01 Oct 2022

Thinking green! Rail freight comeback on the cards as new service launches from Kilkenny

Christopher Dunne examines how and why rail freight is making a comeback locally


Jim Meade, Iarnród Éireann Chief Executive, Frank Ronan, Port of Waterford Chief Executive and Kelvin Bulmer, General Manager at XPO Logistics Europe PICTURE: PATRICK BROWNE

As a county, Kilkenny has had a long and storied history with rail freight.

From heaps of beet to wagons of beer, the railway tracks in the black and amber county have been well-worn with the grease of industry.

Many may not realise it, unless you happen to be stopped at a level-crossing at the right time, but rail freight still regularly passes through the county.

Pulpwood is regularly transported from South Kilkenny to Westport and Ballina and has been for many years now. So too has container traffic, though more sporadically.

There’s a section of track just outside Kilkenny city called the ‘Lavistown Loop’ that connects the two lines of track coming out of Kilkenny, for Dublin and Waterford.

This loop line removes the need for a locomotive to turn-around in Kilkenny city and saves valuable time.

When the railway network began to shrink and shut down during the last century, the expanding road network was seen as the future.

Not the case anymore.

The big advantage that rail freight transportation has over road freight transportation is its greater energy efficiency and lesser carbon footprint.

The addition of a new rail freight service from Iarnród Eireann and XPO Logistics last week (pictured above), will offer Irish industry a greener and more efficient mode of transporting freight between the Southeast and West 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 a 75% reduction in emissions per unit.

This new rail service will build to twice-weekly operations within just eight weeks and comes as Iarnród Éireann is finalising a new national rail freight strategy to identify growth and investment opportunities to significantly grow rail freight operations.

Speaking about the launch, Iarnród Éireann Chief Executive Jim Meade said, “We are entering a very exciting phase where rail freight can offer key solutions for the movement of freight as the country addresses both environmental and congestion challenges in this sector.”

Dan Myers, managing director of XPO Logistics noted that this is another step in our collective journey to a carbon-neutral future.

“Climate change is a critical global challenge; the solutions will take a concerted effort, coordinated action and cooperation. Our collaborative, end-to-end service with Irish Rail — where XPO provides the booking of rail freight movements, drayage trucking of containers, and services such as cross-docking — is a double win. Our customers have new, eco-friendly transport options, and our planet wins as supply chains become greener,” he said.

Belview Port, part of Port of Waterford operating out of County Kilkenny, is showing its potential as a national base for rail freight in Ireland looking towards the future.

For the first half of 2021, Port of Waterford showed very positive momentum despite the continued challenges posed by the pandemic in the ability to drive car park and cruise income.

Bulk handling is currently ahead of 2020 by over 20% at this year’s halfway point and container handling is also holding up well and in-line with 2020 levels.

The new rail freight service between South Kilkenny and Ballina is one of four major national rail freight operations operating at present.

Two of these (this new XPO service and the aforementioned pulpwood service) begin in and run through Kilkenny.

The other two are zinc ore transportation from Tara Mines in Navan to Dublin Port and container traffic from Ballina to Dublin Port.

Responding proactively to climate change and emerging economic opportunities and challenges are among the key themes of the latest version of the Port of Waterford corporate plan.

The Belview Industrial Zone surrounding the port is also growing.

With all that in mind, next time you’re caught at a level crossing in County Kilkenny and a freight train passes by, it might be worth remembering how much traffic it’s taking off the road!

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