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Reinstatement of north’s rail network must be a consideration for Executive

26 July, 2007

Sinn Féin South Down MLA Willie Clarke is to meet with the Minister for Regional Development Conor Murphy to discuss the possibility of reopening the rail network linking towns in south Down including Newcastle and Downpatrick with Belfast.

Mr Clarke recently met with representatives from the Great Northern Railway Company (GNRC), a lobby group that are campaigning for a light rail transport network for the Belfast Metropolitan Area and the phased opening of defunct lines across the north.

Cllr Clarke explained:

"I believe we need to seriously look at alternatives to our over dependence on the car when commuting to larger urban conurbations such as Belfast, Newry and Dublin from rural areas in places like south Down. Anyone using our inadequate road network during peak times will surely relate to the frustration and stress of travelling to and from work on roads that are quite simply over used.

"We need therefore, to examine viable alternatives, and build upon a strategy that can ensure the long-term sustainability of the north's economy and I believe there is a very persuasive case to be made for reinstating our railway network. It makes sense in terms of alleviating traffic congestion; reducing the cost of haulage; making the north and indeed the island of Ireland a more attractive place for investment as well as improving our environment.

"The GNRC have very ambitious proposals that must be examined carefully. They have looked at the Comber to Ballynahinch route that if serviced by a rail line would attract commuters from Saintfield and Ballygowan as well as from towns such as Downpatrick and Crossgar.

"The heavy volumes of traffic travelling day and daily to Belfast from Newcastle, Dundrum, Downpatrick, Ballynahinch, Crossgar and Saintfield could also be significantly reduced and with the introduction of a modern, fast and efficient rail service, integrated park and ride facilities incorporated at many stations along the route, much of the traffic clogging up arterial roads into Belfast could be removed at source.

"So certain are the GNRC of the commercial viability of some of these routes they are already negotiating with landowners to acquire portions of the trackbed beyond Comber, parts of which belong to the Department of Regional Development. There is no doubt that the reinstatement of the Ballynahinch junction to Newcastle would have huge benefits to local people living in south Down. It is a route that has considerable commuter traffic potential and would also attract a significant volume of tourist traffic.
"Indeed, if Newcastle is to ever fulfil its potential as one of Ireland's premier tourist resorts then it needs to be more assessable to visitors. The decision in the late 1950's to remove the rail line from Newcastle was a blow for the town, the consequences of which are still being felt." ENDS

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