Belfast-Dublin rail service must get back on track
Published 13/05/2013 | 07:00
A government consultation document about future railway investment really lays it on the line with regard to cross-border travel. Passenger numbers have decreased by 22% in the last decade, and if massive new investment is not forthcoming, it could threaten the long-term future of the Enterprise service.
However, there is better news about other railway routes in Northern Ireland, where passenger journeys have risen significantly by 74% over the same period.
The loss of passengers in the cross-border service is worrying, with a drop from 953,000 in 2001/2 to 740,000 in 2011/12. The reasons for this are complex, but one of the biggest factors for the decrease is the greatly-improved road system between Belfast and Dublin.
One major problems for the present cross-border service is the elderly rolling-stock, and some £460m is needed to enhance the Enterprise. Unless people can travel more frequently in greater comfort, the outlook is one of diminishing returns.
The problem now is how to attract people back to the Enterprise and to find money for the improvements in the infrastructure.
Although Northern Ireland is not a great train-using country, the benefit of rail travel is appreciated elsewhere as one of the greenest forms of transport. There is considerable expenditure on rail improvements in England, but that same money is not so readily available here.
One possible source of funding may be the EU, despite the scepticism about Europe in many other parts of the United Kingdom.
The European paymasters might be attracted by the idea of helping to fund a vibrant and modern railway service which brings the capital cities on this island even closer.
The benefits of doing so are obvious, not only in increased tourism and trade but also in the symbolism of helping to create better communications between North and South.
The Enterprise, despite its problems, has played an important role in the history of transport on this island. It cannot be allowed to wither in an age when better and swifter travel is the obvious and only way forward.