Real rail

Someone, somewhere, is still pushing the idea of reopening the Lisburn-Antrim railway line and building a spur to the Airport. I remember looking into this a little, and discovering that the economics just aren’t there. It is my understanding that such a development would be expensive to construct, and not used enough to be sustainable. In short, the International Airport just isn’t big enough to justify it.

Translink is often criticised for being a bus heavy company, which is running down the rail system. Maybe, but on this one, aren’t they right?

  • Garibaldy

    Doesn’t the bus go to the airport like every 10 minutes now? No need for a train.

  • steve48

    while the economics don’t add up at the moment the change to a frequent light rail system using the existing line bed has potential. Translink however appear stuck in a very old fashioned box.

  • cut the bull

    I wonder if Seymour Swindley will attempt to take on this development

  • Mark McGregor
  • Mark McGregor
  • Jeff

    GB pumps in £5 billion a year who would notice an extra few million going somewhere it is not needed?

  • Boyne

    Aren’t they busy replacing the 2 portacabins at Newry city with a 12.5 million station? first things first eh.

  • Jamie Gargoyle

    A train would be unlikely to get held up by rush hour traffic on the M2. How did Translink/whoever come to the conclusion that it was unviable? I’ve been through Aldergrove often enough in the last 10 years that I’m unlikely to have missed a survey… I’d’ve answered “yes, I would be much more likely to get a train link if it were there, in preference to the coach which inevitably gets caught by every set of traffic lights between Yorkgate and the Europa, particularly if it were non-stop to somewhere useful in the centre of town, i.e. Gt Victoria St., and I’d probly be happy to pay a bit more than the cost of the coach if such a service existed.”

  • What about concentrating on actually getting the airport stop (which supposedly does exist) at George Best within a 10 mile root march of the terminal?

  • Make it part of a direct Dublin-Derry service and the Republic is sure to fund it. (No seriously)

    They can’t find the money to reopen the Midleton railway line (still!) but can fund a bridge study between Omeath and Warrenpoint.

  • Ever heard of the chicken and the egg? You need to have a business plan, get stakeholders to buy into that, and hey presto the numbers start to add up. Edward Haughey, aka Baron Ballyedmond, was pushing the plan for a development zone at the International Airport to be established, with possibly reduced or zero corporation tax, and hey presto, it’s more than just an airport. You’ve gotta think bigger.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    I think this is a classic example of how so much of the public sector in NI is incapable of distinguishing spending from investment. Presently, traffic through the International might not justify a rail link, but does it not occur to our great and good that one of the reasons the International is an underperforming airport is because it is so poorly served by infrastructure? It’s a chicken and egg scenario, and as (they seemed at the time) wildly ambitious projects like the Odyssey have demonstrated, if you build it, they will come.

    Remember, Belfast Int is competing with Dublin for customers, and for anyone below Banbridge or west of Portadown, Dublin wins hands down. They are all potential customers who might start returning to Belfast if only Aldergrove upped its game.

    But no, the visionaries in charge of our infrastructural policy look at existing numbers and, apparently, either make no projections for the future, or see only doom and gloom when they do so.

    Of course the sad thing is that all three NI airports have railway lines within yards of them. All three could have live rail links up and running quite cheaply and, if run properly, could be profitable within a few years. But even if they don’t turn a profit they can still be of great – and tangible – value (something that the Little Thatchers running our public services seem unable to comprehend).

    Jesus, the lack of imagination is depressing.

  • Eddie

    Michael Shilliday’s remarks about a rail link to Aldergrove being unviable make sense only if you assume, as he apparently does, that public transport must make a profit/break even.

    Well, I am not a Socialist, but I do believe that such things as water, electricity, gas, transport should be in public ownership. Translink may be semi-public – i.e as I understand it, the Govt owns 100% of the shares, but it is expected to behave like a ordinary (capitalist) business; albeit with some bit of subsidy.

    Well, give it more subsidy! What does “unviable” mean? Unviable for Translink? Or unviable for Northern Ireland as a whole, and the overall economic benefits. Please define viable.

    And, while we are about it, do we really believe that our electricity should be in the hands of a (Arab-owned, as it happens, but I’d say the same if it was locally-owned) PRIVATE company? Or that our gas should be a profit-making enterprise?

    As I said, I am no socialist, but there has to be a limit to this “everything must be a profit-centre” approach to life.

    Build the rail link at public expense, yes – and see the benefits accrue!

    ps – weren’t we promised this self same rail link in the 1960s by the “old Stormont”?

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Eddie

    “Michael Shilliday’s remarks about a rail link to Aldergrove being unviable make sense only if you assume, as he apparently does, that public transport must make a profit/break even. Well, I am not a Socialist, but I do believe that such things as water, electricity, gas, transport should be in public ownership.”

    Hear hear.

    The thing the Thatcherites refuse to accept is that an economy is more like a business than a marketplace: ie in a business it’s accepted that outgoings and investments are an essential part of growth, whereas in the marketplace, every transaction must produce stand-alone profit. This attitude fails to recognise that an economy is an organic thing and cannot perpetuate itself without the same essentials that any other organic thing needs to survive.

    I like the metaphor of an economy as a human body – the body economic, if you will. We all know that without certain things – food, water, rest, exercise, medicines etc – the body will die. And so we buy food and drink, we set aside a third of the day for sleep, we walk/jog/play football/go to gym etc, we go to the doctor or the pharmacy. All these things cost money, money that we don’t expect to see any financial return on. So why do we spend it on these things? Because we’d die otherwise. Duh. Even the most hardline Thatcherite accepts this.

    Yet when it comes to the body economic, the Thatcherite mindset demands that every outgoing must be an investment with the potential of return – with the devastating result that the first things Thatcherites cut tend to be the most fundamentally essential services (and therefore least likely to generate profit). Hence in 1980s Britain the slashing of spending on education, health and transport.

    There are two kinds of investment: those that turn a profit, and those that don’t, but that you can’t afford not to make.

    Public transport may never turn a profit, nor should it be regarded as essential that it should. The role of public transport is to transport the public quickly and efficiently. Profitability is a bonus, nothing more.

