Too much land in Port of Dublin allocated to Brexit consequences, operator says

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Operators of the state’s busiest port said nearly 15 hectares of land used by the state to deal with the aftermath of Brexit was now being used at “a fraction of what was intended”.

The Port of Dublin told the Department for Transport that it was hard not to argue that too much land was now allocated to state services for screening vehicles arriving from the UK.

Internal emails reveal the Port Authority’s view that it was ‘virtually impossible’ to see how there was a need for so much space even though traffic volumes between Ireland and Britain increased as expected.

They said the changes had put significant pressure on operations and in particular on rail services, which ended up being temporarily suspended last month.

A memo prepared by Dublin Port chief executive Eamonn O’Reilly for advisers to Transport Minister Eamon Ryan acknowledged the issue was “politically sensitive”.

However, he pointed to the extremely small amount of freight that arrives at Dublin Port by rail: “The [rail] The service carried 9,789 containers in 2020. For reference, Dublin Port’s total unitized cargo volume (trailers and containers) was 1.5 million in 2020,” he said, adding that “9,789 units represent 0.7% of all units. The remaining 99.3% were transported by heavy goods vehicles.

Pinch points

The memo also said ‘capacity pinch points’ in Dublin Port were already starting to bite.

He said they had recently told cruise ship operators they would have “very limited capacity” if and when the industry resumed operations in the city.

The memo read: “There are two shipping companies (one operating a freight ferry service to mainland Europe and the other a container shipping company) seeking to commence services in Dublin Port which cannot currently not be supported by any of the port’s terminal operators.”

Asked to comment on the records, the Department for Transport said that although rail freight was weak compared to other modes of transport, it had pledged to cut emissions by 51% over the next decade.

Strategic review

They said a strategic review of the heavy rail network on the island of Ireland was underway and should be completed by the end of summer 2022. A separate port capacity study was also underway.

Mr O’Reilly said the under-utilization of the divested land to deal with Brexit had been a “success story”, given fears of chaos in the aftermath.

He said: “We are running out of space and the rail takes up a lot of space. We are not against rail freight, but the challenge we have is the square footage we have.

“The port of Dublin has not taken the decision to stop rail freight. It was we who built a siding that facilitated this service.

“Everyone wants more and more in this footprint. We were lucky this summer; the weather was fine, everything was on time and the trains are running. But there are always risks and priority must be given to working vessels.

“We are constantly challenged operationally.”

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