Northern Ireland

Platform: All Island Strategic Rail Review recommendations need implemented - SDLP leader Colum Eastwood

Government officials suggested examining the “politically charged” option of closing parts of Northern Ireland’s rail network after safety concerns were raised in 2000, newly declassified files have revealed. Issue date (NIR/PA)

Refreshing and renewing the all-Ireland rail network is one of the biggest opportunities facing our island. As the debates about levelling up public transport, addressing regional economic imbalance and tackling the climate emergency continue, there is one big, bold and obvious answer - supercharging investment in the rail network.

That’s why the SDLP in the last executive partnered with the Irish Government to deliver the All Island Strategic Rail Review - the first time in a generation that both administrations had come together to seriously rethink how we coordinate public transport and connect the communities that share our island.

When the railways were ripped up 70 years ago, there were grand promises made about new motorways, a new public transport network and better ways to bring opportunity and prosperity to communities across the island. Fast forward to today and we’re still talking about building core transport corridors like the A5.

The scars where old railway lines once ran is a generational injustice that has severed too many communities from opportunity. And now we have an opportunity to reverse it.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood

You only have to look at places like Derry, Strabane, Enniskillen, Donegal and most of the North West. Cut off by a failure to imagine how we can connect to one another and reshape the economy of the region.

The €600m announced by the Irish Government for the A5 is a significant step forward in delivering better transport links for the North West of our island, but there is much more work to do to address this historic wrong. And the answer cannot be more roads alone.

That’s why the SDLP Opposition prioritised assembly time this week to challenge the executive to produce a transformative and costed plan to implement the All Island Strategic Rail Review recommendations and to raise the ambition even higher.

Our view is that every county in Ireland could benefit from this project, removing barriers to growth, good jobs and sustainable communities. We have been working with groups like Into the West to take the rail review draft report and enhance the outcomes for places across the West, including Fermanagh, to maximise the benefits for all our people. That also includes immediate action to deliver the final stage of the Derry to Coleraine rail line upgrade.

And of course, it should go without saying, that the airports across this island should be connected to create a seamless transport corridor from the city of Derry to Belfast and on to Dublin.

The difference this would make cannot be understated, it would allow us to drive local economies, enhance our growing tourism offering and address regional imbalance. All of this would make a significant difference to life in many communities.

By making public transport more accessible and affordable we can tackle the climate crisis, allowing more people to use rail as their method of transport and leave their cars at home. When it comes to reducing carbon emissions, enhancing the quality of commutes and making our planet more sustainable, it’s a no-brainer.

There is no silver bullet for the problems facing our towns and cities, but the SDLP believes that a properly resourced and modern rail network would be a real catalyst for positive change, transforming the way we travel and opening up often neglected parts of island to the investment that they so richly deserve.