Belfast Telegraph

Public urges network improvements

Improving the existing rail network in Northern Ireland should take priority over constructing new routes, a public consultation exercise has indicated.

The majority of stakeholders that voiced an opinion on the preferred strategic direction of rail spending in the region prioritised the maintenance of tracks and rolling stock ahead of other options, such as enhancing cross-border links or electrification of the system.

A significant number of the individual or group contributors to the consultation did identify the building of new or the re-opening of defunct routes as a priority.

The majority of those in favour of extending the network wanted to see tracks laid in Fermanagh, Armagh and Tyrone, with particular support for re-opening the Portadown to Armagh link.

The exercise to gauge public opinion was undertaken by Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy. Informed by the findings, the minister is set to publish a report later this year setting out priorities for investment up to 2035.

A total of 119 stakeholders contributed, including private individuals, politicians, local authorities and organisations representing the interests of business and industry, community groups, older and disabled people and consumer groups.

Mr Kennedy said: "I am absolutely committed to improving our railways. The range of responses received to the public consultation and the variety of positive preferences expressed is an indication of the wide interest and strong support for future railway investment.

"The challenge for me will be securing Executive financial support for Northern Ireland's future transport needs taking account of best value for money."

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