    Airports without rail links are a great way of telling people, before they even get past the Arrivals Gate, that they’ve landed in a Mickey Mouse economy.

  • Eddie

    Billy Pilgrim’s remarks above should be framed. Does that make me a socialist, or a conservative or what?
    But then, Thatcherism was not Conservatism, was it?

  • Michael Shilliday @ 02:25 PM: Please expand on your bald and unhelpful statement:

    the economics just aren’t there.

    The BBC clipping to which you link tells us nothing really new. The earlier report (from last September) is another rehash of a press release.

    To help your economics, let me point to the NI Assembly debate of 2 July 2007 where you find Thomas Burns of the SDLP saying this:

    In April 2003, the NIO Minister Angela Smith MP told the House of Commons that she had decided to give her consent to the discontinuation of rail service on the Antrim to Lisburn line from June 2003 onwards. She said that she did so against the backdrop of competing transportation priorities in Northern Ireland, financial feasibility and a wider economic consideration. Minister Smith also stated that Translink had estimated that to obtain regular services on the line would require track maintenance costs of about £565,000 per annum and, in due course, £13 million to modernise the line.

    Burns was slapped down by Conor Murphy, who:

    said more than 100m passengers had to be using an airport every year to sustain a railway link and the volume of those passing through Belfast International Airport fell “far short” of that.

    And that is, quite frankly, is grossly erroneous and misleading by a factor of ten (and I believe Murphy subsequently corrected himself to say 10m, but, at the moment, I do not have that citation). After all, even Heathrow, with two rail links, had just 68m passengers in 2007.

    We are not talking of constructing a major new link: merely re-equipping one in existence. It also fails to see the chances of exploiting the mooted Belfast-Lurgan-Antrim circular route (what would that do for out-of-town development?) or of a direct Dublin-Derry rail service.

    Anyway, we know the cost (see above). So two comparisons:
    1. The GB subsidy to rail amounts to some £5B a year. Transwatch in 2005 suggested this was equivalent to:

    * £200 per year for every household in the land (at a time when half of us use the train less than once a year)
    * £156,000 per year per track-km (£250,000 track-mile).
    * 12 pence per passenger-km (19p per passenger mile).

    Which would translate as a subsidy of £5M a year on the Knockmore line.

    2. For the record, the Belfast International Master Plan anticipates 5.6M passenger movements (on 45,800 air movements) next-year-but-one and 10.5M passengers (on 77,500 flights) by 2030. Others think those very conservative numbers, particularly if the NI economy gets moving.

  • Bob Wilson

    Malcolm
    interesting stats. It certainly would be interesting to know what is meant by ‘viable’.Surely they dont mean ‘making a profit’. Even if they do they (DRD) must surely have factored in an allowance in recognition of the environmental benefits of a rail link – not just from those travelling by rail rather than car but the decreased congestion?

    For example if a train every 20 minute removed the need for 100 car or so at Sandyknowles at 8.30am there is a considerable congestion reduction benefit as well as less CO2 from there being less cars on the road.

    I worry that DRD and BIA have costed the expense of setting up a Gatwick Express style shuttle service rather than a ‘Circle’ commuter line.

    Such a line would attract significant commuters – not just from the ‘new’ stops at Crumlin, etc but from extra passnegers along the lines who are attracted by the increased frequency of services -e.g. perhaps a train every 10 minutes on the Lisburn-Belfast line rather than every 20 minutes at rush hour.

    BIAs Masterplan – released in 2006 in outdated, however one suspects they arent keen on the Rail link as it would mean less cars parking in their car parks!

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Malcolm

    Very interesting post.

    Bob

    “It certainly would be interesting to know what is meant by ‘viable’.”

    It certainly would.

    “Surely they dont mean ‘making a profit’.”

    I suspect this is exactly what they mean.

    “Even if they do they (DRD) must surely have factored in an allowance in recognition of the environmental benefits of a rail link – not just from those travelling by rail rather than car but the decreased congestion?”

    I would make no such assumption.

    Seriously, our economy is run by people for whom the expression “knows the price of everything and the value of nothing” might have been coined.

  • DC

    To sum up, the prospect is at least worthy of a feasibility study based on new projections. At the moment one does not seem to be available but various figures have been stuck together seemingly acting as one.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I wonder how many people on this thread actually use the train every day ? I’ll bet not many.

    I think the executive/Translink are probably right on this one. Sadly, the airport is in an awkward spot. Translink do not even run a proper service on lines where there is something of a catchment area, largely due to funding shortfalls; so how could they be expected to provide service on a line with a low catchment such as that at the airport ?

    Fixing up the airport line is a real case of putting the cart before the horse. Translink run a substandard service on the existing lines as it stands right now. That problem needs to be addressed to get people using the train system in the first place, and that requires investment – that is where the efforts of people interested in railway usage should go. It’s stupid building a rail link if nobody uses the train to get to where they need to go to in the first place.

    Bob Wilson :

    It certainly would be interesting to know what is meant by ‘viable’.Surely they dont mean ‘making a profit’. Even if they do they (DRD) must surely have factored in an allowance in recognition of the environmental benefits of a rail link – not just from those travelling by rail rather than car but the decreased congestion?

    The environmental benefits of a rail link cannot be realized if nobody actually uses the train. Presently people are using other means to leave the airport. The bus obviously works for people, and taxis and private cars work for people who don’t want the bus. Attracting the bus users to the train should be easy, although I don’t think there are that many of them. Attracting the car and taxi users is harder. The taxis and cars avoid the need to drag luggage all over the place and in and out of a carriage or bus.

    It’s interesting that in San Francisco, the much-mooted BART connection to San Francisco airport isn’t getting anywhere near the kind of utilization that was predicted, even though the BART system is probably one of the better run commuter rail systems in the world.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Stalin

    “I wonder how many people on this thread actually use the train every day? I’ll bet not many.”

    I use the train whenever possible. Unfortunately that’s not very often, as the journeys that I make frequently in my life simply aren’t catered for at all by the railways. I wish they were.

