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Rail transport in Ireland

For rail transport in Great Britain see rail transport in Great Britain

Rail services in Ireland are provided by Iarnród Éireann in the Republic of Ireland, and in Northern Ireland by Northern Ireland Railways.

Ireland once had one of the most extensive railway systems outside Great Britain but it now has a greatly reduced network (see History of rail transport in Ireland). As the map below demonstrates, most routes in the Republic are radial from Dublin, while the North has suburban routes from Belfast and just two "main lines", to Derry (Londonderry) and to the border. The effects of the partition of the country are readily visible, with only one "cross-border" line now remaining.

The map shows the present railway network in Ireland and includes, as well as those routes that are fully operational, lines carrying freight traffic only and those which have been "mothballed" (i.e. closed to traffic but still to some extent in situ and subject to inspection). Some airports are marked for reference – Farranfore and Belfast City Airport are the only two within walking distance of a railway station. Places having seaports are indicated as such, though only a few ports remain rail-connected. The country's principal mountains and lakes have also been marked for location purposes.

Current railway routes, along with major towns/station and some features such as mountains, ports and airports are shown on this map of Ireland
Current railway routes, along with major towns/station and some features such as mountains, ports and airports are shown on this map of Ireland



Main article: Diesel Locomotives of Ireland

34 locomotives were added to the rail system in the early 1990s. This was a joint order by IÉ and NIR, with 32 locos for the former and 2 for the latter. They were supplied by General Motors Electro-Motive Division. The NIR locos, although shipped in NIR livery, were repainted in 'Enterprise' livery as were at least two IÉ locos. Iarnród Éireann designated their locomotives the '201 class', the entire 34 locos being numbered 201 to 234 (The NIR locos were later prefixed with an 8). These locomotives are the heaviest to run in Ireland to date, and are 3,300 horse-power (2.5 MW). In December 2004, a new livery for the InterCity sector was tested on a 201 class locomotive, consisting of dark green, lime green and grey. It is thought that this will be used as a permanent new intercity livery on new carriages. A revised version of the existing livery has also been tested on another 201 locomotive. Other locomotives in the class are due to be refurbished in any case.

IÉ's other locomotives are also from General Motors. There are 18 '071' class 1976, 2450 hp (1.8 MW), 12 '181' class 1966, 1000 hp (750 kW), 36 '141' class 1962, 950 hp (700 kW) and some remaining '121' class locos 1960, 950 hp (700 kW). Mostly 071 are used on intercity services, with the others reserved for freight services (formerly suburban services also, but these are mostly DMU operated now). NIR have three other GM locos, numbered 111,112 and 113. These are identical to the 071 class locos.

Multiple units

Main article: Multiple Units of Ireland

NIR and IÉ both run suburban services using diesel multiple units (DMUs) – these are often termed railcars in Ireland (see rail terminology). NIR are replacing some aging DMUs with new regional railcars built by CAF, which began to arrive in 2004. These have been designated 3000 class, and a series of difficulties have been encountered in testing, delaying the delivery and entering into service of some units. IÉ introduced 17 new suburban railcars in 1993 as the 2600 class (built by Tokyu, Japan) for the Kildare 'Arrow' commuter service. One of these has now been used for spare parts. Further additions to the fleet were made in 1999 (2700 class, 27 GEC-Alsthom built), 2000 (2800 class, 20 Tokyu built) and 2003 (2900 class, 80 CAF built). A further 36 CAF railcars will arrive in 2005. An order is being placed for regional railcars also. The lone 2600 railcar, and an unused single 2700 railcar have been sent to Scotland for overhaul, to enter service as a mixed pair designated 2651 and 2652.

Rolling Stock

Main article: Coaching Stock of Ireland

The 'Enterprise' service has the most modern rolling stock on the island. The carriages, commissioned in 1997 are by De-Dietrich . They comprise a dining car, first class carriage(s) and driving van trailer (DVT) for push-pull operation. Notable is the omission of a generator van (the DVT does not have its own generator either). This requires the GM locos to supply head-end power (HEP) for heating and lighting.

NIR also have a rake of refurbished carriages from the Gatwick airport service (converted to the Irish 5 ft 3 in (1600 mm) gauge). These are generally referred to as 'the Gatwicks'.

The backbone of IÉs main intercity services to Cork, Limerick and Galway are the Mark IIIs. These carriages are the next most modern intercity stock after the De-Dietrichs, being built in 1980, 1986 and 1989. They are British Rail Mark III design coaches, but unlike their British equivalents they are equipped with power-operated external doors. They include a dining car, first class carriage, generator van and typically six ordinary carriages (prior to the smoking ban in the Republic, one of these was a smoking car).

