A DECISION on whether or not to recommend and prioritise the reopening of the Armagh to Portadown rail link is expected within the coming weeks, Armagh I can reveal.
Following a consultation process earlier in the year, a report was produced in July giving details of the responses.
The Department for Regional Development has been analysing all of the information gathered as a result and is due to bring forward a further report setting out priorities for future railway investment up to 2035.
It will be used to develop the transportation prioritisation framework which will be used to advise investment decisions in future budget cycles.
And it is anticipated shortly.
A DRD spokesperson told Armagh I: “The analysis of the July report is expected later in the year.”
A series of meetings had been held across Northern Ireland earlier in the year, the consultation having run between January 14 and April 12 this year.
And, of ideas brought forward for the connection and reinstatement of former lines, the Armagh to Portadown link garnered most support.
A total of 47 responses together with a petition prioritised this link.
The next most popular, which was for the reopening of the Derry to Donegal line, had 25 submissions.
The summer report stated: “There was less support for a Derry Donegal railway link than the links from Portadown to Armagh and the general view here was that this was not a priority or it was not economically viable, at least in the short term.”
The extension of the rail network from Portadown to Armagh was “enthusiastically supported by most”.
But across Northern Ireland as a whole, the majority actually favoured investment in the existing network over reopening former links.
Campaigners in Armagh have fought relentlessly for the reopening of the Armagh line, which has not witnessed a train since October 1957 and remains the only city in the whole of Europe without a rail link.
Previously, Transport Minister Danny Kennedy told a group representing the Armagh Railway Campaign that he remains fully committed to developing a railway network across Northern Ireland. The Minister discussed ideas presented by a delegation, led by Councillor Sylvia McRoberts and accompanied by Councillor Jim Speers, about the need for a rail link to be developed in the city.
Speaking afterwards, Mr Kennedy described the meeting as “very helpful” and said the delegation presented a well researched and persuasive case for reinstating a railway link to Armagh.
“I am impressed with the level of support for the Portadown to Armagh extension and I welcome the commitment from Armagh Council to support any initiatives that would bring a rail link to the city,” Mr Kennedy added.
“There has been a wide ranging response to the recent DRD public consultation on the future of railway investment in Northern Ireland with a variety of preferences for prioritisation of different railway investment options. Rail passenger numbers continues to grow right across the country and I am encouraged with the widespread political support and the enormous interest from people across Northern Ireland for future railway investment.
“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.”
At the close of the consultation, overall a total of 119 written responses were received. These comprised responses from private individuals and organisations, including those representing the interests of business and industry, community groups, older and disabled people, consumer groups, political representatives and local authorities.