    “I think the executive/Translink are probably right on this one. Sadly, the airport is in an awkward spot.”

    As in, a couple of hundred yards from an existing railway line? One which could be opened at a cost of thousands, not millions?

    “Translink do not even run a proper service on lines where there is something of a catchment area, largely due to funding shortfalls; so how could they be expected to provide service on a line with a low catchment such as that at the airport?”

    Er, I think the answer to this one is that Translink should start operating proper services on existing lines, not that they’re correct not to bother with any others.

    “That problem needs to be addressed to get people using the train system in the first place, and that requires investment – that is where the efforts of people interested in railway usage should go.”

    This is Kafkaesque stuff – there’s no point in opening a railway line to the airport because at present, no-one takes the train to the airport? Well, I certainly would if I could. Give people a chance and they probably will. In cities all over the world the train is the preferred option for most people. We have an existing, operational railway line RIGHT BESIDE the airport – why not use it?

    “It’s stupid building a rail link if nobody uses the train to get to where they need to go to in the first place.”

    We’re not talking about “building” a rail link, we’re talking about USING one that ALREADY EXISTS. And we must also recognise that the service has to be a decent one before people will use it.

    You’re falling into the trap set by Translink, where they offer people shit and then, when there isn’t a mad stampede, use it to “prove” that people don’t want food.

    I’ll proffer another argument here. How many people in Belfast have jobs that involve working on computers/laptops/mobile phones, or in which physical presence in the office isn’t essential? Tens of thousands, right? How many of these people resident in the city drive to work? I have no idea of the figure, but a high proportion anyway. 50%? And in commuter country (let’s draw a circular line from Belfast to Lisburn, Lurgan, Portadown, Armagh, Dungannon, Cookstown, Magherafelt, Ballymena, Antrim, Crumlin and back to Belfast, and a similar loopline east to Bangor, south to Newtownards, across to Carryduff and back to Great Victoria Street) – how many of these people drive to work? Nearly 100%.

    Now, aside from the sheer volume of traffic that these cars bring to Belfast, how many working hours are lost every day by people sitting in cars? How many millions of working days are lost every year, and how many billions might these working days be worth to our economy?

    In this era of mobile communications, the guy who’s spending, say, 60 mins driving to work is wasting two of his/her most productive hours (ten hours a week, or an extra working day). Put him on a train, let him sit down somewhere he can plug in his computer terminal and let him spend his last hour of work on the train home – thereby making use of the otherwise dead time he’d be spending at the wheel and allowing him to clock off / step off the train and arrive home at the same time. Free up millions of hours of work and leisure time.

    This is what an advanced economy will look like in 20 years time. We can make a head start more quickly than most. Any takers?

  • Comrade Stalin @ 07:13 PM:

    Tovarich! Na zdorovje!

    Lots of points here and there, in these several posts, which may get addressed (if others don’t) after I finish this bottle (Ah! the joys of retirement! And I, the ultimate pachyderm, am accused in another thread of being “touchy”.)

    Meanwhile: I have used the BART to San Francisco airport (it also serves Oakland, across the Bay, which is cheaper to most destinations). The BART was, on my experience, beautifully clean, totally efficient, fast and pleasant, twenty minutes late and so totally crap. If Frontier Airlines hadn’t been running as dilatory as EasyJet, I’d have been stuffed.

  • I’m sorry: I was sober before, but less so now.

    Can I (and anyone else interested) read the following with care and attention:

    Translink said that the Knockmore line is still maintained and used for training purposes and emergency use, and if a business case was successful, the line may incorporate the airport in the future.

    A spokesperson said: “We are confident that the line could be integrated into the overall network and will continue to make the case that it has a strategic part to play in meeting Northern Ireland’s diverse transport needs.”

    Does that mean:
    * we need the rolling stock;
    * we need to sweep the platforms;
    * we need to build a station at the back of Aldergrove …
    then we can run the trains.
    And that’s in the budget for £10M?

    I’ve got to be missing something here.

  • Mark McGregor

    I worked for Translink as they started the process of running the branch line into the ground – a decision I feel was taken as they didn’t have adequate rolling stock to provide services, not a decision taken on the basis of demand. They systematical altered the service times to make it completely unusable for commuters before then implementing a feasibility study.

    They still persist with running buses to the old railway timetable – a promise when they removed the trains – that are equally useless for commuters and school children alike, a situation compounded in it’s ridiculousness by the fact this service, starting from Lisburn and running to Antrim providing the last public transport link in the evenings to Crumlin, only stops at disused rail stations and not bus stops meaning you can be forced to sit on the bloody bus ignoring a convenient set off point by miles until the driver lets you off at some bloody disused railway halt.

    Now, far be it from me to point out that Translink like the old GNR decided to drop services to its only stations in catholic majority areas when there was a problem with being able to provide enough trains for all services but its true. You can get a train to a station miles from Moira – Crumlin?

  • Mark McGregor

    And while we are at dissing Translink can I point out the real reason I see behind their increasing the delay time before compensation kicks in from 20mins to 30mins.

    Any idiot knows most lines have a gap of thirty minutes between each train (bar the Derry line and beyond W/Abbey on the Larne). This effectively means they can cancel a service and the following train will mean it fails within the delay time not a compensation paying zone.

    Do they think we are stupid? Clearly.

  • TOT

    reminds me of the old joke

    Monday: Train to derry 5 hrs
    Tuesday: Train to derry stops at ballymoney, Bus service for rest.
    Weds: Bus Substitution
    Thurs; 6 hr journey
    Fri. Train service cancelled permanently due to lack of use.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Billy:

    I use the train whenever possible. Unfortunately that’s not very often, as the journeys that I make frequently in my life simply aren’t catered for at all by the railways. I wish they were.

    I live within a 15 minute walk of Whiteabbey station. I drive to work because I got tired of the train constantly being late or being cancelled, and when the train arrived it was dirty, overcrowded, and the heating didn’t work.

    As in, a couple of hundred yards from an existing railway line? One which could be opened at a cost of thousands, not millions?