Routes such as Dublin to Waterford, Wexford and Sligo are typically served in some part by Mark IIs. Air conditioned Mark IId type carriages date back to 1972, and are distinguished from the similar Mark IIIs by having slam doors and being about 2 meters shorter. Earlier Mark IIs, termed Mark IIa/b/c dating back to 1966/1970 have recently been scrapped (even before older carriages) since they suffered from corrosion.

The oldest carriages run by Iarnród Éireann are forty years old (1963/1965) and are termed the 'Cravens ', the builder's name. These are slamdoor stock and are soon to be placed as reserve carriages. They may be scrapped, but the interior has been refurbished and they are structurally sound, unlike the Mark IIas. They are also steam heated, leading to the scenes of a by-gone era gracing Ireland's railway stations, with jets and clouds of steam flowing out from the carriages while stationary. Problems with the aging generator vans have made these carriages unpopular, as the heating (and even lighting) can be out of service.

IÉ are due to receive 67 new intercity carriages (including dining cars, generator vans and driving van trailers) built by CAF of Spain in 2005. These will be formed into eight 8-car trains which will permit a massive expansion in service frequencies -- by 2008 IÉ anticipate frequencies on the network will be:

  • Dublin - Cork: Hourly all day.
  • Dublin - Limerick: Hourly, with a mixture of direct services and shuttles connecting with Dublin - Cork services at Limerick Junction.
  • Dublin - Galway: Hourly in the peak, 2-hourly the rest of the day.
  • Dublin - Waterford: 2-hourly all day.
  • Dublin - Sligo: 2-hourly all day.
  • Dublin - Westport: Existing through trains with extra shuttles connecting with Galway services at Athlone.
  • Dublin - Tralee: Existing through trains with extra shuttles every 2 hours connecting with Cork services at Mallow.
  • Dublin - Rosslare: Existing services with extra commuter services to Arklow/Gorey.

Main routes

Some services below usually, but not necessarily always, involve a change of trains. Changing points are shown in bold type. Usually services at different times of day will serve a different subset of the stations shown below. The "stations served" lists all possible stops for any train on a given route. As an example, some services to Limerick do not involve a change at Limerick Junction. Another example: some services to Cork may only stop at Limerick Junction, Charleville and Mallow.

Dublin to Belfast

Stations served - Dublin Connolly Stn., Drogheda, Dundalk, Newry, Portadown, Belfast Central Stn.

This service, named 'Enterprise', is jointly run by Northern Ireland Railways and Iarnród Éireann. Despite having some of the most modern intercity rolling stock on the island, it has been dogged by numerous problems. A historical problem on this route has been disruption to services, caused by security alerts (devices on the line, hoax devices, threats and warnings). These continue to the present day.

The punctuality on this service remains poor for other reasons also. The intercity route, despite being mostly high quality continuous welded rail, is shared with suburban services both outside Belfast and Dublin. Unfortunately these are the busiest suburban routes on the island, while only double-track is provided, hence very little mishap is required to disrupt the Enterprise service. In theory the trip should take 2 hours – there have been occasions where this has become almost 5 hours!

A further problem is due to the locomotive and rolling stock arrangements. Unlike most other locomotive-hauled rolling stock in Ireland, generator vans are not part of the train – even the driving trailers do not supply power. Thus the General Motors built locomotives must supply head-end power for lighting and heating throughout the train. Although many types of locomotive are well designed for this purpose, these particular locomotives have struggled under the extra strain. The wear on the locos, and time out of service is unusually high. In fact, on at least two occasions, locomotives have burst into flames while shuttling along the route.

Dublin to Cork

Stations served - Dublin Heuston, Newbridge, Kildare, Monasterevin, Portarlington, Portlaoise, Ballybrophy , Templemore, Thurles, Limerick Junction, Charleville, Mallow, Cork Kent Stn.

This was known as the 'Premier Line' of the Great Southern and Western Railway (GS&WR), being one of the longest routes in the country, built to a high standard and connecting to Galway, Limerick, Waterford and Kerry as well as Cork. These other destinations all have their own services, although connections are offered to/from the Cork service at Limerick Junction (for Limerick) and Mallow (for Kerry).

