Plans for rail link to Belfast International Airport unveiled
Northern Ireland could finally get a rail link to Belfast International Airport.
Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy has proposed a series of feasibility studies which could eventually mean the first major track extensions to the rail network since the wholesale closures of the Sixties.
In a new document outlining the future of rail investment for the next 20 years and beyond, the minister proposed looking at the potential to create a new route serving Belfast International Airport.
Other feasibility studies would look at extending the rail network along the A6 corridor between Antrim and Castledawson; and along the M1/A4 and the A3/A29 corridors to Dungannon and Armagh.
The minister is also looking at enhancing the Northern Line between Bleach Green and Antrim.
The Railway Investment Prioritisation Strategy follows a public consultation on the future priorities for railway investment.
Passenger numbers have almost doubled since 2002, signalling a renaissance in rail travel, the minister said. Numbers have climbed from 6.7 million in 2001/02 to almost 13.2 million in 2013/14 and there has been an increase of over 1.5 million passengers in the last year to March 2014.
"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," Mr Kennedy said.
"I am particularly keen to extend the option of rail travel to commuters from mid-Ulster and to the populations in the south and west within the catchments of Armagh and Dungannon.
"Although the speed of progress will depend on the amount of funding that can be made available from the Executive's budget and, where possible, from the European programmes, I am committed to exploring all funding opportunities and making this happen."
Mr Kennedy 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, Derry and Lurgan; purchase of up to 60 extra carriages, and a programme of new park and ride facilities as well as other projects.
"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," he said.
Nigel Smyth, CBI director in Northern Ireland said: "The economic case for a rail link to Belfast International Airport will depend on future growth in passenger numbers – a doubling in existing travellers could justify the construction of a new rail link. This is not a short-term priority but needs to be considered in the longer term."