McNulty’s campaign to bring Newry (belatedly) into a 21C railway service…

So, £9 Million, no questions asked. Unsurprising the Perm Sec at Economy was a little concerned at the lack of accountability of the deal. We should not, of course, exaggerate what £9 million over three years can buy in terms of government spend.

Lack of good, shovel ready and affordable ideas is one problem faced by politicians in power. Getting it past their Perm Secs is another. In this case the downsizing of government to just two parties has at least led to some form of action. Whether there’s any actual return will probably not be measured.

So what of the opposition? Well, in south Armagh Justin McNulty (who sits on the Infrastructure committee) has raised an issue which I would guess has been bugging the good people of Newry and south Armagh for years.

In my day, there was no station at Newry. So far as NIR was concerned Northern Ireland ended at Portadown.Since 1984 there’s been a station there. Latterly, in 2009, it was modernised and upgraded with a significant capacity for parking.

But outside nine Enterprise stops in either direction, after thirty years of operation there are just four trains a day on the suburban service into Bangor, and none on Sundays. And that seems to be the focus of McNulty’s campaign:

Portadown is the next full time station to Newry on the Belfast line. Every morning, NINE trains leave Portadown and arrive in Belfast city centre at or before 9.30am.  By comparison, there is only one single train leaving Newry. 

It leaves at 7.15 am, stops at Poyntzpass and Scarva and takes a full hour to reach Belfast.  In other words, it is not designed to provide any sort of attractive option for the many thousands of commuters in the District who find themselves wasting hours every day stuck in traffic to and from work.

“The express train journey from Newry to Portadown takes twenty minutes.  Someone somewhere needs to explain why those services enjoyed by people in Portadown cannot simply be extended in both directions by twenty minutes to and from Newry.

It’s rare a local representative gets to trangulate the local interests he needs to serve with issues of broader concerns dealt with in the Infrastructure committee. As James Frayne notes of his time in Whitehall:

For the most part in government, those that quietly explain their case are ignored, while those that take battle to politicians stand a chance of changing things.

The bill for extending proper services to Newry may well exceed £9 million, it won’t take the multiples of that needed to bring Derry in from the cold. A public fuss may be just what the new Stormont administration needs to belatedly extend its normal services those extra 20 mins.

Portadown stopped being the end of line an awful long time ago.

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  • AndyB

    £9 million would reinstate the Fuel Duty Rebate for local bus operators in NI (Translink, contrary to popular rumour, is not the only one that would benefit – it’s payable to every operator in GB for their local stopping “stage carriage” services, and I understand Translink is not the only stage carriage operator in NI), and each additional Portadown-Newry services come at the price of an hour’s pay for a driver and guard and the diesel necessary to operate the train.

    It’s all politics. Translink used to operate two trains each way each morning and evening, but they got sacrificed (together with more than a few Whitehead-Larne trains) in last year’s squeeze by DRD, and unless DfI as they now are are willing to cough up for the difference between the fare income from the extra trains and the cost of operating them, they won’t happen.

  • Ciarán

    It’s a great question and to build on the questions being asked yesterday about Derry airport – where is the comprehensive transport infrastructure strategy? Also, why are Sinn Fein not approaching this from an all-Ireland perspective? Why is Justin not asking about links to Dublin?

  • billypilgrim1

    Can it really be true that there was no train station in Newry prior to 1984? I know the old station was in the town rather than where it is now, but I never knew that services had stopped completely in the interim. I’m actually quite shocked by that, though God knows why.

  • mac tire

    He and Conor Murphy have been lobbied about this for months.

    https://www.change.org/p/translink-call-for-a-fair-rail-service-to-newry-city

    Fair play to Gemma for putting the pressure on about this. I suggest people sign her petition.

  • Surveyor

    The 27 million quid Belfast was recently awarded to replace some paving slabs would go some way to improving transport links in the North.

  • murdockp

    nice one. the £9m figure ties in with the figure Belfast city council just spunked on building a business centre despite the private sector delivering comparable facilities across Belfast and now putting their businesses at risk.

    the problem is there is no joined up strategy on anything.

  • Reader

    Newry does have links to Dublin. The complaint seems to be that there isn’t a practical commuter service between Newry and Belfast.
    Extra trains could be laid on, but, without laying new track, journeys will still take nearly an hour, unless you plan to speed past full platforms in Portadown, Lisburn and Lurgan.

  • mickfealty

    He does ask about n/s links and has meeting with Shane Ross coming up amongst others to pursue that very question.

  • mickfealty

    Closed in 66 I think…

  • mickfealty

    Not sure the track does need an actual upgrade just to extend the service Reader.

  • Katyusha

    What’s even more astonishing is that the five counties in Ulster with no rail links are the only counties in all of Ireland with no rail links. When you look at a map the decline is stark: http://www.discoveringireland.com/trains-in-ireland/#railmap .
    And, as the blog post highlights, even the railways we have in Ulster are pretty rubbish.

  • notimetoshine

    As someone who makes the daily commute from Newry to Belfast, I don’t think I have ever gotten the train. Thankfully the private sector has stepped in with the excellent Rooney bus commuter service. The links to Dublin aren’t much better either.

