Supply Chain Ireland seminar highlights demand for further growth of rail and air freight

The growth potential of rail freight, and the air cargo business to and from the west were highlighted at the Supply Chain Ireland seminar, an initiative of the Irish Exporters Association held at the McWilliam Park Hotel, Claremorris, recently. Under the theme ‘The Past, Present and Future of the Supply Chain in the West’, expert speakers from businesses, and individuals relating to improving and increasing efficiencies of the supply chain network, addressed the various benefits and challenges exporting manufacturers experience during the course of their daily business.

In welcoming the attendees, Jarlath Sweeney, group editor, Fleet Transport, who acted as chairman, mentioned Claremorris’ historical links as a crossroads within Connacht, and due to its central location appropriately marketed by the local chamber as being in the ‘Heart of the West’.  “A crossroads to all that is happening and about to happen in the region. I’m talking here about road transport, rail freight, sea crossings, and air cargo, all vital components of the supply chain network. The major manufacturing industries located in the west need an efficient and cost effective method of transporting and importing their goods to market, and in return import raw materials,” he added.

John O’Mahony TD, chairman of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications, highlighted the potential of further growth in rail freight and its environmental benefits. “Currently Mayo is the largest producer of rail freight outside of Tara Mines with over 1,000 trains operating to and from Dublin and Waterford ports annually and growing. Currently, Mayo freight trains generate about €2m in carbon savings annually,” he said. He welcomed the Government’s decision to conduct a feasibility study to examine options for expanding freight transport on the railways under the Capital Investment Programme and before its mid-term review. On air cargo movements, Deputy O’Mahony said that the takeover of Aer Lingus by the IAG Group should open further routes for Ireland Airport West Knock for both passengers and possibly air freight.

Declan Downes, supply chain manager at Hollister ULC, which soon celebrates four decades in Mayo, stated the challenges that face the health care product producer that serves more than 90 countries, and employs 662 in Ballina. “While labour costs remain competitive, transport costs such as fuel and time are the biggest challenge, not helped by the lack of quality roads on the N5 and N26,” he said, “As 66 per cent of our raw materials come from overseas from as far as China and India, adds to the challenge.”

The final speaker before the Q&A was Donal Healy, sales and marketing manager, Ireland West Airport Knock, who began his presentation by showing the initial work on the construction of Knock Airport more than 30 years ago. He admitted that at present revenue from air freight is small but with further investment in facilities and infrastructure, similar to that of Shannon, substantial growth potential can be achieved. “We have Ireland’s third largest runway,” he  said.

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