    This is where things start going pear shaped with the hyperbole and silly arguments. When the existing railway was open, I can tell you right now that it had no commuters travelling to/from the airport. Just like the Bangor line has no commuters travelling to/from the City airport. What berk would carry all their bags and luggage to Sydenham halt, plonked as it is in a rather intimidating location ? What berk would trust Translink to get them to their plane on time ? I wouldn’t even trust their “flagship” Enterprise to get me to Dublin in time for a plane. Never mind the station at Crumlin. You must be having a laugh, if you think reopening the line would get pax moving to/from the airport.

    Let’s get real here. To make this work, you need :

    – a halt which is at the airport, or a five minute connection bus ride from it
    – trains which depart every 30 minutes, and which have a journey time to Great Victoria St of less than 30 minutes

    The cost of this is several million – probably more than ten million – up front for new trains to provide the service and to build the halt; then a couple of million per year to keep it moving. Tell me where you plan to get this money from – which taxes are you going to put up, or which hospitals/libraries/schools do you want to close, so that you can get your railway fantasy connection which you personally won’t use ?

    Er, I think the answer to this one is that Translink should start operating proper services on existing lines, not that they’re correct not to bother with any others.

    No, the answer is that Translink are partially incompetent and need to be disposed of, but more importantly, they are seriously underfunded. Tell me where you’re getting the money from, and then we can talk seriously.

    This is Kafkaesque stuff – there’s no point in opening a railway line to the airport because at present, no-one takes the train to the airport? Well, I certainly would if I could. Give people a chance and they probably will.

    They don’t do it at the City airport. They don’t do it in San Francisco, at least not to a self-sustaining level. They didn’t do it at Aldergrove, when the fickin’ line was being used.

    We’re not talking about “building” a rail link, we’re talking about USING one that ALREADY EXISTS.

    There is no rail link to the airport. There is a rail link to a couple of miles from the airport. We need to straighten that little problem out first.

    You’re falling into the trap set by Translink, where they offer people shit and then, when there isn’t a mad stampede, use it to “prove” that people don’t want food.

    You’re the guy who thinks that doing this is a matter of spending a couple of thousand to reopen a few halts. I’m the guy who recognizes that for this to work, we need to spend tens of millions on it. I also recognize that we won’t get any return on that expenditure, because people will continue to use their cars, just like they are right now.

    I think trains are fantastic. Elsewhere in Europe, particularly. The reason why they are fantastic is because people there pay high taxes to subsidize the fuck out of them. That’s what we need to do in order to get where you are talking about. I’d actually be quite happy to do that, but I don’t think I’d win votes if I used it as an election platform.

    But the idea of spending money so that Translink can run trains badly and infrequently to a place a long way away from an airport, while they still can’t even get a train to Derry and back quicker than a bus, is a joke. Cart before horse. Public confidence in The Train needs to be restored first.

    I’ll proffer another argument here. How many people in Belfast have jobs that involve working on computers/laptops/mobile phones, or in which physical presence in the office isn’t essential?

    Look Billy, just don’t go there. Working from home means cabin fever, people going mad, etc. – I would hate it. Besides, all those people at home have to power their own computers, run their own central heating, cook their own food. Less efficient.

    This is what an advanced economy will look like in 20 years time. We can make a head start more quickly than most. Any takers?

    What, a 20-year plan to build an advanced economy ? This is the kind of original thinking that made my time as General Secretary such a roaring success in the USSR. Go for it!

  • Comrade Stalin

    Malcolm:

    Meanwhile: I have used the BART to San Francisco airport (it also serves Oakland, across the Bay, which is cheaper to most destinations). The BART was, on my experience, beautifully clean, totally efficient, fast and pleasant, twenty minutes late and so totally crap. If Frontier Airlines hadn’t been running as dilatory as EasyJet, I’d have been stuffed.

    Sorry to hear that. Any time I’ve used the BART, it’s been class. I love that system they have with the tickets where you charge it up with money, and it subtracts the right amount based on which station you got off at. The New York subway is fantastic as well. The Boston one is a bit scary but remarkably good.

    Mark :

    I worked for Translink as they started the process of running the branch line into the ground – a decision I feel was taken as they didn’t have adequate rolling stock to provide services, not a decision taken on the basis of demand.

    I had a bit of a laugh when there was all the uproar about the Knockmore-Antrim line years ago. Translink managers said, on several occasions and in several interviews with the media, that as soon as the new Bleach Green connection was in service, the Knockmore-Antrim route would be mothballed. Nobody batted an eyelid, until they actually did it. So of course they ran the line into the ground, they didn’t have a choice. The DRD civil servants hate railways, and they aren’t interested in properly funding Translink.

    I would like to see Knockmore-Antrim reopened (but can we please drop this silly nonsense about the airport?). But to me this is of lower priority than the fact that there isn’t a decent rail service between our two largest cities. We need passing loops on the Derry line, and the whole thing beyond Ballymena needs to be taken up and relaid. We also need rolling stock to replace the old Class 450s. All of this stuff requires money, and to spend the money means that the executive needs to find it.

    That story about the bus substitution is a complete farce, though. A bigger farce is the fact that Translink get to decide their own compensation scheme. Translink’s monitoring standards and punctuality metrics should be set by an independent body, not tuned in accordance to whatever service level they think they can be bothered providing.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Mark,

    Translink are doing to the Derry line what they did to the Antrim branch – making it so unusable that the survey will give them a closing option.

    I think it was easier for them to get away with this under direct rule, but harder now that we have ministers who have votes at stake and can’t be seen to be closing lines. It’s going to be politically impossible to close the Derry line.

    Rail services in the north are shit because we have a bunch of geriatric non-train users quangoists getting advice from provenly failed twats.

    Yes. Add to that the chronic underfunding.

    For god sake, they promote senior managers that walk off platforms while drunk singing sectarian songs and technical managers that manage to smash goods trains into each other on an empty line.

    The biggest mistake made was when they amalgamated NIR into Ulsterbus and Citybus back then. I thought NIR did quite a passable job when it was out by itself.

  • Elvis Parker

    ‘there isn’t a decent rail service between our two largest cities’

    Yes there is the service between Lisburn and Belfast is quite good actually

  • aquifer

    “I remember looking into this a little, and discovering that the economics just aren’t there.”

