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Department’s own statistics proving rail link campaigners right

Figures revealed today have shown, once again, a dramatic rise in the number of rail journeys – endorsing the arguments of campaigners about the need to reopen the Armagh to Portadown railway line.

At the same time, the number of bus journeys taken has shown substantial falls.

In November last year, campaigners lodged a petition with 10,000 signatures at Stormont, demanding the reopening of the Armagh to Portadown rail link, showing the great depth of support from the community.

The figures today are published by the Department for Regional Development’s own Central Statistics and Research Bureau and show the growing popularity of rail for public travel.

The arguments have always been about money, although Transport Minister Danny Kennedy has previously said he supports the reopening of the line.

And the publication of the public transport figures comes just three weeks after contracts worth £46 million – for a major scheme to complete re-signalling works and a passing loop on the Coleraine to Londonderry railway line – were awarded from the Minister’s capital budget.

The figures today for the first three months of 2015 show there was a weekly average of 1.31 million public bus passenger journeys made during the quarter – a decrease of 3% from 1.35million since the corresponding quarter in 2014.

During the same time period, weekly average bus passenger receipts have decreased by 2% from £2.46 million to £2.40 million.

There was a weekly average of 0.82 million Ulsterbus passenger journeys made during the quarter, a decrease of 2% from 0.84 million during January to March 2014.

For Metro, weekly average bus passenger journeys have decreased by 2% from 0.50 million to 0.49 million since the corresponding quarter of 2014.

But the weekly average rail passenger journeys have increased by 4%, from 0.24 million to 0.25 million since the corresponding quarter in 2014.

During the same time period, weekly average rail passenger receipts have also increased by 4% from £0.77 million to £0.80 million.

The statistics will back up the arguments that rail is continuing to grow in popularity and should be made available to the people of Armagh as an option.

Newry and Armagh SDLP Assemblyman Dominic Bradley handed over the petition, which was co-ordinated by Armagh campaigner Suzan McComb, at Stormont last November.

Speaking at the time, Suzan said she was “overwhelmed” by the support within the local community.

The former Armagh Council wanted to employ consultants to work in partnership with Transport NI and Minister Kennedy, a boost to local campaigners who have worked relentlessly to try and get the Armagh-Portadown rail link reopened.

Suzan McComb, who spent many months gathering signatures on the petition, believes Armagh should not be deprived of a rail link, something which many other areas take for granted.

“Many people from Armagh commute to places like Belfast and Dublin on a daily basis for work and want to be able to make their journey on public transport,” she said. “Our bus service is completely inadequate. It is no substitute for a rail link.

“I started off the petition thinking we could get a couple of hundred signatures, but to have almost 10,000 people support the call is a very strong message to our politicians at Stormont.

“The Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy has already signalled his support for railway expansion and has also signalled his support for an extension to Armagh. We want to build on this good will and make this a reality.”

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