The Anonymous Widower

High Speed Rail Group Calls For Cross-Irish Sea Rail Tunnel

The title of this post, is the same as that of this article on Infrastructure Intelligence.

This is the first paragraph.

The High Speed Rail Group (HSRG) has called for a cross-Irish Sea rail tunnel to be built as part of seven key transport improvements to “strengthen the union between the four nations of the UK”.

The Irish Sea tunnel is only one of the projects proposed.

The full list of improvements is as follows.

  • Glasgow/ Edinburgh – London
  • Birmingham/ Manchester – Glasgow/ Edinburgh
  • Cardiff – Birmingham – Newcastle – Edinburgh
  • Cardiff – Liverpool/Manchester
  • Galashiels/Hawick – Carlisle
  • Manchester Airport – Chester – Bangor – Holyhead
  • Edinburgh/Glasgow and London – Belfast

I think these extensions are logical and in Could High Speed Two Be A One-Nation Project?, I proposed that High Speed Two be extended into a railway that link the whole of Great Britain and Ireland together.


January 6, 2021 - Posted by | Transport | ,


  1. Would this make a business case for freight traffic? or just be another french style economic stimulus “Grands Projets”.

    For passengers: Really can’t see this making a business case at all, so keep it simple. Coordinated boat trains, similar to the London Harwich Dutchflyer with single seat transport to the port (if possible, using classic compatible trains), or guaranteed connections, Once or twice a day (each way)

    Comment by MilesT | January 6, 2021 | Reply

  2. It certainly would make a business case for freight! The EU and the Irish have a plan to create a deep-water port in the Shannon Estuary. With a rail connection to the tunnel and a connection on the other site to the West Coast Main Line, it could cut a day on getting containers between North America and Rotterdam.

    London to Belfast would terminate at Dublin.

    In a post called a Glimpse of 2035.

    I said that it is possible with a high speed line in Ireland for London and Belfast to be three hours and London and Dublin to be four.

    If London-Dubin could be four hours with stops at Birmingham, Crewe and Belfast, Michael O’leary would be seriously unhappy. But I’m certain it’s possible.

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see an hourly train.

    Comment by AnonW | January 6, 2021 | Reply

  3. Worth remembering that Ireland uses a wider track gauge so unless a system of changing trains wheel gauge is introduced then through running won’t be possible.

    I’ve also seen plans with a link from Scotland to Northern Ireland but who would want to travel all the way to and from Scotland from most of England. Holyhead in Wales is a far more convenient crossing point !

    Comment by Melvyn | January 6, 2021 | Reply

    • The EU insists that all high speed rail lines are built to standard gauge. Look at Spanish High Speed Lines and Rail Baltica.

      The plans seem to assume a link from Gretna along the route of a disused railway.

      Comment by AnonW | January 6, 2021 | Reply

  4. Is there time to plan and build the link before Northern Ireland ceases to be a nation of the UK?

    Comment by JohnC | January 6, 2021 | Reply

  5. Gauge-changing is old hat now, so I don’t see that being a major problem. The advantages for freight shippers, principally for container traffic, would be huge. Plus it would have substantial economic benefits in all the right areas. And it would be a shot in the arm for railways on the island of Ireland.

    Definitely a better use for the nation’s money than that misbegotten mayoral vanity project known as Crossrail 2. The only people who won’t like it are the European ro-ro ship operators.

    Comment by Stephen Spark | January 6, 2021 | Reply

    • The EU will be funding the Irish line and they will want it to be standard gauge.

      Surely, the chaos in the ports all autumn before Brexit, illustrates we need a new port in Europe. Shannon would be ideal, but it would need a rail link to Germany.

      Crossrail 2 is not needed as we can get the capacity in other ways.

      Comment by AnonW | January 6, 2021 | Reply

  6. For freight, this does not make sense to me, for a few reasons

    I presume the majority of the business case would be assuming container traffic, not bulk cargo (needing trainload freight), certainly not oil or gas. A large amount of the container traffic originates from Asia Pacific region, and cost matters more than speed (hence the current fashion for slow-steaming to reduce fuel costs to save time). So saving a day (even if net of transhipment through UK) vs. steaming to Rotterdam or Bremerhaven would not really be attractive. If time was really a concern then the log distance container trains from middle/western China to northern Europe/UK would be far more popular and frequent than they currently are (train transit times 12-14 days vs. 21-28 days).

    In short, importers business cases allow for a 28+ day shipment time, full container (plus additional time in origin for movement of goods to port), this is all planned–trading agility and re-activeness to improve landed margin. If any reactiveness is needed then a smallish subset of the delivery is airfreighted or exceptionally put on the trains, or second sourced/primary sourced nearer to the UK (Eastern Europe, Turkey). And higher value goods are more likely to be nearsourced or airfreighted (cost of working capital becomes more relevant in the business model).

    If time saved on sea freight was to become a reality (and shipping lines spent more fuel to reduce transit speed to minimum the I would suspect that the time benefits could had had with a deep sea/rail/land port somewhere on the French coast (Cherbourg or southwards to try to avoid congestion in the English Channel), or North Spanish coast (with a new standard gauge freight railway avoiding the current change of gauge issues between France and Spain. Maybe Portugal.

    In any case, I can’t see the EU wanting to invest in a way that does any economic favours to the UK at the moment, by having freight traffic move via UK rails (i.e. via a non-EU country). Which would call into doubt an new deep sea port for Ireland based on transshipment traffic.

    Also, if there was to be a benefit, the UK could bid for it by creating/expanding a deep water port on the Welsh or Severn coasts with a train connection, fraction of the cost of a sea tunnel under the Irish sea.

    Comment by MilesT | January 7, 2021 | Reply

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