PROPOSAL FOR A NORTH LINK
High Speed Rail Link Dublin / Belfast / Glasgow
This brief document sets out a proposal for extending a link to Cowal / South Argyll as a High Speed (HS) rail link connecting the cities of Dublin, Belfast and Glasgow, utilising an 18km tunnel under the North Channel. It is assumed that this link would connect to the eventual HS line that will service Glasgow from London. At this point, support in principal from the three involved Governments (Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland) is requested for an initial feasibility study to be funded, at least in part, by the relevant organisation(s) within the European Union.
This document is not a business case, but only introduces the topic at this point to see if the involved Governments have any interest and to identify which European funding stream could be approached for the feasibility study.
Such a project has been discussed since the 19th Century. Some 10 years ago, interests in the Republic of Ireland considered the so-called Tuskar Project, which would have linked Wexford to Fishguard by a 60 km undersea tunnel, which would be twice the length of the Channel Tunnel. Other options have been proposed, but the North Link option tends to be discounted due to ‘transport links to be cut through mountainous terrain’ (BBC News 14 August 2013). The route proposed in this brief document does not involve ‘mountainous terrain’ and is why a feasibility study is needed to put this in perspective.
There are a number of reasons to commit to such a feasibility study at this point:
- Investment in sustainable infrastructure such as rail is coming back on the agenda after the financial problems from 2008 onwards.
- The recent opening of the Borders Railway in Scotland has once again demonstrated that such an infrastructure project generates economic benefit along the whole route.
- Within Europe, there are plans to connect all capital cities with HS links. There is one glaring omission – the link from Glasgow to Belfast to Dublin.
- In Europe, large rail projects are seen as vital for economic development. For example, the Gotthard Basis tunnel in Switzerland, which opened recently, is 57 kms long and will reduce the journey time from Zurich from Milan by something around 90 minutes; yet, the huge expense is justified by the economic benefit that is anticipated.
- In this proposed North Link, the largest overland construction element would be in the Scottish County of Argyll & Bute. This County is receiving much Government and other agency focus at the moment due to challenging forecasts for future economic performance. This link would dramatically improve these predictions.
What would be involved?
- Tunnel connections from the Scottish Central Belt to Cowal in Argyll & Bute – there are multiple options for this route which are being studied as part of the economic action plans underway for Argyll & Bute.
- A rail link from Cowal through Glen Lean, a 1 - 2 km bridge over Loch Fyne near Asknish and a further rail link to Rubha Chlachan in Kintyre
- An 18 km rail tunnel (of which there are more than 20 in Europe) from Rubha Chlachan to Torr Head in Antrim
- A rail link from Torr Head to connect to the existing Northern Ireland rail network around Coleraine
- Upgrading to HS standard of the existing lines in Northern Ireland, the Irish Republic and the Glasgow / Central Belt section in Scotland.
- In Scotland, spur lines to create rail heads at Dunoon, Lochgilphead and Campbeltown.
Initial Economic Benefit
Using TGV type speeds:
- Dublin to Belfast is 166 km - a journey time of under 30 minutes
- Belfast to Glasgow is 289 km - a journey time of around 75 minutes.
With an HS link to Glasgow southwards to London, the overall journey time from Dublin to London could be in the region of 4 hours. Recent data indicates that the Dublin / London air route is the busiest international route in Europe with over 4.5 million passengers annually. City Centre to City Centre travel times by air are over 5 hours. Note that the Dublin / London travel time by the Tuskar route mentioned earlier would have been in excess of 4 hours because of the absence of an HS link from Fishguard to London.