    But when? Would that have been pre five mile tail backs on Motorways from Antrim and Lisburn?

    Counting pennies at the ticket office could be bookkeeping, but it is not economics.

    Public sector economics are obliged to consider all the benefits and costs for NI plc, including a carbon count. Aside from guaranteed relief from congestion (it gets too bad, people take the train), and mobility for the under seventeens and over seventies, there would be the value of new sites created for thousands of affordable homes, as more can be fitted in when sites are served by public transport.

    And having no trains on the line at present makes it extra cheap to upgrade.

  • David Ford

    Picking up a few points late in the debate:

    Malcolm at 6.02 pm is right: Conor Murphy made the ludicrous claim that it required 100 million passengers a year through an airport to make a rail connection viable: time to close down the Stansted Express and Luton Parkway. I challenged him later in the debate – the figure is actually 10 million. That’s to run a specific service like Stansted Express.

    In fact the issue at Aldergrove (see Bob Wilson) is to get the Knockmore Line back into service, making it part of a full ‘circle line’ Antrim – Whiteabbey – Belfast – Lisburn – Crumlin – Aldergrove – Antrim. This could be a huge boost to the commuting population across South Antrim, and a park and ride at the site bought by Transport Holding Company beside M2 at Templepatrick could get many more cars away from Sandyknowes.

    Mark McG is right: when the Bleach Green line (Antrim – Whiteabbey) came into use for Derry trains, there was inadequate rolling stock to also provide a proper service for (mainly) Crumlin people and a timetable was set up with about three trains a day, none at reasonable times for schools or ‘office hours’. This ‘justified’ closure a year later, though Gregory Campbell gets annoyed if you point this out.

    All the evidence is that where Translink has invested in both infrastructure and rolling stock there has been significant increase in train passenger numbers, but DRD, the Department of Roads Development, remains fixated on a 1960s road building model to deal with commuting into Belfast. It’s the only city in Europe run like this.

    .. hope the 08.30 from Mossley West gets me to my 09.00 appointment ..

  • Antichrist

    So Conor Murphy mixes up 10m and 100m.

    This is an indication of why SF did crap in the Southern elections.

    Folk down there realise SF could organise a piss-up in a brewery, the robbery of a brewery, and could make a brewery “leak” a lot of beer

    but No, they could not actually properly run a brewery.

    And as down Mexico way, a lot of folk live or die by business competence, they won’t vote the Shinners in.

    And Conor is one of the better ones.

  • Comrade Stalin @ 11:04 PM:

    May I offer an apology to Comrade Joseph Vissarionovich and the BART?

    I have just realised that my frustration on an occasion to which I previously referred was not wholly fair; and have considerable admiration for the public transport systems of the Bay Area.

    Yes, there was a critical delay in the service from Powell Street to SFO (some selfish bastard had thrown himself under a train further up the line) on the day in question. What really pissed me that day was arriving, sweating with baggage, on the platform. Then the mobile ‘phone rang across eight hours of time zones. Tear-stained daughter, driving from London to Sheffield (both UK) had lost a tyre on the A1. Oh, and the spare was flat, too. What was she to do about it? Oh, and she’d left her credit-card in London. Yes, she was late for her appointment. Send for the men in white coats, at both ends of the call.

    It has taken all these months for me to admit that the Bay Area public transport systems, BART, MUNI, buses and trams are a pretty good model for anywhere. They are integrated, have a decent fare structure, and work.

    The Comrade is on equally good ground with his applause for the Boston subway system: it’s basic, but it does the business. And it gave us a good song (the Kingston Trio’s MTA). The New York system, quite frankly, sucks, and will do until they complete the Second Avenue subway (which will be long after my time). On the other hand, I’d suggest Barcelona has something that works (anywhere you can be photographed under a station-sign that says ‘Clot’ can’t be bad for tourism).

    Back in the north-east corner of our little island, things are both easier and more difficult. More difficult because the systems are not there. Easier because we could, if we wanted, start from close to scratch and make it all work. What is clear, though, is we need to plan for a 21st century city and its hinterland. That includes outlying commuters and the airports. When we look at cities comparable to Belfast (Say half-million population in the urban area. Antwerp? Copenhagen?) we are forced to recognise what a mess we’ve got.

    One last thought: we do not necessarily want the heavy traction that NIR presently employs. A light railway system (try the London Docklands Light Railway) seems quite adequate, and would work a treat on the circle line David Ford describes. Imagine a 10-15 minute service throughout the day. It is, of course, capital-intensive — though a lot cheaper than any alternative. From what Mark McGregor has been saying here, our lords and masters would switch off instantly at that mention. However, now look at what NIR is claiming the minimal Portadown line improvements have done to the M1 commuter traffic.

    This is a good thread. Thanks, chaps.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Malcolm, I daresay you have considerably more insight into subways in the USA than I do. My metric for quality is somewhat limited; it basically comes down to “if I’m visiting the city how often do I have to use a taxi?”. In NYC and San Francisco, I was able to use the subway systems to get everywhere I needed to, and I don’t remember standing around for ages waiting on trains. The only thing about NYC is, in the summer the underground stations are hot.

    The only immediate trouble I can see with the circle line idea is the bottleneck between Great Victoria Street, through Central, and (to a lesser extent) over to Yorkgate. I would probably allieviate this by reducing the number of stops made by Bangor-Portadown trains and requiring connections for anyone travelling from that line to a station between Central and Lisburn. It would also be useful to increase service frequency by adding/reinstating passing loops on the Bleach Green-Antrim section (I don’t think there are any loops other than the one at Templepatrick) and Lisburn-Crumlin.

    I see Translink are harping on about the single-track section from Yorkgate-Central. I think at the moment they’re just making excuses for being not very good, but in the medium to long term they probably need to look at extending this to a double track line.

    My ultimate fantasy is electrification from Lisburn-Bangor and Carrickfergus.

