UK: The Railway Investment Prioritisation Strategy published by the Regional Development Minister signals the potential for the first major extensions to the railway network in Northern Ireland since the closing of lines in the sixties.
The Minister's announcement follows a public consultation inviting views on the future priorities for investment in the railways network.
Minister Kennedy said: “This ambitious Strategy allows for a significant enhancement of existing rail capacity, preparation for the future electrification of the network and the first major extensions to the railway since the closing of lines following the Benson Report in 1963.
The Minister highlighted that in the last few years, there has been a significant upturn in rail passenger growth in Northern Ireland, almost doubling in numbers since 2002. He said: “Within the broader transportation network our railway service is rapidly increasing as a travel mode of choice.”
The Department for Regional Development's Strategy identifies three priority themes to be pursued in bidding for future railways investment funding up to 2035. Mr Kennedy said over the period of his Strategy, priority would be given to a number of projects including the completion of the Coleraine to Londonderry track relay; track relays between Coleraine and Antrim and at Lurgan station; refurbishment of the Enterprise rolling stock; refurbishing stations and halts including Adelaide, Ballymena, Londonderry and Lurgan; purchase of up to 60 extra carriages; and a programme of new Park and Ride facilities amongst other projects.
In looking at possible network extensions the Minister said: “Projects that will be considered include the enhancement of the Northern Line between Bleach Green and Antrim. Other feasibility studies into longer term will propose extensions along the A6 corridor between Antrim and Castledawson; along the M1/A4 and the A3/A29 corridors towards Dungannon/Armagh; and a route to serve Belfast International Airport.
Enhancement of the Northern Line
The consultation document identified one of the potential bottlenecks, which would limit more frequent timetabling or shortening the journey times of services on the Northern Line (Belfast to Londonderry), as the existing single track operation between Bleach Green and Antrim and Ballymena. This problem could be compounded if traffic along the corridor were to increase as a result of a line extension along the M2/A6 (see 3.41). However, there are two possible solutions:
- Dualling of the existing single line track between Bleach Green and Antrim: or
- Re-opening the Antrim to Knockmore/Lisburn line.
The Antrim – Knockmore line was closed in 2003 but is maintained as a diversionary route in circumstances of an emergency or for driver training.
“The re-opened Antrim to Knockmore/Lisburn line could also present an opportunity to establish a rail link to Belfast International Airport (BIA), although such investment is less likely to be economically viable until airport passengers grow to at least 10 million. Passenger throughput in 2013 was just 4 million. Given the important role of BIA as a gateway into Northern Ireland for tourism and inward investment, a feasibility study should be undertaken to consider investment in a rail link if passenger numbers grow towards 10 million by 2030 as predicted by the airport operator,” the report states.