Ireland’s historical rail network mapped in new online resource with ATU and

Friday, May 05, 2023 Press Office
Press Releases
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Digital map will be rich resource for community research

Students from Atlantic Technological University’s BA in Heritage have completed a two-year project to map the historical rail network for the Island of Ireland and make this data freely available to the public.  The project was launched at Ceannt Station in Galway city (Thursday, 4 May 2023) by Mayor of Galway City Cllr Clodagh Higgins.

The new resource has brought the rich heritage of Ireland’s rail history to life with an online open-source resource showing all of Ireland’s rail network past and present.

Available to the public through and the Iarnród Éireann website, the online resource will allow users to explore the historical rail lines across the island of Ireland.  Its next phase of development will also facilitate the uploading of historic photos and information to build to be a rich resource for community and railway historians alike. 

The historical rail Map demonstrates the nexus between heritage research and learning.  Eighteen Heritage Studies students from Atlantic Technological University - Galway City (ATU Galway City) have created a complete map of the historical rail network of Ireland over the last two years. The students have completed this map as part a Geographic Information System (GIS) module, a core module on the Heritage BA at ATU - Galway City.  Heritage allows us to examine our past in ways that can inform our future planning.

It was developed with the support of Iarnród Éireann, and the generous assistance of Stephen Johnson, whose printed Atlas and Gazetteer of the Railways of Ireland from 1997 has been a much sought after reference guide in that time.  It was also collated from the national archive of architectural heritage.

At its peak the rail network on the island extended to over 5,600 kilometres.  The online rail map of Ireland will depict:

  • all passenger and freight lines on the island of Ireland, including opening and – in the case of former lines – closing dates
  • all stations which were open for public use during the almost 190 years of Ireland’s rail history, including years of operation
  • major structures on the rail network, including significant bridges and viaducts

Commenting at the launch, Mayor Higgins, said:

“It gives me great pleasure as Mayor of Galway to see this wonderful project come to fruition today. Ensuring that our history and heritage is remembered, preserved and celebrated is so important, and for our students at ATU, their efforts will assist future historians, and are an excellent example of what cross-Departmental collaboration can achieve.

“This resource now provides access to a complete map of the entire rail network across Ireland, allowing the opportunity to study and understand the relevance of this expansive network.”

Iarnród Éireann Head of Corporate Communications Barry Kenny said “we are keenly aware of our role as custodians of the rail network and service, which represents a significant part of Ireland’s modern economic and social history and heritage.  We are extremely grateful to the students and faculty of ATU for bringing such a key element of this history to a wider audience, and create a resource which will grow in its value over the years ahead.  We thank the Heritage Council which is dedicated to making our heritage more accessible to all, and Stephen Johnson who painstakingly collated much of the original data.  We also look forward to the resource expanding, as new stations and lines are established in the years ahead.”

Atlantic Technological University lecturer Gary Dempsey said "Working on a live project such as this provides students an opportunity to learn about the practical process of creating digital maps, and the visual power of maps to tell heritage stories. Making the data openly available will allow the public to interact with the map using it both as a educational tool and a tool for developing future heritage projects at a local and national level."

Chairperson of the Heritage Council Dr Martina Moloney added: “The Heritage Council is proud to be part of this wonderful new mapping initiative. Through our HeritageMaps platform, we bring freely accessible natural and built heritage data to the public. This dataset will be an important resource for many years to come and we will continue to work with Atlantic University and Irish Rail to expand and enrich it into the future.”

Speaking at the launch, HeritageMaps Project Manager Pat Reid said:

“ displays over 700 datasets in map form and the addition of this new resource will add greater depth to our platform, while also providing a valuable outlet for people to explore our historic rail network. Through the new resource, users can explore the opening and closing dates of the various lines, rail sections, platforms, bridges and industrial spurs as they once existed.”