Dublin to Belfast train needs an upgrade but it will cost

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

The Belfast to Dublin train is a service that has barely improved in journey time duration since the completion of the rail link in 1855.

In recent decades the speed of the service between the two capitals has slightly declined.

The fastest timetabled service on the route is exactly two hours. Thirty years ago it was one hour and 55 minutes.

Most of the services today take longer than two hours – more like two and a quarter hours.

It is 40 years since Intercity 125 trains, which as their name implies had a top speed of 125 mph, were introduced in Great Britain. A train using such dated technology to travel at up to such speeds on the Belfast to Dublin route would cover the distance in little more than an hour.

As the SDLP’s transport spokesman John Dallat says far from improving, the train journey times on the Belfast to Dublin route are about to get even worse.

The problem for advocates of upgrading that key railway line is that it would cost an exorbitant amount of money to upgrade it to anything even approaching a high speed line of Intercity 125 standard, let alone to the standard of such lines as they exist in mainland Europe and east Asia.

Another complicating factor is the motorway to Dublin, which has enhanced the attractiveness of both car and bus between the cities and reduced the urgency of a rail upgrade.

There is, though, a model for having outstanding road links alongside outstanding rail links, and it is provided by France.

Many of the best motorways there are funded by tolls (charging much more than the modest Belfast-Dublin tolls). The fast TGV trains are subsidised by a high taxing state.

In Northern Ireland, we have a huge amount of state money available, but we have to prioritise spending. Do we for example want free transport at 60 (at a time of rapidly ageing population) or money for a fast rail link? These are the sorts of choices we wanted to be able to make at Stormont. Now we can make them, so the decisions are ours.