  • Jamie Gargoyle

    I didn’t fully appreciate the trek from the Harbour airport (that’s “George Best” Belfast City Airport to those who’ve only noticed it recently…) until I did it in November. While the points about the distance and the surroundings are valid, neither can be blamed on NIR/Translink – after all, they didn’t build a new airport terminal half a mile up the road, and they probably didn’t commission the mural of Carson and the Clyde Valley and the loyalist garden of remembrance directly opposite the station.

    However, it surely can’t cost that much to move the station up the road to restore its purpose, i.e. to be handy for both Sydenham *and* the airport, and build a new footbridge over the dual carriageway while they’re at it.

  • Comrade Stalin @ 09:01 AM:

    The NY subway has improved considerably in recent years, which is one reason why Ken Livingstone imported Bob Kiley. One of the main measures (which improved customer satisfaction no end) was the zero tolerance of “tagging” and graffiti: a vandalised train-set was immediately taken out of service and cleaned up. There’s a lesson there for the learning.

    Yet, in summer the subway is insufferably hot (as is the whole city). My complaint, though, is analogous to that of Jamie Gargoyle @ 09:55 AM: it doesn’t tie in too well with the rest of the transportation system. For obvious examples, the inevitable hike from Herald Square to Penn Station, and the sheer tedium of the access to/from JFK. Above all, I sincerely hope that Robert Moses, S.T.Saunders and their minions (who wished the present claustrophobic rat-warren of Penn/Madison Square Garden complex on us) fry in the lower circles of any Hell. And, as I said before, the East Side is badly served.

    On the other hand the State Island ferry (free!) and the likes of the M4 bus (The Cloisters to Penn) are terrific for rubber-necking and people-watching.

    But who am I to grouse? After all, my London home is served by (involuntary shudder) the Northern Line.

    The bottom line is that the Belfast conurbation desperately needs a decent, integrated transport system. I doubt there will be any great disagreement over that. What is installed has to look forward to the needs of the next century. We can learn from the experiences, successes and failures of others (our grandest local folly is surely the asphalt horror of the M2). It will be projects like this, rather than pettifogging over the trivialities that had bedevilled the Executive to date, that will ultimately be what the future thinks of us.

  • PeaceandJustice

    Billy Pilgrim – “Of course the sad thing is that all three NI airports have railway lines within yards of them. All three could have live rail links up and running”

    I find myself agreeing with Billy Pilgrim above – which is shocking in itself!

    Michael Shilliday – “In short, the International Airport just isn’t big enough to justify it”

    I completely disagree with this. Given that BIA is trying to expand the number of routes, visitors often prefer trains as they remove the uncertainty of where to get off. The trains would also reduce the number of cars and buses on the roads.

    Many Ulster people would also use the trains if given a choice.

    It’s very short sighted if they don’t open up the BIA link. They should also get on with changing Sydenham train station for Belfast City and do a study into Londonderry Eglinton Airport.

  • PeaceandJustice @ 10:56 AM:

    Linking the three airports rationally? Now, come on, that’s pandering to the needs of passengers and thinking ahead. Both of which go against all traditions of recent infrastructure planning.

    Alternatively, why not go the whole hog? BHD and EGL are never going to be anything more than short-haul feeder airports. We have two long-haul hubs (Aldergrove and Collinstown-Dublin) within (what?) 90 miles of each other. DUB’s capacity (currently serving 23+million passengers, 1+m of whom come from NI) is not too far down the years, even with €600M of Terminal Two. BFS (now about a quarter of DUB annual through-put) could, and should complement DUB. Imagine: no need for second (or third) runways elsewhere. If Schipol can offer itself (and it does) as an alternative to LHR, then DUB/BFS are alternatives to the northern UK airports — mainly to the advantage of BFS.

    DUB will get Metro North after 2010, linking to Swords. Is it too much blue-sky thinking to imagine a link from Metro North to Donabate or Malahide, to connect with the old GNR line to Belfast, electrified, one hour or so, centre to centre. Oh, look! — we could even turn left on to that Knockmore bit. Perhaps those Victorian railway engineers had some clue what they were doing, and could teach us a thing or two.

  • Crusty Burke

    Of course we should not forget that Shilliday himself proposed that Donegal should build a full blown international airport to “compete” with Derry airport. Where would that be then? Muff?

    So why should anyone take what Shilliday says about transport seriously? Aldergrove has got the defunct Antrim line right next to it – so could anyone envisage the day when a through Dublin – Derry train would stop at Belfast International Airport to feed the airport with passengers from the Republic?

    Thinking ahead and thinking co-operatively for mutual benefit seems to me at least something that Mr. Shilliday is incapable of doing…

  • hotdogx

    Guys, people are speculating here. We had everybody telling us before the limerick-ennis section of the western rail corridor. It was so successful that train service had to be doubled and new rolling stock introduced. Now all of this railway all 240kms of it is being reopened. In my opinion you can prove anything with statistics. As said above if translink dont want this railway opened the will downgrade the service and then do the study to prove that its a non runner.

    We have to start looking at the positive side here as its not always doom and gloom. Property developers can be useful people in a project like this but i think opening up a rail terminal directly to the airport will increase the number of people who want to use this airport. For the sake of one mile of new track plus a couple of bridges some rolling stock and a train station, its nothing compared to the rail renewal thats going on here in the republic. The Irish government might also fund this since britain doesn’t give a damn.

    Most importantly why do we need 2 rail companies in ireland. This is why NI lost 70% of its rail network and the border region lost all its once abundant rail links. THANKYOU PARTITION!

  • Bob Wilson

    Malcolm
    Think your ‘Dublin only’ line is egging it abit!Do have to say my flabber was well and truly ghasted when I saw that the Republic intends to spend millions on Metro North and end it a mile (over open countryside) short of the main North-South railway line!

  • Bob Wilson @ 01:33 PM:

    Equally ghasted with flabber.

    My nonsense (and, yes, it’s sheer fantasy) derives from two observations:

    1. The RoI Government is facing up to the impossibility of managing a fast-growing and fast-spreading city without massive, ginormous, humungous investment in infra-structure. That includes mass transit systems (eg the Dunboyne M3 commuter line, which is being built on the assumption of eventual electrification).

