Motorway service stations in Northern Ireland have been a very long time in coming.
The first stretch of motorway in the Province — the initial segment of the M1 from Broadway to Lisburn — opened more than half a century ago, in 1962.
But the first motorway service station only opened this week, near Templepatrick, on the M2.
The lack of such service stations is partly explained by the smallness of Northern Ireland, and the short distances of its motorways.
Even so, the M1 stretches for 38 miles west of Belfast, to Dungannon. Motorists using the road now seamlessly link to the A4 dual carriageway to Ballygawley. They travel more than 50 miles without services that have direct access to the road.
Most travellers on that route, and on the M2, are local, so they know that there are no service areas. But a visitor would not know this, and would reasonably assume that there is such a point at which to get petrol, and could run into difficulty.
The new Applegreen station is therefore a welcome and overdue development for transport in Northern Ireland. Similar services are planned on the M1, between Belfast and Lisburn.
The problem with these stations is that they are too close to Belfast and do not resolve the problem of long-distance travel — a problem that existed on the Republic sections of the new Belfast to Dublin motorway, which had no service stations on opening a decade ago but now have them (facilities that are still absent on the stunning 150-mile Dublin-Cork motorway).
The problem is not as acute as it could be in Northern Ireland. Ideally, the Province would have a motorway to both the border and to Londonderry, rather than the mixture of motorway and all-purpose dual carriageway (which tractors and bicycles can use) on those routes. Most of the latter route is in fact even worse: comprising single carriageway.
Finding petrol is easy in those circumstances. The first priority is to upgrade the routes. Then to add service stations.