Derry Journal

Rail Essential To NW Regeneration

Tuesday 10th August 2004

In this article, Sinn Fein chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin calls for a wide-ranging feasibility study into the regeneration and expansion of rail transport throughout the North West region.

The North West is the only region of Ireland without a rail network. It is no coincidence that this is also the most economically deprived region on the island.

While the immediate focus is rightly on saving the Derry-Belfast rail link, a wider and more longterm public transport strategy needs to be developed. And it needs to be developed on an all-Ireland basis. While lack of long term strategic economic planning in Belfast and Dublin by successive administrations was undoubtedly a dominant factor in the closure of most of the rail transport in the North West, political factors also contributed to its demise.

Partition distorted what were natural transport corridors with the creation of mutually exclusive transport infrastructure planning in the six and 26 counties. This resulted in the gradual undermining of the previously thriving rail system in the border counties.

This short-sighted economic planning by both administrations, compounded by the corrupt political decisions of the Stormont unionist regime, left the North West the most infrastructurally under-developed region in Ireland.

What is now required is a co-operative approach to all-Ireland transport infrastructure between the administrations in Belfast and Dublin. I believe it would be in the interest of the entire island if both governments undertook a comprehensive reassessment of how we move freight as well as passengers.

The extension of the existing system in the South to connect up with the lines in the North, to establish a proper all-Ireland rail network, would create a dynamic in public transport that would bolster the tourist industry while simultaneously opening up opportunities to transfer much of the heavy freight from our roads onto the rail network.

The economic benefits of a regenerated rail network to the North West region should not be underestimated. It would address the infrastructural peripheralism that is often cited as the main factor for failure to attract sustainable investment to the region.

Strategic transport planning is one of the areas listed for cooperation and implementation under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. Political considerations should not be allowed to blur the vision of those responsible for developing a modern transport infrastructure throughout the island, including a rail system that would bring maximum benefits to all of the people of this island.

A lack of imaginative thinking is apparent on many fronts attached to transport policy. Why, for instance, can spur lines from the Derry/Belfast line to City of Derry Airport and the Port at Lisahally not be developed to attract air, sea and rail freight business?

We are under no illusion as to the massive financial investment the regeneration of an all-Ireland rail network would involve. However, there is no future in approaching this problem piecemeal; it needs to be a comprehensive programme undertaken in a co-operative manner between Dublin and Belfast.

In the meantime, there must be a financial injection into modernising of the Derry/Belfast line to attract more passengers. Any notion of further downgrading or closure of this line must be abandoned. Sinn Fein intends to continue to pursue with vigour the issue of the North West Regional Rail Link, not just in Dublin and Belfast but in Europe also.

Rather than seeking excuses for closing lines, imaginative thinking is required to make public transport attractive to commuters. New rail links must be options in any long-term transport strategy. These links could include Donegal, Derry, Omagh, and Enniskillen, in conjunction with the proposed upgrading of the Dublin/Sligo route, which would open up the entire North West for potential inward investment by industry, freight and tourism.

The economic spin-offs, not to mention the environmentally friendly impact of such a project, would be phenomenal. The reduction in transport costs in comparison to road transport would benefit industry considerably. There would be massive job creation particularly during the construction stages but also long term in maintenance and operating the new network.

It would give a major boost to the economy indirectly through increased services and related trade that would spring up around the rail industry.

Access to urban centres of employment would be increased while journey times would be greatly decreased. The potential for the tourist industry would be enormous. We need to develop an all-Ireland transport strategy that will protect the environment as well as inject new hope into the economy of North West Region.

I believe that a regenerated North West Rail System linking into an all-Ireland rail network is essential if we are to achieve both these goals.

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