The Anonymous Widower

A Solution To The Northern Irish Problem!

I am an engineer and therefor tend to favour practical solutions, that are often radical.

The Brexit negotiations are at an impasse over how you deal with the Northern Irish-Irish Republic border.

We only have to look back to the Second World War, where smuggling was rife between a neutral Irish Republic and Northern Ireland.

I believe there is no way to enforce border rules without a border wall in the style of Donald Trump.

That would be unacceptable to probably everyone in the island of Ireland! And probably almost 100 % of the citizens of the UK!

Joint British And Irish Long-Term Objectives

We can sum these up the objectives of the British and Irish people for the island of Ireland like this.

  • Prosperous economies.
  • Full employment
  • Friendly relations at all levels
  • A well-maintained And thriving environment
  • The final end to The Troubles.

The governments involved don’t always seem to follow sensible routes, that will help in these and other similar objectives.

An Anglo-Irish Fixed Link

I don’t think anybody, except possibly some ferry companies and airlines, would disagree with the fact that the Channel Tunnel has been a success.

Although, I would say that services through the tunnel have been slow to develop.

So surely, one way to improve the economy of the whoile of the island of Ireland would be to create a fixed link across the Irish Sea.

Wikipedia has a section entitled British Isles Fixed Sea Link Connections.

It lists four possibilities for fixed links between Great Britain and Ireland.

  1. North Channel (Kintyre) Route
  2. North Channel (Galloway) Route
  3. Irish Mail Route
  4. Tuskar Route

Some are more practical than others.

Political Considerations

Post Brexit, I don’t believe that any UK Government would want to contribute any money to a fixed link between Wales and the Irish Republic.

I also feel, that the Irish Government and the EU wouldn’t want to contribute to a fixed link between Scotland and Northern Ireland.

But I do believe that the EU could be persuaded to provide funding to create a high speed rail link between say Belfast, Dublin and Cork.


Route 1 is the shortest at just 19 km, whereas routes 3 and 4 are the longest at 100 km.

Route 1 unfortunately, is the only route without a rail connection on the Great Britain side. Any rail link to the main UK rail network would be a challenging undertaking and probably go through environmentally-sensitive areas

The North Channel (Galloway) Route

I believe that the North Channel (Galloway) Route, is the only route that stands a chance of getting built.

Wikipedia says this about the link.

This route has been proposed variously as either a tunnel or a bridge. A 2007 report by the Centre for Cross Border Studies estimated building a bridge from Galloway to Ulster would cost just under £3.5 billion. The proposal would see passengers board trains in Glasgow then cross the bridge via Stranraer and alight in Belfast or Dublin. A longer bridge already exists between Shanghai and Ningbo in east China. Some political parties in Northern Ireland have included the bridge in their manifesto for some time. However, because of the Beaufort’s Dyke sea trench, this route would be deeper than the southern routes. The sea trench was also used for dumping munitions after World War II and so would require an expensive clean up operation. Ronnie Hunter, former chairman of the Institute of Civil Engineers Scotland, suggested that the project was a “stretch but doable”. He cited the lack of “soft rock, the chalk and sandstone” as a challenge compared to the construction of the Channel Tunnel. He also suggested that the change in rail gauge between Ireland and Britain might pose further concerns.

These problems must be solved.

Bridge Or Tunnel?

Having been across the Oresund Bridge, I believe that Civil Engineers could find a solution to crossing between Stranraer and Northern Ireland.

The crossing would be in excess of thirty kilometres long. But look at Wikipedia’s list of longest bridges and there are several a lot longer, including this 164.8 km. monster; Danyang–Kunshan Grand Bridge, which carries the Beijing–Shanghai High-Speed Railway along the Yangtze River.

Beaufort’s Dyke

The Oresund Bridge is part-bridge and part-tunnel and this was obviously a good solution to crossing the Oresund strait.

I believe that mixing various types of crossing could solve the Beaufort’s Dyke problem and provide an affordable solution to the crossing.

Rail Connection In Scotland

The Glasgow South Western Line finishes at Stranraer station and could surely be extended to the crossing.

Electrification would probably be recommended.

Rail Connection To England

Intriguingly, there used to be a railway route from Stanraer to Carlisle via New Galloway, Castle Douglas and Dumfries.

When HS2 opens to Crewe in 2027, I believe that high speed trains could possibly break the four hour barrier between Euston and Belfast.

An electrified route between Carlisle and the crossing would be needed.

Rail Connection In Northern Ireland

This Google Map shows the location of Belfast Central station in the city.


  • The station is on East Bridge Street in the bend of the River Lagon
  • The lines crossing the river and then splitting to go East and North West.
  • The lines going South from the station towards Dublin.

It would appear to be very convenient.

It would be ideal if trains could come across from Scotland, stop in Belfast Central station and then continue to Dublin’

The Variable Gauge Problem

UK railways and nearly all of Europe’s high speed lines use standard gauge tracks and 25 KVAC overhead electrification.

NI Railways use Irish gauge tracks and are diesel powered.