Most services to Cork stop at four or five stations at most, usually at least Limerick Junction, Charleville and Mallow. Other stops are not as frequently served, as services from other destinations mentioned above also serve those stops. Journey time varies, but mostly trains take 3 hours to complete the journey (express trains with few or no stops take just over 2.5 hours).

Dublin to Limerick

Stations served - Dublin Heuston, Newbridge, Kildare, Monasterevan, Portarlington, Portlaoise, Ballybrophy, Templemore, Thurles, Limerick Junction, Limerick Colbert Stn.

This service follows the Cork route as far as Limerick Junction. Limerick services proper leave the mainline via a direct curve onto the Limerick-Waterford railway. Many Dublin-Limerick services however, involve a change at 'the Junction' onto a local train for the remaining half hour of the journey. The Limerick to Limerick Junction section was built as part of the Waterford & Limerick Railway (W&LR).

Dublin to Galway

Stations served - Dublin Heuston, Newbridge, Kildare, Monasterevan, Tullamore, Clara, Athlone, Ballinasloe, Woodlawn, Attymon , Athenry, Galway Céannt Stn.

The route to Galway now runs partly along the Cork mainline. Originally the Midland Great Western Railway (MGWR) to Galway was built starting on Dublin's northside, continuing on through Mullingar to Athlone. The section to Mullingar is now part of the Dublin-Sligo route.

The present route, built by the GS&WR in competition with the MGWR, leaves the Cork mainline just before Portarlington. The River Shannon is crossed at Athlone. Athenry, the last station before Galway, used to boast connections north and south along the West coast (to Sligo and Ennis/Limerick respectively).

Dublin to Tralee

Stations served - Dublin Heuston, Newbridge, Kildare, Monasterevan, Portarlington, Portlaoise, Ballybrophy, Templemore, Thurles, Limerick Junction, Charleville, Mallow, Banteer , Millstreet, Rathmore , Killarney, Farranfore, Tralee Casement Stn.

This relatively indirect route runs along what is in essence a branch line connected to the Cork–Dublin mainline at Mallow. Trains run to/from the south of Tralee, services also once ran north to Limerick via North Kerry. The route became part of the extensive GS&WR network. As of 2004 the route boasts some of the oldest rolling stock and locomotives on Irish railways. Railcars will also take over working of this service in the near future.

Dublin to Waterford

Stations served - Dublin Heuston, Newbridge, Kildare, Athy, Carlow, Muine Bheag (Bagenalstown), Kilkenny, Thomastown, Waterford Plunkett Stn. .

Dublin to Wexford/Rosslare Europort

Stations served - Dublin Connolly Stn., Dublin Pearse Street Stn., Dún Laoghaire, Bray, Greystones, Wicklow, Rathdrum , Arklow, Gorey, Enniscorthy, Wexford O'Hanrahan Stn. , Rosslare Strand , Rosslare Europort.

Dublin to Sligo

Stations served - Dublin Connolly Stn., Maynooth, Enfield, Mullingar, Edgeworthstown, Longford, Dromod, Carrick-on-Shannon, Boyle, Ballymote, Collooney , Sligo McDiarmada Stn.

Dublin to Westport/Ballina

Stations served - Dublin Heuston, Newbridge, Kildare, Monasterevan, Tullamore, Clara, Athlone, Roscommon, Castlerea , Ballyhaunis, Claremorris, Manulla Junction , (Foxford, Ballina) or (Castlebar, Westport).

Regional Routes

Limerick to Nenagh/Ballybrophy /Dublin

This line is subject to many speed restrictions due to the need to replace several old sections of track. Stations served from Limerick Colbert Station are Castleconnell, Birdhill, Nenagh, Cloughjordan, Roscrea terminating at Ballybrophy. The line branches from the Waterford line and at present there is no direct connection to the Dublin line at Ballybrophy.

Limerick to Ennis

The Limerick to Ennis route is the only open section of a railway line extending from Limerick to Sligo, built by the GS&WR. The line was shut by CIÉ in 1976, but reopened in 1988 (Tuesdays and Thursdays only). In 1993 this was expanded to include Friday and Saturday services, and a full six weekday service commenced in 1994. In 2003 the service was expanded from two/three services daily (none on Sundays), to around eight services a day, including six on Sundays. Relatively new commuter DMUs now provide a slow (40 minutes) but frequent service. The line is a single block section with no passing loops (a single train runs back and forth all day).

Currently only Limerick and Ennis are served. Former stations include Longpavement, Meelick, Cratloe, Sixmilebridge, Ballycar & Newmarket, Ardsollus & Quin and Clarecastle. As of 2004 there has been discussion on opening Cratloe and Sixmilebridge stations.

