Is Armagh, the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland, the forgotten city?
This is the question we in the Portadown and Armagh Railway Society are asking.
The other cities in Northern Ireland have rail links – Belfast, Londonderry, Newry (which is currently having an upgrade) and Lisburn, whilst we in this city have been ‘side-lined’.
This Society has been campaigning for several years to have the 10 mile rail link to Armagh, from the main line Junction at Portadown, reinstated.
Recently 10,000 residents signed a petition to this effect.
Few would disagree that Armagh is a huge but undersold tourist location, with possibly more major tourist attractions than anywhere else in the Province.
We note the picturesque Mall, two beautiful Cathedrals, a Planetarium, the Navan Centre, Observatory, the Palace Stables and numerous Georgian Buildings, two museums, libraries, sports grounds and a leading hotel with one of the largest conference centres in the Province.
As a society we are totally convinced that the lack of a rail link is depriving Armagh of a very substantial number of new visitors annually.
This was highlighted by a survey in which 60% of foreign tourists on the Enterprise trains said they did not consider visiting the city, due to the inconvenient absence of a rail link.
Our local council endeavours to promote tourism, in order to enhance infrastructure and to bring visitors quickly and conveniently to our beautiful city.
Many are unaware that the track-bed of the former line to Portadown is largely still in situ.
We are reliably informed that it would be relatively easy to re-open the line at a cost which would be extremely economical relative to the boon it would be to tourism and to the many local Richhill and Armagh commuters, who currently drive to Portadown to access trains to study or work in Belfast.
Much emphasis is put on road schemes to boost the economies of other areas (and we have no argument with that), yet Armagh`s potential as a tourist centre, and indeed a residential area, is restricted by the lack of a short link to our own and the Republic’s rail network.
It is very obvious, there is no likelihood of the congestion on the M1 decreasing, especially at peak hours. The only way to provide better access from Armagh to Belfast is to restore the railway to Portadown.
The impending new transport hub at Great Victoria Street is evidence of increased rail use.
As a society we are greatly encouraged by growing support for re-opening the line.
More and more Northern Ireland people are opting to travel by rail with much credit due to the excellent service provided by NIR.
However it is difficult to understand why, with rail traffic now surpassing the total numbers carried by the former rail networks before all lines west of the Bann were sadly closed, the DfI seems to want to hide this fact from the public, by continually highlighting total public transport figures.
The overall decline in bus usage across the Province masks the fact that rail passenger figures are booming.
Railways are faster, safer, more comfortable and environmentally friendly and are not hindered by growing traffic congestion. This would also enable people with mobility problems to travel.
This is why we in Armagh badly need a rail link.
Equally important, with the government having announced the provision of additional funds to boost our economy, it is time rail infrastructure was expanded, as is happening in other places else across these islands.
Why does Northern Ireland still think roads are the only answer to ongoing congestion?
Just a couple of strategic reopened rail lines would do far more to speed journey times than building more roads that in the longer term just appear to increase congestion.
D Weir (Mrs), Secretary, Portadown and Armagh Railway Society