    I seriously doubt that many in the North have fully appreciated the size and scope of what Iarnród Éireann is up to, especially in the Dublin commuter belt:

    From 2000 to 2004, the DART fleet virtually doubled in size from 80 carriages to 154. The Commuter fleet rose from 44 carriages to 180 during the same period.

    However, major investment is now required. In the Greater Dublin area alone, a range of projects are proposed which will see DART and Commuter passenger numbers increase from over 33 million in 2006 to over 100 million by 2015 under Transport 21.

    Currently tendering is going on:

    for at least 400 carriages for DART and Commuter services, to deliver new services and higher capacity for commuters.

    If you have tears, prepare to shed them by checking out how that compares with the total NIR fleet.

    2. The Dublin-Belfast corridor must be a prime candidate for incoming mega-investment in the foreseeable future. Here is space, potentially good transportation, sound education, and something adjacent to the English language.

    Only the short-sightedness of Them as is in Stormont can stop short the northwards spread of development at Dundalk.

  • joeCanuck

    Before anything is done, a couple of students need to be hired for a week to stand at Aldergrove and ask every passenger, “If there was a train service to Belfast running every xyz minutes costing klm pounds, would you use it?”

  • Dewi

    If you build it they will come. Seriously – economics only tangential relevant – we’ve got to stop killing the planet and the train is the only way forward (ever so slightly biased)

  • qubol

    hotgogx has a point why do we have Translink? wouldn’t our needs be better served if Iarnród Éireann ran our rail network? Rail development is probably one of the most obvious and sensible areas for cross-border cooperation.

  • qubol @ 09:24 AM:

    This breaks all the rules: a really sensible offering late in the life of a thread. So, can anyone, anywhere suggest a good reason why transport services across the island cannot be integrated and harmonised?

    The RoI is financing cross-border links, the main (nay, the only properly-run) NIR route is collaborative. The EU is prepared to chip in to restore links ripped up by the “wisdom” of the Andrews and Brooke administrations, with some cross-border and unofficial help. It all seems too easy. Which, of course, is why it won’t happen.

    In passing, may I draw attention to Platform 11, the website of the Irish National Rail User Organisation? Time now, perhaps, to change their numeration, and extend their role?:

    We represent the thousands of rail users across the 26 counties of the Republic of Ireland.

    It deserves particular credit for one exercise: revealing who runs Iarnród Éireann. Almost inevitably, many seem to have close links with GB companies. So perhaps the take-over has already happened.

  • qubol

    Malcolm: This breaks all the rules: a really sensible offering late in the life of a thread.

    Sorry M, I must of got carried away.

    Back on track (excuse the pun):
    clearly this proposal is a SF/IRA attempt to increase the number of southeners entering ulster. We must repel this threat.

  • Reader

    qubol: wouldn’t our needs be better served if Iarnród Éireann ran our rail network?
    If Translink seem to be outclassed in providing rail services at the moment by Iarnród Éireann, could it be because: (1) IE are a Rail company (2) IE have loads of money and (3) The Government is cooperating with them?
    Up here, they may not be able to deliver the magic bullet that you seem to expect.

  • qubol

    Reader: Up here, they may not be able to deliver the magic bullet that you seem to expect.
    Well one of the things that we’ve hear a lot about when we talk about rail travel is the state of the Derry line north of Ballymena. It’s clear that interested parties in the north either aren’t willing or can’t afford to sort it out. If IE could take over this line (in doing so connecting Donegal which I think was mentioned in the national plan) would anyone seriously object?
    Dublin already funds some infrastructure projects in the north and if handing over the running of the railways to IE means more investment, whats the problem.

    Come to think of it I’d be happy to even let Seymour Sweeney build a station at the airport if it meant we got one.

  • Reader @ 03:39 PM

    “If Translink seem to be outclassed in providing rail services at the moment by Iarnród Éireann …”

    If? If? If?

    The trouble is that NIR is a poor, pawky wee runt of a thing, and has been elbowed to the back of the queue for the financial nipple for decades.

    Try for size the 1990 Competition Committee Report on NIR (sections 7.12 and 7.13). In part this refers to Bleach Green, which has already been mentioned in this thread. I believe the substance deserves to be recalled to show just how bad things have been (and in some aspects may still be):

    A significant problem in recent years has been the incidence of slurry spots mainly around Antrim, but also on parts of the Lisburn/Bangor route. Slurry spots occur at rail joints where the flexing caused by the passage of trains has pulverised the ballast, broken the sealing layer of ash and cinder under the ballast and allowed water to be drawn out. If untreated, such spots can cause earth movement leading to distortion of the track and possible derailments. […]

    As NIR acknowledges substantial sections of track remain in unsatisfactory conditions. In particular some of the track north of Ballymena, south of Portadown [i.e. the route of the Enterprise, NIR’s flagship operation] and sections of the Larne and Bangor lines have problems with old wooden sleepers, many of which show signs of severe decay. This results in the imposition of speed restrictions with the consequent adverse effect on train running times. Short of complete relaying, NIR is planning to replace sleepers on the worst affected sections, either totally or on a one-in-three basis depending on local conditions.

    I think that means that routine maintenance had been neglected to the extent that the track-bed was unsafe, and being patched up in some desperation.

    Anyone who thinks this is ancient history should take a trip on the rush-hour service between Portadown and Belfast. You might find yourself travelling in carriages numbers 8941 to 8948. These are retreads from the Gatwick Express, which had even then been converted from BR Class 488 stock, and therefore survivals from the early 1970s. You will be hauled by a Class 111 locomotive, which entered service in 1980-81, the same type as CIE’s 071 Class (which have been either withdrawn or are being reduce to freight duties, I believe).

  • Dewi

    Malcolm you are a true geek beyond compare:

    We are re-opening railways

  • Dewi @ 05:44 PM:

    Some are born geeks, some acquire geekishness, and some have geekery thrust upon them.

    The Ebbw Vale line is a close analogy to the Knockmore line: in both cases the track is/was still there. The amazing thing is the relative cheapness of such a development: £30M to relay 11 miles of track completely and build/restore half-a-dozen stations. Good luck on getting it extended to Abertillery.

