Whatever happened to the 1991 aspiration of a 95 minutes train journey between Belfast and Dublin? #20yearrule

Northern Ireland Railways and Iarnrod Eíreann set up a Joint Study Group in 1988 to consider the optimum investment policy for the cross border rail network. One option was chosen out of the eight examined and files (ENV/34/1/8 and ENV/34/1/9) [selective scans] released under the 30/20 Year Rule show how Coopers & Lybrand Deloitte won a tender in 1990 to write a more detailed report about that option.

It was envisaged that nine diesel trains a day would run at 145 kph with a reduction to the non-stop journey time to 1 hour 35 minutes.

More than 25 years later, the journey time is never less than 2 hours 5 minutes, though the current timetable makes four stops along the way between Belfast Central and Dublin Connolly (calling at Portadown, Newry, Dundalk and Drogheda).

Like so many bundles of government papers released under the 30/20 Year Rule, the final chapter of the story is missing.

The final version of the consultants’ report which was published at the end of July 1991 was not included in either of the two files of papers. There’s an empty brown envelope at the front of the ENV/34/1/9 file labelled ‘Final Report’ that probably once contained a copy that an official forgot to put back!

However, the question remains how it was envisaged in 1991 that a north-south 95 minute train service was possible when journey times are now half an hour or more longer?

Local train traffic around Dublin has greatly increased since 1991 is causes some contention on the shared track. All services stop at four halts between Belfast and Dublin, adding ten or more minutes to the journey.

I asked Translink why the 1990/1991 aspiration of a faster journey time had not been realised. A spokesperson said:

“The level of investment available for the Enterprise service during the 1990s enabled sections of the cross border line to be upgraded to speeds of 145km/hr. Most of these are south of the border where the topography offers more opportunity to attain higher speeds (i.e. longer sections of straight line).

“The twists and turns that the railway takes north of the border allows only more modest opportunities for full 145km/hr running on sections closer to Belfast.

“This, along with busy urban and suburban services into Belfast and Dublin, has required that the original journey time aspirations for the Enterprise be tempered to achieve the best overall balance of service capacity and reliability for rail customers as a whole.”