Brexit confusion for Irish rail passengers

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DUBLIN, Ireland – Railroad management in Ireland is still in the dark about how the United Kingdom's departure from the European Union could affect cross-border passenger traffic between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. U.K. ministers are talking about a top priority in keeping the 310-mile frontier free of road traffic border posts but are remaining tight-lipped how they intend to deal with train services across the international border.

“It is too early to consider what will happen to rail services post-Brexit. Passengers get on at Belfast and the trains do not stop at the border until Dublin. We do not know what will happen when Britain leaves the EU,” a spokeswoman for Northern Ireland Railways said.

Currently, NIR and Iarnród Éireann — Irish Railways — jointly run the Enterprise cross-border rail service between Belfast and Dublin. The service started in the 1940s. Although systematic customs checks were abolished in 1993, with the creation of the single market, it was not until the terms of the 1998 peace agreement were implemented that British military checkpoints were removed from the Irish border. The last major structures were removed as recently as 2007.

However, despite London’s re-assurances, reports from Dublin suggest Irish Revenue Commissioners are identifying possible locations for customs checkpoints. In July, the Irish Independent newspaper reported that passport checks on moving cross-border trains are “the most viable option” for minimizing disruption for rail travelers should Brexit result in a hard border, members of an Irish senate committee have said.

Senators studying Brexit implications and prospective solutions considered the “ideal solution” would be the continuance of the common travel area with Northern Ireland. However, failing that, passport checks that cause the least disruption should be pursued. It cited the arrangements between Finland and Russia — where the passenger documents and papers are checked as the train is moving — as a solution.

This would avoid making passengers disembark at the border, as happens at some EU frontiers. Airport-style passport controls at train stations would be another potential fix. However, there are concerns that Dublin Area Rapid Transport commuter system and other rail users would be able to access the Dublin to Belfast Enterprise train at various stations unless modifications are made to the platforms.

“With the rail services, you don’t want any border because you want the UK to remain part of the travel area,” committee chairman Senator Neale Richmond is quoted in the newspaper.

While it is likely that the common travel area between Britain and Ireland will remain for citizens of the two countries, uncertainty is being felt in regards to citizens of third countries crossing the border requiring a visa for Ireland or the UK.

Border lands
This is not the first time that a border has created issues for Irish railroads. In 1921, the island of Ireland was partitioned between the Irish Free State, later the Republic of Ireland, and Northern Ireland. The rail system on the island had survived the Irish War of Independence largely intact but faced working with and crossing what became an international border.

The then newly drawn border zigzagged across the countryside. Services from Belfast to Dublin were affected while narrow-gauge railroads in the west of Ireland, such as County Donegal and Londonderry & Lough Swilly narrow gauge railroads also zig-zagged the new border. Some railroads, such as the Great Northern Railway found itself operating on both sides of the border, leading to operational headaches for years.

In the following decades, railroads in Ireland split by the border closed, leaving only the Belfast to Dublin route crossing the frontier. Railroads on both sides of the border were ultimately abandoned or merged into Northern Ireland Railways on one side and Córas Iompair Éireann in the Republic. In the late 1980s, CIÉ was divided and Iarnród Éireann took charge of the Republic’s trains.

The terms “hard” or “soft” Brexit describe the prospective relationship between the UK and the EU after withdrawal.

Britain is expected to leave by March 31, 2019 at the latest.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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