    Newry train station is a joke. Be better just closing the thing down

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    I don’t agree that a station should be closed just because the service provided to it is poor. Why was the station located so far from Newry itself? I understand the original station was on Edward St and although it served a line to Warrenpoint I don’t understand locating a station where it is intended to be accessible by car or bus. It seems typical of the short sighted, makeshift planning that results in our so called infrastructure.

  • notimetoshine

    I have always wondered that myself, I mean it must be one of the most awkwardly placed train stations about. But considering how poorly it’s served it seems like an after thought. It would be a major job relocating it close to the town, though if I remember correctly there was a plan some time ago looking at putting it somewhere close to Daisy Hill Hospital. But as you say makeshift planning.

    Infrastructure in NI is a joke. It’s piecemeal with no overall plan. Since the end of the troubles there has been no coherent strategy. Trains are a perfect example. Either rationalise the service and cut it to the bone, or properly invest and create a service worth using. The state of the A1 is another disaster. One of the most important transport routes in Ireland and it’s a mess.

  • mickfealty

    It’s not just us though, government is losing its bottle all over the western world. Worth reading this review by James Crabbtree in this weekend’s FT in this particular regard:

    https://www.ft.com/content/19f4e976-78e5-11e6-a0c6-39e2633162d5

    The idea of getting rich slowly (like slow food) appeals somehow…

  • mickfealty

    No, the suburban rolling stock is pretty good. And the service pretty good. Just needs a steady focus, and incremental investment.

  • billypilgrim1

    “Since the end of the troubles there has been no coherent strategy.”

    Since partition there has been no coherent strategy.

  • notimetoshine

    True but one would have expected some sort of ‘post ‘conflict’ plan to reinvigorate the economy, infrastructure of course being the key.

  • AndyB

    @disqus_9X5jaLPpcT:disqus Mick is correct – it’s only a question of spare sets to operate the service, staff, and funding to bridge the gap between fare income and fuel and staff costs.

  • AndyB

    @bendehellenbacque:disqus The present Newry station was the former Bessbrook station, and is probably the closest point
    on the Belfast-Dublin railway line to Newry city. I don’t think there was ever much hope of reopening the line from Goraghwood – certainly no hope of finding the funding, and it would involve running extra trains to connect to the main line.

    The old station in Edward Street, I think quite close to the present buscentre, was closed with the rest of the line from Goraghwood to Warrenpoint in 1965. I see that Newry reopened in 1984, as did Poyntzpass and Scarva, so I think that from 1965 to 1984 there must have been no open railway stations on the 33 miles between Portadown and Dundalk.

    As ever, it’s all about the funding even to restore the two commuter services that were cut last year, let alone increase the service to a more attractive level, and the lack of political will.

  • AndyB

    Yes, the Warrenpoint branch closed in 1965 by my records. I’m not sure when Bessbrook station closed.

  • cu chulainn

    As per wikipedia, Bessbrook station closed in 1942.
    The problem in Newry is part of a larger one, there is no early train from Dublin to arrive in Belfast before 9am and if this were fixed then Newry might benefit also. The trick here is to have passing facilities to get past the suburban trains.

  • AndyB

    Actually, passing facilities are not really an issue. They already have limited stop services (non-stop Great Victoria Street-Lisburn), and while it would require an extra set, it would be possible to extend an existing service to Newry without getting in the way. At worst, it can overtake at either Portadown or Lisburn.

    Trains from Dublin are the way they are because there isn’t the political will to fund better – on either side of the border. Frustrating, I know, but improvement needs money neither the Irish Government nor the Assembly is willing to invest, despite the success of the hourly Dublin-Cork service.

    The one piece of good news is that the early train from Belfast to Dublin is now safe and the plans to bring it forward and slow it down have been scrapped.

  • Reader

    Well, I meant that the existing route is maybe 50 miles and would have three intermediate stops even if you leave out Scarva and Poyntzpass.
    Is there existing – more direct – track that doesn’t pass through population centres?

  • chrisjones2

    No its not. They did have them but there was no economic justification so they were closed

  • John Collins

    Is there a rail service going to any part of Donegal?

  • Katyusha

    There is no economic justification precisely because towns on both sides of the border were severed from their natural hinterlands. It’s no coincidence that this phenomenon is only found along the border and nowhere else in Ireland.
    Anywhere else in Northern Europe, it would be viewed as a failure of local government. In NI we’re resigned to seeing such failures as a fact of life.

  • Mega Kensei

    Surely the economic cost & benefits extend beyond the costs of the service itself. if you have steady commuter trains out of Newry, it must play into labour costs, housing costs, costs lost due to traffic etc. Or if you had a faster and more frequent link between Belfast and Dublin there must be some impact on investment etc. It just seems like this is all looked at piecemeal, rather than as part of an overall strategy, and I also find it extraordinarily hard to believe that is the island was sone political unit we’d have the same crappy service between Belfast and Dublin (with the associated knock on to places along the line) or that we’d be worse for it.

  • AndyB

    Yes, of course, but it still comes down to Government funding. Translink can’t run the extra services unless they’re paid to do so.

    I wouldn’t bet on a single political unit being better. Anywhere south of Greystones would be extremely jealous of Newry’s train service – Irish Rail services are very Dublincentric, because they make the money and help with the congestion.