High speed cross border rail link unveiled
Press Association: 19/06/2006
Plans for a high speed rail service which would slash the journey time between Belfast and Dublin to 90 minutes are being drawn up by rail companies on both sides of the border, it has been revealed.
Keith Moffatt, chief executive of Northern Ireland`s transport company, Translink, said they were working with Irish Rail on an outline "vision 20-20" which would provide a non-stop 90-minute service departing at hourly intervals.
The cost of such a service using 125mph trains and upgrading the track would be around £500 million, he said.
Journey times could be cut to 60 minutes with the use of 140mph tilting trains, he said, but expressed doubt that the £1.5 billion cost would be acceptable to the politicians holding the purse strings.
Launching Translink`s vision for the future, he said Northern Ireland Railways and Irish Rail were working on a scheme to improve the main cross-border service and a preliminary report delivered recently confirmed that a high speed, high frequency service could be economically viable.
But he said it was all down to a question of money and how much the politicians would provide.
"We look at what we can do and develop ideas and put them into the political process and then it`s up to the politicians," he said.
He said Translink was also looking at pressing ahead with Northern Ireland`s first "rapid transit system" - the E-Way which would run into Belfast city centre from North Down.
Tram-type coaches using parts of the abandoned Belfast and Co Down Railway track bed and a combination of public and separated highways could be developed over five years at a cost of around £70 million, said Mr Moffat.
A political decision on funding would determine whether the scheme went ahead, as would the future of rail services to the north-west beyond Ballymena where in the long-term 60 miles of new track at a cost of £1 million per mile was needed.
On the bus front he said plans had been agreed with the Department of Social Development for an extension of bus lanes in Belfast with a roll-out of 14 `Quality Bus Corridors` on main routes into the city centre over the next four years starting later this year.
The plan was to increase average bus speeds to 20kph from the current 10-15kph. Mr Moffatt told an audience of politicians and business people at Stormont: "Research shows that our Metro corridors` buses carry 32% of people travelling but accounts for only 2% of total vehicles on the road.
"More priority for buses is clearly justified to give bus passengers a fair deal in the use of road space. We only make buses attractive if they beat the traffic."
He insisted: "We are not anti-car, it is about using the roads more effectively."
Regeneration of public transport in Northern Ireland was well underway but continuing re-investment was needed to deliver a network for the future, he said.
A massive spending programme on new trains and buses had resulted in the Metro system in Belfast carrying 10% more passengers by the end of its first year in February, and a further 5% since, Goldline Express services attracting 20% more passengers and trains 16% more.
Translink passengers were enjoying better reliability, comfort and accessibility, he said, with customer satisfaction levels at a 10-year high.
"Going forward, there is still much to be done to deliver the rail and bus services that Northern Ireland needs and deserves.
"The programme of change must continue and by being clear about what needs to be done, and with a solid track record of successful delivery, Translink is well placed to make a sound case to Government for implementing policies which will help us deliver the public transport future for Northern Ireland," he said.