Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

Ahhh…ma

Posted in Customer service, Infrastructure, Ireland by Chairman Pip on 31 May 2011

Wolmar today pointed out a story on the BBC News website in regards to the proposed upgrade to the A5 in Northern Ireland. Apparently, the new Minister for Regional Development, Danny Kennedy, has not come to a decision yet as to whether this project, estimated to cost in the region of £800m (with half of the cost to be picked up by the Irish government) will go ahead. While there are no guarantees of a yes or no, as the minister has said he wants to hear the outcome of the public inquiry before making his decision, one wonders what would then happen to the £400m committed by London to this project, not to mention what Dublin’s money could then be used for? Well, the relaying of the northern section of the Belfast-Derry line (between Coleraine and Derry) is currently scheduled to start in 2014, owing to budgetary constraints placed on Translink. The ending of an A5 project could see the money needed for this, which is estimated to be around £75m (I think), made available for the work to start sooner, perhaps even in time for the start of Derry’s period as the “UK City of Culture” in 2013. Then there’s the failure of the DRD to be able to find the £40m to upgrade the Belfast-Dublin main line between Knockmore and Lisburn to allow Enterprise to run at 90mph, which they have claimed they would not be able to afford at the same time as the Derry upgrade. Translink have also included as part of their 25 year capital investment plan a proposal to re-open the Lisburn-Antrim line, which could also be brought from the world of “proposal” into the world of “concrete plan”, by making this a committed project after the completition of the Derry line work. Furthermore is the major plan to upgrade Belfast Great Victoria Street station to turn it into a major integrated transport hub for trains and local & intercity buses that could be taken forward much quicker than is being proposed.

Then how about looking at expansion? Newry station for example is some distance from the centre of the town, which doesn’t have an especially frequent rail service. Brian Guckian, as part of his proposed expansion of the network in Northern Ireland, has suggested a new spur could be laid to a new station in the centre of Newry – that way, the existing station could continue to serve the town of Bessbrook and its surrounding area, as well as being on the Belfast-Dublin main line, while the city centre terminus would be convenient for central Newry (a situation not dissimilar to that in Den Haag, which has a terminus, Centraal, in the city centre, and a major through station, Hollands Spoor, a little further out). Guckian’s proposal would also see a major expansion to the west of Northern Ireland. While this in its entireity might be ambitious, there is no reason that the city of Armagh could not also be connected back to the railway network through the construction of another fairly short spur off the Dublin line. Of course, new build capital construction is unlikely in the Age of Austerity but, even so, if there is to be no A5 road, then there is plenty of good that the money intended for it could do. If the project is cancelled, one would hope that the Treasury is not so near sighted as to demand the money back, when it could be used for significant inward investment in Northern Ireland’s infrastructure.

“A5 scheme: Danny Kennedy ‘won’t be rushed'”
“All-in-one bus and train centre planned for Belfast”
“Burns calls for reopening of Antrim to Lisburn railway line”
“Railway open for culture year as no money until 2014”
“£460 Million NI Rail Network Expansion Proposed”

If the A5 road is cancelled, then the money committed to it should be used on other elements of the infrastructure in Northern Ireland, including rail upgrades that have had to be put back due to the Age of Austerity

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