Tuesday, 22 June 2021
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
Gabhaim buíochas leis na Teachtaí. I welcome the opportunity to update the House on the position regarding rail freight into Dublin Port on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Ryan, and the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton.
The Minister and the Minister of State strongly believe in the potential of rail freight and think it can play a bigger role in freight transport generally on this island. Both have spoken specifically on the potential for rail freight in the west. This is why, as part of the strategic rail review, we have included a specific focus on the topic. The review will also examine how our key ports are connected to the rail network and whether improvements are needed.
The focus we are looking to bring to this issue replicate the focus at a European level, where there is a renewed push to examine rail freight corridors and their potential as part of the Green New Deal. Obviously, there are differences in terms of what that potential might be across different countries, including in Ireland, however, it is clear in my mind that we can, and should, look to increase the modal share of rail freight from an environmental perspective and with a view to reducing congestion on our roads.
Specifically on Dublin Port, the Ministers are aware of operational issues that have arisen in the port involving two private companies with regard to the facilitation of rail freight services there. This relates to capacity constraints that have occurred in a lo-lo terminal in the port that are impacting on the rail services. To give some background, Dublin Port is the largest and busiest port in the State serving the trading needs of Ireland and handling, on average, 70% of all vessels visits and over 50% of all tonnage handled by ports in Ireland. Since the end of the Brexit transition period last January, shipping services direct to the Continent from Ireland have increased from approximately 36 lo-lo and ro-ro sailings a week in the first quarter of 2020 to more than 60 sailings direct to the Continent now. The Irish Maritime Development Office, IMDO, reports that, in recent months, ro-ro volumes on Republic of Ireland–EU direct services increased by 81% while lo-lo volumes increased by 11%.
In Dublin Port, the lo-lo freight terminals are leased, managed and operated by private stevedoring companies. The rail line or spur in Dublin Port currently goes into the area where one of the stevedoring companies provides services for loading containers on and off trains. Since January, with the increased level of sailings and number of containers being handled in the port, this has led to significant pressures on space to cater for the additional freight and the containers coming in by rail at the same time and location.
Dublin Port, with an 85% percent share of all ro-ro trade in Ireland, provided 14.6 ha or almost one fifth of its lands on the north side of the river to facilitate the State services required post Brexit including facilities relating to customs, agriculture, immigration and so on. At the same time, Dublin Port is undertaking its most ambitious development programme in over a century to future-proof the port by providing additional cargo handling capacity and infrastructure for larger vessels, which is essential to cater for a growing economy. In the six years prior to 2020, and the Covid-19 pandemic, there was a 36% growth in freight volumes at the port. As it undertakes this work, Dublin Port itself is experiencing pinch points with no spare space at present which can be provided for the container services. With the completion of the capital works at the port and the introduction of a range of measure to optimise operations, however, it is intended that further growth can be facilitated in the future, along with the growth in rail services at the port.
The Minister and Minister of State are aware that discussions are ongoing at present with the stakeholders involved, including the two private companies along with Irish Rail and Dublin Port, to explore options to resolve these issues. They strongly urge all parties involved to engage constructively in this dialogue to ensure the continuation of the rail services into the port now and into the future.