Trains in Cork (Source: Irish Rail)

Alstom to provide ETCS for Irish Rail’s Cork Area commuter rail

Trains in Cork Irish Rail

Irish Rail  (Iarnród Éireann) has signed contract with Alstom for the installation of ETCS Level 1 and Smartlock Interlocking for Irish Rail’s Cork Area commuter rail this week.

The contract follows soon after Alstom secured another contract earlier this month from Irish Rail to provide fast-charging infrastructure for new Battery Electric Multiple Unit (BEMU) trains.  Outlined in this contract, Alstom will provide the Cork Area Commuter Rail (CACR) network with signalling technology, namely Smartlock Computer-Based Interlocking (CBI) system and European Train Control System (ETCS). More specifically, the technologies will be applied to a 62-kilometre stretch of rail from Mallow to Cork, Cobh, and Midleton.

This is being done in the context of the Cork Area Commuter Rail programme, the heavy rail element of the ambitious Cork Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy (CMATS) 2040, launched in 2020 in partnership between the Irish National Transport Authority (NTA), Cork City and County Councils and Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII). At the heart of this strategic plan is encouraging a modal shift from private vehicles to public transit. This aims to alleviate traffic congestion and support Ireland’s pursuit of emission reduction targets.

Jim Meade, Iarnród Éireann Chief Executive commented: “I commend our Cork Area Commuter Rail team in ensuring that all three elements of the CACR Programme are progressing so swiftly. New signalling, our new platform, and twin-tracking of Glounthaune to Midleton are set to transform the capacity of our Cork Commuter rail network, and position us well to move forward with other rail projects under the Cork Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy, including the critical delivery of new stations.”

Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision
Irish Rail Cork contract award on 21 August 2023 at Kent Station in Cork, with Alstom Ireland Managing Director Piers Wood; Minister for Finance Michael McGrath TD and Iarnród Éireann Chief Executive Jim Meade (Image: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision)

Smartlock Interlocking System (CBI) and ETCS

By directly interfacing with axle counters and trackside objects through SmartIO, Alstom’s Smartlock system eliminates the need for intermediate relays, ensuring a robust, efficient, and streamlined operation. In addition to Smartlock interlocking, the project will also feature the European Train Control System (ETCS) Level 1 trackside technology. According to Rail Engineer, Alstom is also implementing ETCS Level on the Dublin Connolly-based lines between Dundalk in the north and Greystones in the south.

Covering a distance of approximately 125 kilometres, this initial phase of ETCS rollout in Ireland involves about 400 signals and includes the only routes in Ireland that are currently electrified. In fact, “the only electrified sections of the railway are those used by the Dublin Area Rapid Transit service (DART) – a suburban service operating along the coast of the Dublin area from Greystones to Malahide and Howth. All other services are powered by diesel traction,” according to the All Island Strategic Rail Review. Ireland has the lowest level of electrified railway in the European Union, with only around 50 kilometres of electrified lines, and the lowest level of ETCS coverage, behind Lithuania.

This phase implementation plan will include a significant portion of the current operational network, spanning roughly 450 kilometres of routes with multiple tracks and 1,100 kilometres of routes with single tracks. This undertaking will require the installation of over 1,600 signals and 5,000 balises, which are electronic beacons used for train control and safety purposes.

Plans for the Cork network (Irish Rail)
Plans for the Cork network (Irish Rail)


Alstom has also secured a ten-year framework agreement with Irish Rail to supply potentially 750 new X’trapolis commuter rail cars for Ireland’s DART network. The initial order encompasses 37 five-car X’trapolis trains, with 31 being battery-electric multiple units (BEMUs) and six being electric multiple units. These modern trains will not only expand capacity but also contribute to the decarbonization efforts in Greater Dublin, benefitting the local community.

The DART+ initiative is set to position train travel as a cornerstone of Ireland’s sustainable transportation network. Backed by funding from the National Transport Authority under the National Development Plan, DART+ will double capacity and triple electrification in the Greater Dublin Area, promoting sustainable mobility and developmental enhancements that elevate the quality of life in both the capital and surrounding counties. Furthermore, a new infrastructure agreement with Alstom will lead to the installation of an advanced charging facility by the end of 2024. This facility is crucial for operating the BEMU trains, connecting Drogheda, Dublin City Centre, and extending beyond.

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Author: Emma Dailey

Emma Dailey is an editor at and

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