    Nice, too, to see the much-reviled Class 150 “Sprinter” trains tarted up so well. However, I can never understand the current mode of purple/puce in railway liveries. I always think the stopping service between Paddington and Heathrow must be sposored by Cadburys chocolates.

  • qubol

    on the subject of railways and airports – it always pisses me off at how expensive railway connections are to airports. Look at the Heathrow Express, compare that to Frankfurt or Schiphol where the airport station is part of the network and fares are charged at the same rate as the rest of the network.

  • Mark McGregor

    Mark McG is right: ………..

    Posted by David Ford on Feb 20, 2008 @ 12:24 AM

    I find this more worrying than when my wife agrees with me. David, for both our sakes please don’t make this a regular occurrence.

  • qubol @ 07:33 PM:

    Absolutely! Hear! Hear!

    It is a peculiarly and gouging British phenomenon (in its most extreme form seen on the Gatwick, Heathrow, and Stansted Expresses).

    A couple of years back, I was on the first direct flight (well, OK, since 1945) from Stansted to Dortmund. I was a bit leery about the connections at the other end. Instead, there was a free mini-bus link for the couple of miles to the railway station, a ticket machine that worked with any credit/debit card in sight, and an easily-understood fare-structure. Within minutes I was on a “regional express” to Cologne, sharing the space with some slightly-inebriated elderlies who were on 4 for 1 tickets. Being DBahn, we arrived a minute late, and we received an apology.

    So, if Iarnród Éirean won’t take on the job, can we have take-over of NIR by either Deutsche Bahn (who already own EWS, the privatised GB freight operator, with rights through the Chunnel) or a Swiss company?

  • Mark Mcgregor

    Though the current most favoured proposal for reopening the Antrim branch, with possible spurs into the Maze and Airport, has the costs offset by a demand for massive exclusive green field planning permissions where a rail proximity levy will be charged to house buyers not passengers.

    I’d like to hear David Ford’s view on the Kilbride proposal as most other’s gave it a guarded welcome.

  • qubol

    yeah feck IE a takeover by Deutsch Bahn, that would be amazing

  • “Is it too much blue-sky thinking to imagine a link from Metro North to Donabate or Malahide”

    Yes. In fact I believe the alignment beyond Lissenhall is NOT reserved.

    If there hadn’t been political impetus to give RPA the Metro project, a DART line could have run from Drogheda through Donabate to Dublin Airport, DCU and the City Centre. Instead we will get an incompatible light rail system (trams on steroids) every 90 seconds (yeah right) which terminates at and causes the digging up of one of one of Dublin’s best known and central green spaces.

  • David Ford

    Mark McG is right: ………..
    Posted by David Ford on Feb 20, 2008 @ 12:24 AM

    Sorry Mark.

    On the specific topic of a political decision to render services on the Knockmore line useless, thereby providing an excuse to cut them completely a year later, disadvantaging the people of Crumlin in particular Mark McG is right.

    On other topics, the above does not apply.

    PS On the Sunday afternoon of the last passenger services on the Knockmore line, I travelled Antrim – Lisburn – Antrim in the RPSI carriage used by Liam Neeson as Michael Collins. Happy now?

  • Crataegus

    Planning is about coordinating development with services including transport. In most European countries they regard rail as an essential service. It has many advantages over buses, not least is the fact that it does not suffer from delays caused by traffic jambs.

    If you invest in trains people use them.

    To look at an Aldergrove Terminal in isolation is a mistake. It is a service that should serve Lisburn, Antrim , Templepatrick etc. We should make it a commuter loop and plan development around it. Do this and it will be well used.

    All our Airports should have stations, it would be good for tourism, good for business and good for self esteem. The amount of time I waste going to various Airports to meet people is ridiculous.

    Get a good connection into Aldergrove and connect to the Dublin line and we may start to draw traffic from Dublin airport.

  • “We had everybody telling us before the limerick-ennis section of the western rail corridor. It was so successful that train service had to be doubled and new rolling stock introduced. Now all of this railway all 240kms of it is being reopened”

    Er… no it’s not. Nothing beyond Claremorris is committed to, thank god almighty. Even the handpicked Western Corridor Report group couldn’t spin Claremorris to Sligo into something worth doing.

  • 0b101010

    Automated light rail would be nice. Bombardier build the goods, so there’s the possibility of convincing them to keep it local. A South Antrim loop to touch Aldergove and another loop to go through the City airport and cover North Down. Sorted. Better spent on that than a stadium in my opinion.

  • gram

    >>To look at an Aldergrove Terminal in isolation is a mistake. It is a service that should serve Lisburn, Antrim , Templepatrick etc. We should make it a commuter loop and plan development around it. Do this and it will be well used.<

  • Crataegus

    gram

    Yes it could be made to serve the Maze site, but the problem with that sort of event is the sharp rise that it causes in demand, limits the ability of a rail service to make real impact and most days there would be no demand at that particular station. Yes you can run a few extra trains (if the rolling stock is there and the lines allow) That is one of the reasons why the stadium would be better located in the centre of Belfast at the nub of many transport links and where many can actually walk to the event if they were of the mind to do so.

    Train Services need regular and steady use. Peaks at rush hour can be accommodated. This is why you need to integrate rail into Planning and concentrate development around the network. NI must be one of the few parts of Europe where you still have to argue for the obvious.

  • Jamie Gargoyle

    Dewi – if we’re in the business of saving the planet, the problem isn’t so much how one gets to and from the airport as how one gets from one airport to another…

  • Not only is the Lisburn Antrim line still open, it is used regularly for inducting train drivers (see Countryfile BBC ) and there’s me thinking it had been closed down and the track uprooted.

  • Comrade Stalin

    (it’s weird when an old thread gets dug up).

    The Lisburn-Antrim line is kept in working order. Not only is it used for training drivers, but on one occasion within the past year it was used to divert Derry line services for a few days when some maintenance work was being done on the Bleach Green section.

    I think the railway companies have learned their lesson to some extent and they are much less prone to ripping track up, thankfully.