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Rail freight: Unlocking Northern Ireland’s potential

The railway network is an indispensable part of Great Britain’s economy, transporting 10.48 billion net tonne miles of rail freight in 2022 – an increase of 11.3% from 2021.

And while rail freight is flourishing in many areas of Great Britain, Northern Ireland’s rail network accommodates only passenger services; no freight is moved by rail currently.  

“Logistics UK is calling for the rapid development of rail freight in Northern Ireland,” says Ellis Shelton, Policy Advisor at Logistics UK. 

“The expansion of rail freight services within Northern Ireland is essential to provide sustainable transportation solutions that align with the UK government’s ambition of a net zero carbon economy.” 


In 2021, the governments of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland launched the All-Island Strategic Rail Review (AISRR), to examine how the Island’s railways are currently used, what role rail could play in future, and how the Island’s railway could better serve the people of both jurisdictions. 

The final report was released in July 2023 and provided 30 recommendations as to how rail could be used effectively to contribute to decarbonisation, enhance regional accessibility, encourage sustainable mobility, achieve economic and financial feasibility, and improve All Island connectivity between major cities. 

“The All-Island Strategic Rail Review provided a much-needed vision for expanding rail freight across the island of Ireland,” says Shelton. 

“Now, we need commitment and investment from governments to make it happen. Northern Ireland needs an Executive and Assembly to be reinstated and for it to work in partnership with the Irish government to take these transformative projects forward,” continues Shelton.  


Northern Ireland’s first Climate Action Plan, covering 2023 to 2027, is expected to be released for public consultation imminently. 

“It is crucial that the implementation of rail freight networks is a clear focus for action within the plan,” says Shelton.  

“Road congestion is a key issue in Northern Ireland, especially in urban areas such as Belfast, as it relies heavily on road transport for most of its freight movements.  

“Moving freight via rail instead of road holds numerous benefits. Emitting fewer carbon emissions than other modes such as road, its green credentials effectively align with the Assembly’s net zero 2050 deadline.  

“By shifting a significant amount of road freight to rail, it will reduce traffic congestion, air pollution, and road maintenance costs in Northern Ireland,” says Shelton.  


“Northern Ireland holds untapped potential to facilitate the movement of goods between the UK and EU via rail due to its geographical location,” says Shelton.  

“An efficient rail freight network will enable Northern Ireland’s businesses to connect with the rest of the UK more effectively and serve as a gateway to Europe and beyond.” 

“Implementing rail freight operations in Northern Ireland will help to foster economic development, increase trade opportunities, enhance connectivity and improve environmental sustainability; it is imperative focus is placed on making this a reality,” Shelton concludes.  

Published On: 31/08/2023 16:00:00


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