Circle line rail plan around Belfast is a fine idea but might not yet be viable

News Letter editorial of Saturday November 20 2021:

Saturday, 20th November 2021, 8:34 am
Updated Saturday, 20th November 2021, 8:39 am
News Letter editorial

A campaign is gathering pace for a ‘circle line’ railway around Belfast (see page 18 in print edition, web link below).

The proposal is to use the rail line from Belfast to Lisburn, then reopen the rail line between Lisburn and Antrim, and then use the track down past Newtownabbey and into Belfast’s York Street station to create a loop line.

It is a wonderful idea.

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It would involve using existing railway lines and disused ones. Wisely, the authorities have not allowed the former rail line land to be sold or converted to other uses.

This happened in much of England, after post war closures, which are now bitterly regretted, amid a renewed interest in rail travel.

The circle line idea is a plausible one, but it might not be a likely one. Much of the disused line goes through areas of very low population density, despite some new housing in places. Rail might not attract the passenger numbers to make it viable.

One of the great advantages of reopening the line is it goes right past Aldergrove airport. But sadly Northern Ireland has insisted upon three airports, and so the number of passengers using Belfast International are smaller than they would be if it was NI’s sole hub airport and so rail demand for it is not what it might otherwise be.

Even so the campaigners are right to float this plan, and perhaps one day it will become a reality.

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