Limerick to Waterford/Rosslare

Stations served - Limerick Colbert Stn., Limerick Junction, Tipperary, Cahir, Clonmel, Carrick-on-Suir, Waterford Plunkett Stn., Campile , Ballycullane , Wellington Bridge , Bridgetown, Rosslare Strand, Rosslare Europort.

The Limerick–Waterford route is the only true non-radial (from Dublin) route still open in Ireland that is not a branch line. The route was commenced in 1848 by the Waterford & Limerick Railway and finished in 1854 – one of the oldest routes in Ireland, and the first approved by British parliament. The company later merged with the GS&WR. The Waterford to Rosslare section remains technically in ownership of the Fishguard & Rosslare Railways & Harbours Company , although services are run by Iarnród Éireann. It remains the only mainline track not owned by the State.

Services have remained infrequent for over a hundred years. In recent times, this has resulted in few passengers. The advent of more efficient railcar units has lent new hope to the line, which with three services daily, has a greater frequency of service than for much of its history. The most notable feature on the line is the Cahir Viaduct, which has twice partly collapsed. The first incident in 1955 involved an out-of-control train crashing through the buffers at Cahir stations loop, and passing through the bare deck of the viaduct. The driver and fireman were killed. The other incident occurred in 2003, with a cement train derailment. Rough or faulty jointed track is thought to have caused a two-axle cement hopper to "bounce" off the track, with the rear of the train pulling through the deck cross-sections. The locomotive and driver came across safely. The rebuilding of the viaduct sealed the fate, temporarily at least, of a line slated for closure.

Cork Suburban

Cork to Cóbh

DART/Commuter (Dublin Suburban)

The Dublin suburban sector, previously "DART Suburban Rail" has been rebranded as "DART/Commuter" since 2003. Aside from the DART line, most trains in this sector are DMU railcar (2600/2700/2800/2900 series) operated trains branded "Commuter". The previously orange/black branded "Arrow" trains are in the process of being repainted in the new green and blue livery.

Northern Commuter

Maynooth Commuter

Stations served - Dublin Pearse, Tara St, Dublin Connolly, Drumcondra, Broombridge, Ashtown, Coolmine, Clonsilla, Leixlip Confey, Leixlip Louisa Bridge, Maynooth. Some trains on this service continue to Kilcock, Enfield, Mullingar, Edgeworthstown, and Longford.

Kildare Commuter

Stations served - Dublin Heuston, Cherry Orchard, Clondalkin, Hazelhatch and Celbridge, Sallins and Naas, Newbridge, Kildare. A station, used only occasionally for "special" trains, also exists at the Curragh. Other services, continuing on past Portlaoise or Carlow, also serve some of these stations.

Southern service


See separate DART article.

Northern Ireland

Services in Northern Ireland are sparse in comparison to the Republic, or other countries. A large railway network was severely curtailed in the 1950s and 1960s (in particular by the Ulster Transport Authority). The current situation includes suburban services to Larne, Newry and Bangor, as well as a struggling service to Derry (Londonderry). There is also a branch from Coleraine to Portrush.


Belfast suburban trains run to and from both Portadown and Bangor, with some services running all the way between these end destinations, and others terminating at one of Belfast's two main stations. The following is a full station list for an end-to-end service from Portadown to Bangor:

  • Portadown, Lurgan, Moira, Knockmore , Lisburn, Hilden, Lambeg, Derriaghy, Dunmurry, Finaghy, Balmoral, Adelaide, Belfast Great Victoria Street Station , City Hospital, Botanic, Belfast Central Station , Bridge End Odyssey, Sydenham, Holywood, Marino, Cultra, Seahill, Helen's Bay, Carnalea, Bangor West, Bangor.

Another Belfast suburban service runs to and from Larne.

  • Belfast Great Victoria Street, City Hospital, Botanic, Belfast Central Station, Yorkgate Station, Whiteabbey, Jordanstown, Greenisland, Trooperslane, Clipperstown, Carrickfergus, Downshire, Whitehead, Ballycarry, Magheramorne, Glynn, Larne, Larne Harbour.


The service to Londonderry (Derry) has suffered greatly from a lack of funding over recent decades. Several derailments have occurred on this route, with long journey times and old rolling stock. New rolling stock may enter service in 2005, but the closure of the line, or the section north of Coleraine is under consideration by the Department of Regional Development .

See also

External links

Last updated: 08-28-2005 08:27:52