be spent on new or replacement rolling stock.

A Western Rail Corridor would link Sligo to Galway, Limerick and Cork, reflecting the government's National Spatial Strategy to boost economic development in these cities. On the present main lines, hourly services would link Dublin to Cork and Belfast, with other inter-city routes running at 2h intervals.

BAH believes ridership could increase over the 20 years from 35 to 76 million passenger-journeys, with suburban business growing from 24 to 50 million. As well as improvements to Dublin's DART electrified network (p252), increased capacity would be provided on suburban routes to Kildare, Maynooth, Dundalk and Arklow. A separate report by Oscar Faber recommends investment to develop commuter services around Cork.

Although the government has committed not to close routes, the report does not recommend investment in lightly used lines, such as Limerick Junction - Waterford - Rosslare. Also uncertain is the future of freight operations, which are expected to lose €14m this year. BAH recommends that IE should only retain commercially viable bulk flows, and develop joint ventures with third party logistics firms to strengthen its penetration of the intermodal market.

The government is already committed to an annual capital investment of €500m for the next five years. Some railway property could be sold or leased to raise funds for the extra investment.