Dáil Éireann - Volume 434 - 19 October, 1993

Written Answers. - Irish Sea Railway Ferry.

[1620] 173. Mr. Barry asked the Minister for Transport Energy and Communications the progress, if any, that has been made towards the provision of a railway ferry across the Irish Sea in order to ensure that Ireland will not be further disadvantaged by the completion of the Channel tunnel linking Britain and France; and if he will make a statement on the matter in view of the fact that the option of building an Irish sea tunnel is not being considered because of the prohibitive estimated cost of some £15 billion.

Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications (Mr. Cowen): There are no proposals under consideration by my Department for the provision of railway ferry links to either the UK or Europe. A project of this nature would require significant public investment which would not be justified on the basis of the existing and potential volumes of traffic on the rail system. Moreover, it would not be practical, because of rail gauge differences, to run train ferries between Ireland and the UK or Europe. However, the upgrading of rail links from West British ports to the Channel Tunnel is an important element in the Government's strategy for the development of Irish trade and the reduction of the adverse effects of Ireland's peripherality. My Department has been actively pressing for the upgrading of such rail links which are seen as being essential to the integration of Ireland into the community wide transport networks and to facilitate the movement of goods to and from Ireland via the U.K. landbridge and the Channel Tunnel.

Under the existing Operational Programme on Peripherality rail connections and ship transfer facilities are being upgraded at a number of ports, on the basis of assistance from the EC Structural Funds. In addition, the National Development Plan which was published recently, and has been submitted to the EC includes provision for the development of the railways and ports on the [1621] basis of assistance from the Cohesion Funds and Structural Funds.

Furthermore, as part of an initiative by the European Commission to undertake pilot action studies of links on the European Combined Transport Network, my Department and the UK Department of Transport have agreed that the Ireland/UK/Mainland Europe links should be examined. The European Commission has agreed to co-fund the proposed study. My Department and the UK authorities will shortly appoint consultants to undertake the study which is expected to be completed early next year.