In an ideal world, trains from Glasgow and Carlisle would be electric trains for environmental reasons and I suspect, that diesel wouldn’t be welcomed in any undersea tunnels.

So this would mean one of the following.

  1. Passengers would have to change trains on arriving in or leaving Northern Ireland.
  2. A new electrified standard-gauge line would have to built to Belfast Central station.
  3. A fleet of bi-mode variable-gauge trains would have to be acquired.

Or alternatively, a high-speed electrified standard-gauge line to European standards could be built between the crossing and Dublin, with these characteristics.

  • Twin-track capable of at least 125 mph running.
  • 25 KVAC overhead electrification.
  • ERTMS signalling
  • European GC loading gauge.
  • An interchange station with Belfast’s local network.
  • A station to load car and truck shuttles as used on the Channel Tunnel.
  • Freight terminals as required.

This would certainly allow the following.

  • Direct electric services between Dublin and Glasgow via Belfast.
  • Direct electric freight services between Ireland and Great Britain.
  • Sleeper services between London and Ireland

After HS2 opens to Crewe in 2027, the following services would be possible, without changing trains.

  • Euston to Belfast in under four hours.
  • Euston to Dublin in under five hours.
  • A faster and more frequent service between the two parts of Ireland.

Addition of electrified branches to other important cities would be possible in the future.

So How Does It Solve The Irish Problem?

It would need a lot of development to truly be acceptable to the EU and the UK and the Irish governments!

But for a start a fixed rail link must improve the economies of the island of Ireland.

This in itself would surely mean that the two governments would work more together for their common good.

I also believe that it would be easier to develop an electronic border, if most of the freight ran between the two islands on rail.


I think we should develop the rail link, even if at the last minute, Brexit gets abandoned.






November 14, 2017 - Posted by | Transport/Travel | , , , , ,


  1. Very interesting, I’d never considered those options

    Comment by henacynflin | December 6, 2017 | Reply

  2. There would also be the possibility of building a large container port on the Shannon Estuary, which would unload ships coming from the West. Putting the containers on trains via Belfast, England and the Channel Tunnel would get them into Central Europe quicker than going via the Channel and Rotterdam.

    None of the engineering for the route hasn’t been done before.

    But think what the rail link would do for the economy of Ireland.

    Comment by AnonW | December 6, 2017 | Reply

  3. A very interesting discussion for sure. I think the three biggest issues with this are politics, demand and railway gauge.

    Politically, the republic see themselves as very independent of the UK, despite the fact their economy is inherently linked to ours. Whilst the channel tunnel bought huge economic benefits to the UK, an Irish link would only really provide proportionally huge benefits to Ireland’s economy (ie, not of great benefit to the UK), so Ireland would need to pay for most of it. That would be politically very unpopular, because of the aforementioned “independence” (and dislike) of the UK and its government. A link in the North would be more likely politically, although the nationalist parties in NI are likely to oppose public money being spent on closer ties with the UK.

    Secondly, the demand. The Dublin-Holyhead route would have more demand than Bangor-Stranraer, but still not enough to cover the costs of construction. You’ve got to remember Ireland only has 5 million people, and an underdeveloped rail system of its own. The channel tunnel, by comparison, connected the UK to hundreds of millions of people. Flights are abundant and cheap. Ferries cost more but are sufficient to deal with demand. If it was funded by, say, a private company to avoid some of the political issues above, it would never make it’s money back in my opinion. The link to Shannon is a nice idea, but becomes stuck at the next issue:

    UK trains are not compatible on any existing Irish track. And if they aren’t investing in new lines as it is, they aren’t going to be keen to relay a 200km line to Shannon just to meet the UK guage. Realistically, if this were ever to happen, I would support a dedicated high speed/freight line from Dublin Connolly-Howth-Holyhead-Liverpool (to connect with HS3 to Hull) or south to Crewe-Birmingham-London. This would have a dedicated line and terminus, to change to other Irish services. In the north, the Belfast Central-Bangor commuter line could be rebuilt as Standard guage(or dual-guage, or four-tracked), with Bangor commuter services terminating at Belfast Central, and high-speed services continuing to Glasgow via Stranraer. Both North and South would need a dedicated freight port to transfer containers to Irish guage trains if the journeys need to continue to other towns in Ireland.

    Comment by j m | October 5, 2018 | Reply

  4. I think any High Speed link between Belfast and Dublin will be built to standard gauge, as it will probably be funded by the EU. Rail Baltica from Helsinki to Warsaw is being built to standard gauge and funded by the EU, so that freight can move from Helsinki to and from most of the EU.

    There are plans on the Internet where a deep water port would be built at Shannon. This would be connected to the new standard gauge line and would save time on shipping containers between say Germany and the USA.

    Comment by AnonW | October 5, 2018 | Reply

  5. […] A Solution To The Northern Irish Problem!, I proposed building a fixed link between Northern Ireland and […]

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  6. […] politicians do what I suggest in A Solution To The Northern Irish Problem!, which is to build a high speed rail system connecting Scotland and Northern […]

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  7. […] I laid out the arguments in A Solution To The Northern Irish Problem!. […]

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