Plans for one-hour Belfast to Dublin rail link welcomed
PLANS to seek money for a high-speed rail link between Belfast and Dublin as part of the Irish government's Brexit negotiations have been welcomed.
Rail users could travel between the two cities in just an hour, the Republic's Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan said.
A direct train between Belfast Central station and Connolly station in Dublin takes more than two hours at present.
However a transport consultant has said upgrading the rail link to reduce journey times to an hour could cost up to a hundred million pounds.
Mr Flanagan told the Irish Independent money for infrastructure should be discussed as part of the Brexit negotiations, particularly since the Republic is expected to be badly hit by the UK's exit from the European Union.
"I'd like to be able to see rail users travel from Dublin to Belfast in an hour. That will take capital expenditure and these are issues upon which I feel consideration should be given in the context of the negotiations," he said.
Mr Flanagan said the north and Republic must retain their strong connections post-Brexit. And he said the Republic should also be able to increase trade with other EU countries.
"I see a need to diversify. That will mean our airports and ports will be hugely important to us in that endeavour," he said.
"I'm thinking in particular our access points to the continent and the French ports."
Asked who would pay for infrastructure improvements, Mr Flanagan said: "That's a matter down the road but Europe has always looked favourably to states that do suffer peripherality and the need to get our goods to market".
Mr Flanagan said the maintenance of an open border is essential to the economy, noting that 40 per cent of food exports from the Republic go to the UK.
"The maintenance of the open border is essential to all of this. That's where the Good Friday Agreement and the honouring of Good Friday Agreement in terms of movement of people and trading of services is important," he said.
However, he said the collapse of Stormont and lengthy talks aimed at re-establishing power-sharing may hamper Brexit negotiations.
"There is an urgency and I'm calling on the DUP and Sinn Féin to engage in the necessary level of compromise that will allow them to surmount these challenges," he said.
Transport consultant Kevin McShane told the BBC that upgrading the Belfast-Dublin rail link could cost up to a hundred million pounds.
"The last big upgrade...was in the order of £47 million so this is not a small amount of cost," he said. "We are looking at a significant cost to upgrade the signalling. We are also looking at significant costs to try and increase the rail track where it hasn't been improved. Something like that is not going to happen overnight. It is going to take several tens of millions if not a hundred million pounds to do."
Mr Flanagan's remarks were welcomed by Sinn Féin senator Niall Ó Donnghaile who said rail and road links between Ireland's two main cities needs improvement.
"An hourly rail link between Dublin and Belfast makes economic, social and practical sense," he said.
"There are increasing demands from within the business, retail and tourism sectors for this much needed and no doubt transformative service to be developed.
"At a time when the unwanted repercussions of Brexit threatens the economy of Ireland, north and south, I look forward to engaging with the Minister collaboratively to explore how all stakeholders can come together to help drive this much needed initiative forward."