£ 460 Million NI Rail Network Expansion Proposed
6 June 2008
Brian Guckian, who carries out research and development into sustainable transport in Ireland and who most recently has worked on the proposed Sligo-Donegal-Londonderry rail link, said that the proposals were being made in his capacity as a regular Translink customer, that they were audacious yet realistic, and challenged a prevailing anti-rail mindset that was incapable of dealing with the economic threats posed by sharply-rising oil costs and by climate change.
An ambitious new submission to Translink by an independent Dublin-based sustainable transport campaigner proposes a £ 460 million enhancement and expansion of the rail network in Northern Ireland, including re-opening the line from Derry to Portadown in two phases, new spurs to Enniskillen, Armagh and Newry Town, and construction of the much-debated Belfast International Airport Rail Link. Brian Guckian, who carries out research and development into sustainable transport in Ireland and who most recently has worked on the proposed Sligo-Donegal-Londonderry rail link, said that the proposals were being made in his capacity as a regular Translink customer, that they were audacious yet realistic, and challenged a prevailing anti-rail mindset that was incapable of dealing with the economic threats posed by sharply-rising oil costs and by climate change. Mr. Guckian said that oil prices had quintupled since 2002 and that transport planners had to abandon failed Anglo-American policies that prioritised the private car and and to look to Scotland and countries in continental Europe for inspiration. He said that an irrational dependency on the car and truck for transportation and a general obsession with unsustainable and destructive US-style highway building had to come to an end. "It's time to take on those who are stopping the development of genuine sustainable transport systems in these islands that are energy-efficient, economic, accessible, equitable and genuinely environmentally beneficial", he said. The proposed rail development programme - Northern Ireland Network Enhancement, or NINE for short - focusses on nine major towns or locations in Northern Ireland currently not served by rail and uses breakthrough cost-benefit analysis techniques for the first time that fully account for the environmental benefits of the rail mode, including CO2 emissions avoided, road construction and maintenance and car use costs saved, as well as accidents prevented and value of time savings. Mr. Guckian said his estimates had shown that the programme as a whole could generate benefits of at least £ 67 million per annum to Northern Ireland and that the capital costs of the new links could be repaid in a seven-year timescale. "Though this data cannot be used in lieu of any detailed, authoritative cost-benefit analysis that may be undertaken, it does point to the likelihood of positive net present values arising from such study", he indicated. He also stated that a perception that rail needed very high population levels in order to be viable was a fallacy as it was based on an incorrect and biased economic approach that ignored the wider economic benefits of rail and evaluated it purely on direct revenue from fares. "No other form of transport is accounted for in such a limited manner", he said. It had also been shown that people would switch from car to rail in large numbers if the choice of using rail was provided, and that both bus and rail transport required expansion in order to provide the capacity needed to tackle car dependency. Exciting aspects of the NINE proposal include re-establishing rail links to Enniskillen, Omagh, Strabane and Dungannon by re-opening the former Portadown-Derry line in two phases. The first phase, at a projected cost of £ 146 million, would comprise Omagh-Strabane and Portadown-Dungannon, for commuter and local traffic, with a later phase, costed at £ 227 million, connecting Enniskillen to Omagh and Dungannon to Omagh. The Strabane-Londonderry section was covered under a separate proposal known as NW Rail which had been submitted to the DRD in 2004 and which contained a cross-border link to Letterkenny in Donegal. Mr. Guckian said re-opening the railway to Enniskillen would have enormous tourism benefits and Omagh could become a new hub for services to Belfast and Derry. It would also benefit travellers from north Donegal and Letterkenny to Dublin who could reach the city in under 3 1/2 hours by going via Omagh and Portadown. The proposal allows for re-insertion of the railway, which would be single track, into the Omagh Throughpass as well as through the former railway lands in Dungannon. The proposed NINE programme would additionally restore rail services to the Cathedral City of Armagh at a projected cost of £ 46 million. Mr. Guckian said the alignment had been kept relatively clear since the line from Portadown to Armagh had closed in 1957 and praised the foresight of local Councils in preserving the route. The other measures comprise restoration of the short link from Goraghwood to Newry Town, closed in 1965, thereby restoring direct rail access to the town centre and providing additional capacity for commuter services to Belfast. Additionally, the proposal features construction of the much-debated Belfast International Rail Link via a short spur to the currently disused Lisburn-Antrim line, with services running from the Airport to Antrim, serving both Belfast and destinations to the north. Mr. Guckian said that the perception that tens of millions of airport pasengers were required to make such a link viable was wrong as it was based on the use of over-specified double-track electrified rail technology. Instead, an economical single-line spur operated by current NI Railways diesel railcars could cost up to £ 41 million, including station facilities that the Airport could contribute to in terms of construction costs. Mr. Guckian said he fully expected his rail development proposals to be shot down as over-ambitious and unrealistic by individuals and groups that were anti-rail, as well as those behind the recent dismissal of light rail for Belfast in the seriously flawed and biased rapid transit study. "I'm well used to dealing with the cynics, pessimists and killjoys that plague the transport area", he said. He also said that the powerful road transport lobby needed to be robustly taken on as they were implicated in soaring CO2 emissions, environmental degradation and unsustainable increases in oil consumption. He said the proposed NINE programme deliberately took funds from the current road allocation in the Regional Transportation Strategy 2002-2012 and also provided for the return of railfreight in Northern Ireland. The road allocation would be cut from £ 2.18 billion to £ 1.72 billion in order to pay for the rail expansion, he said. The submission cannot be sent to the DRD as it deals with rail routes entirely within Northern Ireland and Mr. Guckian is not a Northern Ireland resident. However he said he had previously communicated with the DRD on cross-border rail proposals and warmly welcomed the recent commitment given by the Minister for Regional Development to study the benefits of new rail links in the northwest, and the ongoing work on the much-needed upgrade of the current Belfast to Derry intercity line. He also praised Translink for their commitment to high standards in the delivery and development of their services. ENDS Contact: Brian Guckian 00 353 87 9140105 firstname.lastname@example.org NOTE TO EDITORS AND JOURNALISTS Due to new work commitments Brian is only available to take calls between 9.30am and 10.30am. Apologies for any inconvenience this may cause