Ireland sole European country where Zara cannot move goods by train, Oireachtas committee hears

Transport discussion focuses on respective merits of road versus rail freight

Ireland is the only country where clothes retailer Zara does not move its merchandise by rail, the Oireachtas committee on Transport has been told.

The multinational manufacturer has a sustainable supply chain policy where it transports all its European clothing by rail. However, it cannot do so in Ireland at present.

Glenn Carr, a senior Irish Rail executive and head of Rosslare Europort, said that companies like Zara would like the opportunity of using rail to ship its products within Ireland but cannot do so at present.

Mr Carr said that only 1 per cent of goods were moved by rail freight at present and Irish Rail’s strategy was to increase it to 7 per cent. He said that increasingly society and companies were demanding more sustainable methods of moving goods, which included a change from road freight to rail.


He said it was not only for bulk freight across long distances but more companies such as Zara were now looking to transport good across shorter-based rail journeys.

“Big industry want to move from road to rail and want to see a rail-based solution. I disagree that rail has to be done over a long journey or [be used] only for bulk transport,” he said.

The committee, chaired by Senator Gerry Horkin, heard from representatives of the big port companies who outlined their long-term plans for expansion, including their plans to cater for offshore wind power in the Irish Sea and the Atlantic.

However, much of the discussion became a debate on the respective merits of road freight versus rail freight. The matter was first brought up by Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan who questioned the absence of rail freight from Dublin Port’s ambitious expansion plans to double its capacity between now and 2040.

The port’s chief executive, Barry O’Connell, told the committee that rail access to Dublin Port was extensive. “It’s not a question of access,” he said. “It’s a question of demand.”

He said that rail freight comprised only 1 per cent of the port’s volume of freight, and half of that was comprised of ore transported from Tara Mines.

In exchanges with Steven Matthews of the Green Party, Mr O’Connell argued that offloading from jetties on to train would lead to “large disruption”. He also said that the route to market that included rail transport would involve the goods being transferred to HGV lorries at some stage, which would involve extra movements. He also suggested the total emissions of those two processes would not be insignificant.

Mr Matthews later responded by saying that emissions from HGVs were 5.7 times higher than those of trains and he could not see the emissions being comparable. Mr O’Connell replied to another question by confirming that the port’s expansion plans would result in a 75 per cent increase of HGV traffic journeys on the M50 each day. However, he argued that that these heavy lorries only contributed 7 per cent to congestion on the motorway.

In a letter to Dublin Port last month, Mr Ryan challenged the 3FM proposal to develop the southern port on a number of grounds: absence of rail provision; a very high projection for growth; no land being provided to the State for housing; and its adherence to the State’s climate change policies.

Mr O’Connell told the committee the port would respond to Mr Ryan’s letter by the end of the month. He defended its projections for growth, telling the committee: “[We] assumed a high-growth scenario as the implications on port capacity and therefore the national economy of underestimating demand could have a profound negative impact on the national economy.”

Mr O’Connell said the port needed the 265 hectares available for its plans. Of the three parcels of land identified by Mr Ryan for housing, Mr O’Connell said one had been offered to the Land Development Agency but it had not been approved because of its proximity to the Port Tunnel. He said that another was used for refrigerated storage. He said the third parcel was used for storing cars and 100,000 imported cars were stored there each year. He said many of these were electric vehicles. “Relocating 100,000 cars somewhere else is very challenging to put it mildly,” he said. He said that a recent shipment of 3,000 vehicles took three days to transfer to the site. He said moving that storage land to somewhere else would have a big impact for the port.

Eoin McGettigan of the Port of Cork told the committee that it was capable at present of facilitating fixed-bottom wind turbines in the Irish Sea.

“If Government decide that liquified natural gas (LNG) is to be used as a transition fuel, the Port of Cork has identified a suitable location in the harbour which may be developed as a semi-permanent LNG facility to import gas from a non-fracked source. This facility would then be repurposed to support hydrogen or floated away once Ireland no longer needs it,” he said in his opening statement.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times