Belfast Telegraph

MLA's west of Bann railway call rejected by senior civil servant

By Leona O'Neill

A senior civil servant has derailed any hopes of extending or re-establishing rail networks west of the Bann.

In a letter to Co Tyrone SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan, Permanent Secretary of the Department for Infrastructure Peter May said that any extension or new rail links in Tyrone or Fermanagh were not "economically viable".

Mr McCrossan had written to Mr May arguing that it was pivotal the rail infrastructure deficit is rectified in the west.

But Mr May explained that the department's priorities for investment were set out in May 2014 and that existing routes were the top priority.

"In line with this, the immediate priority for railways expenditure will remain to maintain, improve and upgrade the existing network, and even this is likely to be difficult within the resources currently available," he wrote.

"In developing and consulting on the priorities, consideration was given to opportunities to extend the rail network including into Tyrone and Fermanagh.

"However, it was concluded that re-establishing rail links to rural communities was unlikely to be economically viable, or indeed offer a service at a frequency and cost which could provide an attractive alternative to the private car or indeed bus-based public transport."

Mr May added that consideration would be given to "modest enhancements" to the network along the M1/A4 and A3/A29 corridors in Dungannon and Armagh and on the A6 corridor in Castledawson/Magherafelt.

However, Mr McCrossan insisted he is pushing for a rail link to be re-established between Londonderry, Strabane and Omagh, and strong rail connections established with the rest of Ireland.

"While policy people thought rail was dying a slow death and that buses were the way forward, little did they realise how important rail is to modern travel," he said.

"We need to connect our communities in the west through rail and not congested roads. We need to connect to our rural communities and allow people to travel for work. We need to support and find innovative ways to increase social mobility and employment here."

Mr McCrossan said he will be arguing the case for expanding the rail network west, especially from Londonderry to Strabane, with senior officials.

"After all, this is only 14 miles and can run in conjunction to the new A5 road. We can connect people here to Derry, Belfast and to Dublin," he said.

Of Northern Ireland's 53 railway stations only three are west of the Bann.

Eamonn McCann, of the Into the West lobby group which campaigns for improved north west rail services, said Mr May has "no democratic or moral right to be taking these type of decisions".

"It is not the place of civil servants to be making decisions like this, ruling something out which is going to affect the development and the potential of Derry and the north west over many years," he said.

"It is not his business.

"And if it is not possible to make that clear to him on this and other issues by letter and talking, then there is a need for a public demonstration.

"Into the West have been calling for a commitment that none of the existing track on either side of Derry is to be torn up or turned into greenways or roads."

Belfast Telegraph

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