Council to conduct feasibility study into re-opening railway.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

ARMAGH Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council has given its full backing for a feasibility study to explore the possibility of the reopening of the rail link between Armagh City and Portadown.

The development came in the form of a notice of motion which was passed at the latest full sitting of the council, comes just weeks after the 170th anniversary of the first train arriving in Armagh City from Belfast amid renewed interest in the campaign for the rail line to be reopened.

The study will involve the council working with statutory bodies and the private sector to determine the viability of the project and the UUP's Sam Nicholson, who brought forward the motion.

"This motion sets out the case for the re-opening of the Portadown to Armagh rail connection and is designed to illustrate the potential benefits in terms of socio-economic, tourist environment and health and safety at local, provincial, national and international levels as well as for the transport infrastructure itself," he explained.

"The fact that much of the route of the former Portadown to Armagh railway line is still in tact is an obvious advantage for any scheme to re-open the line, as it would have a minimum impact on the landscape and should serve to reduce costs.

March 1 marked the 170th Anniversary of the first train arriving in the City of Armagh from the town of Belfast. This track was well utilised with six trains running each way daily between Armagh and Belfast on six days of the week and three on Sundays.

The track was subsequently extended beyond Armagh to Monaghan, Clones, Enniskillen and Cavan."

The Deputy Lord Mayor added that the post-1921 restructure of the Northern Ireland railwork had ultimately led to the "abandonment of railways all over NI, including Armagh itself, resulting in Armagh being the only City, not only in the United Kingdom, but also in Europe, without a railway connection."

He continued; "Today there is a fresh interest in rail across the United Kingdom with railways being re-opened in the Scottish Borders; parts of Wales and the recent announcement by the UK Government that this is to reverse the desolation caused as a result of the Beeching decision of the 1960s, and re-open some 4,000 miles of track.

"In developing such proposals we need to ensure there is community engagement and consultation throughout particularly when the recent Portadown Armagh Railway Society (PARS) organised a petition for the re-opening of the Portadown to Armagh railway line.

A staggering 10,000 signatures were garnered in the Armagh area alone, revealing the need and desire for an alternative form of transport to travel to and from the City"

"For me this motion is not about a debate between the Armagh City ring roads and the Portadown to Armagh railway, in my opinion these are two separate issues and I don't see why we cannot aim to have both." Party colleague, Alderman Jim Speers - who seconded the motion, which also contained an amendment by SDLP Councillor Thomas O'Hanlon - said the feasibility study was an important milestone in attempts to reinstate the rail line.

"Anyone who has any doubt about the UUP putting forward this Notice of Motion needs to know that in order to progress a project of this nature work of this sort is of utmost importance," said Alderman Speers.

"Getting the railway line back to Armagh is not a project that should be enterted into lightly and I have done quite a bit of research into the impact the Borders Railway in Scotland has had on the communities it runs through."

Meanwhile, UUP Alderman Arnold Hatch, who represents Portadown and Loughgall, said the rail line would ease demand on park and ride facilities in Portadown.

"Daily I see the impact of commuters from Armagh travelling to work in Belfast everyday, who get the train in Portadown to continue to travel by train.

"The car parks and surrounding streets are 'choc-a-bloc' every morning and even though a new car park is being constructed at the moment it will not totally alleviate the problem," he explained.

"The old railway line is still a protected route on the part of the route in the legacy Craigavon Area Plan, but this is not the case in the Armagh Area Plan.

It is hoped therefore to reinstate the protected status in the new ABC Area plan now out to consultation."

Thanking his party colleagues for their support, as well as other ABC councillors, Councillor Nicholson stressed the council's backing had regenerised the campaign.

"My motion now creates the opportunity some 170 years since the first train arrived in Armagh City from Belfast that a proper feasibility study can be carried out in order to give us a chance to persuade the Department that together we can 'make tracks' and reconnect the City of Armagh to the wider railway network once more," he said.


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