While various factors led to a reduction in rail freight in Ireland in the decade up to 2008, volumes grew by 9% between 2009 and 2010 and by 13% in 2011. A further boost to the recovering freight business was received when an extension of the spur to Dublin Port was opened in July 2011.
There is clearly an important role for rail freight within the national freight movement context. However, it must also be acknowledged that even a substantial increase in rail based freight movements to and from the ports will still result in the vast majority of freight movements being carried by road.
I would point out that an all-island rail freight group with a wide range of participants from the public and private sector is in operation under the auspices of the Irish Exporters Association. This was one of the initiatives of the All Island Freight Forum, sponsored by my Department and the Department for Regional Development (Northern Ireland) and the group continues to meet regularly.
I am aware that the Department for Regional Development has also recently issued a consultation paper on Future Railway Investment, which indicates that no freight has been carried on the Northern Ireland rail network since 2003. It also states there has been little interest demonstrated by investors in the development of new or improved domestic or international rail freight services into or out of Northern Ireland.
I have regular engagements with the Board and senior management of Iarnród Éireann on a variety of issues but have not had discussions on this issue. I have referred the Deputy's question to Iarnród Éireann also in order to provide any further update on rail freight movements and plans for the future. Please advise my private office if you do not receive a reply within ten working days.