The Anonymous Widower

A Fixed Link To Northern Ireland

The title of this post is the same as an article in Issue 898 of Rail Magazine, that has been written by Jim Steer, who is a well-known rail engineer.

It is very much a must-read and he is in favour of the link.

  • It’s all about reducing carbon footprint of travel between the UK and Ireland.
  • The bridge would be rail-only.
  • Goods currently sent by truck, would go by rail.
  • There would be a 125 mph rail link across Galloway between the bridge and HS2/West Coast Main Line.
  • A London and Belfast time of three-and-a-half hours would be possible.
  • A frequent Edinburgh and Belfast via Glasgow service would be provided.
  • He believes the Northern Ireland rail network should be converted to standard gauge and expanded, so that large areas of Northern Ireland will benefit.

Increasingly, serious people are coming behind this project.

February 17, 2020 - Posted by | Transport/Travel | , , , ,


  1. Re-guage Ulster to std gauge and where would that leave the Irish Reublic? This scheme sounds to me like a knife in the back of a potential unification of Ireland.

    Construction costs will spiral out of control(Crosslink + HS2) and it would take years to build and it could be affected by storms in the Irish sea.

    Stick this idea on the bottom of the pile on the back of a shelf somewhere. Let’s wait and see how the political situation evolves as the potential is there for a unified Ireland.

    Comment by mauricegreed | February 17, 2020 | Reply

    • Jim Steer is strongly of the view that because of climate change, this must be done.

      I also think that if Ireland unites, then the EU would pay fora lot of it.

      Comment by AnonW | February 17, 2020 | Reply

  2. Battery/Hydrogen ferries between UK and Ireland/Northern Ireland would be a quicker environmental fix, and less embedded carbon than a fixed link (especially if existing ships could be re-engined).

    Followed by battery planes if/when these become available.

    (Battery ferries have started running on some shorter routes in Scandinavia)

    And, I suspect there will be less UK-Ireland freight traffic (maybe less passenger traffic too) if we do wind up with a border in the Irish sea, or if there is a no-deal and that adversely impacts the economy of Northern Ireland. So may not be a demand for a fixed train link powered by electricity.

    (I suspect we will see increased diesel powered shipping traffic from Ireland direct to the continent, ferries and also containers).

    Comment by MilesT | February 17, 2020 | Reply

    • There are a lot of factors.

      Electric aircraft
      Hydrogen-powered fast ships
      The Irish and the EU may build a deep-water port in the Shannon Estuary, which would save a day for freight between the EU and the US. But that would need a fixed link!
      I’m also working on the maths of another fast link, which could be feasible in a few years and much better when HS2 opens.

      Comment by AnonW | February 17, 2020 | Reply

    • And then there’s the wacky option.

      Somewhere in a real ale pub in England or a Celtic bar in Ireland, I am fairly sure that a group of engineers have got the used envelopes out and are busy sketching and calculating like mad on something that is so extraordinary, that it will be impossible for a politician to understand, but because of the genius of a modern-day Brunel or Bazalgette behind it, it will eventually be built and be a tremendous success.

      Comment by AnonW | February 17, 2020 | Reply

  3. I doubt the fixed link idea is particularly new, given those Victorian and Edwardian plans for a tunnel to the Isle of Wight, not to mention Channel Tunnel Mk 1. However, the costs would have to be controlled – and SEEN to be controlled – far more effectively than has been evident so far for HS2 and many other major infrastructure projects in the UK. There is a massive issue with trust in England when it comes to ambitious transport schemes (aka, in tabloid-speak, ‘vanity projects’); taxpayers won’t wear it.

    Rather than a deep-laid Johnson-Cummings plot to scupper Irish unity, this scheme has a whiff of EU connectivity project (TEN-T) about it. It might, indeed, be the very reverse of what a Unionist would wish for, by linking separatist Scotland with increasingly separatist NI, thereby providing an admittedly roundabout way of linking a united Ireland + an independent Scotland to the rest of the EU, and cutting out the troublesome middle man (England). And if that were to be the way the EU and Ireland and the SNP view the link, then I suspect that money would be no object.

    In 2007 the scheme was costed at £3.5Bn. I reckon you’d need to multiply by 10 to arrive at a realistic figure for even the near future; delays would see the cost increase even more.

    Is there a reason for a bridge to be proposed rather than a tunnel? I should have thought a bridge would be more vulnerable to wind-related closures, especially as storm events become more frequent and severe. Given the huge experience engineers and project managers have amassed over the past 50 years, I have no doubt that a fixed link CAN be built. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it SHOULD be built.

    In my view, LNG ferries are more practical for the Irish Sea than battery vessels, and hybrid propulsion more likely than either. And then there’s the Flettner rotor. Now that would be fun…! But fixed links are seen as the way to go, because people do hate the very concept of transhipment, no matter how easy and ‘seamless’ it may be in practice (DSB had seamless road/rail-ferry transfer and super-fast ferry turnarounds down to a T 40+ years ago).

    Comment by Stephen Spark | February 17, 2020 | Reply

    • It is interesting that Red Funnel now has a small freight/caravan only single deck RoRo vessel on the Southhampton-Cowes Isle of Wight route, to improve transhipment speed.

      I don’t think trailer transhipment is that bad, especially if it would align to typical driver hours (end to end with same tractor or trailer drop service), or if there was a container ship to rail interchange (like Felixstowe) at least at one end. Passengers may not like it much to detrain and board ships–self loading cargo as the airlines call it–but trains on ships (to achieve a single seat service end to end) is environmentally poor as there is a lot of dead weight to move.

      And Hydrogen hybrid ferries instead of LNG (if batteries/wind won’t do the job on their own) to reduce ongoing carbon emissions (using H2 generated from green electricity)

      Comment by MilesT | February 18, 2020 | Reply

  4. I do wonder how many people wanting to go to Ireland want to have to go to Scotland first !

    While given how small the Scottish population is I can’t see this link being financially viable.

    It’s only purpose appears to be political although give it time and both Scotland and a reunification of Ireland will be back in the EU and EU funding will become available!

    Logically a link to Ireland would surely begin at Holyhead in Wales which would be a much shorter route for the bulk of the population the only difference being it would link to the Republic of Ireland which is an EU country and that doesn’t suit the political situation today.

    I wonder how deep the Irish Sea is ? Then either tunnel like the channel tunnel or one comprised of sections bolted together on the floor of the seabed might be an alternative?

    Comment by Melvyn | February 17, 2020 | Reply

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