I propose to take Questions Nos. 80 and 83 together.
The Deputies are likely aware that there are two reports available on my Department’s website in relation to the proposed reopening of the Western Rail Corridor Phases 2 and 3. The Deputy can access the documents through this link:
The first report is a financial and economic appraisal (sometimes referred to as a preliminary appraisal) of the proposal which was commissioned by Iarnród Éireann, in line with a decision of the previous Government. Following a competitive procurement process, Iarnród Éireann selected EY economic consultants to undertake the work and Iarnród Éireann submitted a final report to my Department in July 2020.
Secondly I have also published an independent review of the proposal which was commissioned by my Department. This review was conducted by JASPERS, an agency of the European Union / European Investment Bank, which provides advisory services to Member States (and other public authorities in the EU) and has extensive experience in relation to transport infrastructure proposals in European regions. This independent review noted a number of shortcomings in relation to the proposed re-opening of the Western Rail Corridor Phases 2 and 3 as presented, in particular around issues such as the need to demonstrate the strategic role of the proposal and how it sat within the broader proposed development of the network.
In light of the analyses conducted thus far, and in particular with regard to the findings of the independent review conducted by JASPERS as commissioned by my Department, I have requested my Department to prepare terms of reference for a Strategic Rail Review. This Review will consider all relevant issues in relation to inter-urban rail, inter/intra-regional rail and rail connectivity to our international gateways, with the latter considering the role of rail freight. Interestingly this Strategic Review will be conducted on an-island basis in co-operation with my Northern Ireland counterpart, Minister Nichola Mallon, MLA, and officials from both our Departments are now developing terms of reference for the Review.
I understand this may be the first such Review to be conducted on an all-island basis and this will, I believe, allow for a fuller consideration of the potential role of rail and the network required to support that potential than perhaps has been allowed before.
I am hopeful that the terms of reference will be agreed and the procurement process launched by the end of Q1. The ultimate duration of the Review will be determined by the work programmes submitted in response to that process; this will be one of the most significant reviews of the rail network on the island in many years and will provide a framework to develop a much-improved rail network in the years ahead.