Rail plan steams into a political row

A cross border review of Ireland’s rail network launched today has steamed straight into a political row.

Wednesday, 7th April 2021, 5:19 pm
Nichola Mallon.

The Strategic Rail Review will consider how the rail network on the island can improve sustainable connectivity between major cities, enhance regional accessibility including to the North West and support balanced regional development.

It will also consider the feasibility of higher speeds on the network and whether there is a potential to increase use of the network for freight.

But within hours of its launch by Stormont Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon and the Irish Minister for Transport, Eamon Ryan TD, it was drawing criticism from the DUP.

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DUP Infrastructure spokesperson Michelle McIlveen said the enthusiasm shown by the Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon for North-South co-operation stands in contrast with her opposition to any East-West developments, including those outlined in the New Decade New Approach agreement which helped restore devolution.

The DUP MLA said, “Infrastructure projects will often cross jurisdictional boundaries and there is an obvious need for coo-operation between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

“It is notable that the Minister cites commitments in the New Decade New Approach agreement as part of her motivation for taking this particular review forward when she has steadfastly opposed other elements of that agreement, including attempts by the UK Government to improve co-operation with the devolved institutions.

Just as infrastructure projects can require cross-border co-operation there is also a need for Nichola Mallon to work with her counterparts across the rest of the United Kingdom too.

“The Minister obviously places a high priority on developing the rail network. It remains to be demonstrated however whether that enthusiasm is replicated for anything which might entail greater co-operation with her counterparts in other parts of the UK.”

Ms Mallon said she is passionate about rail travel. “I believe it has massive untapped potential to deliver multiple benefits across our island,” she said.

“Since coming into office, I have been clear that it is my priority to address regional imbalance, tackle the climate crisis and better connect communities across Ireland.

“This is an ambitious piece of work that will help inform our decision making and investment in our rail network for years to come. It’s an exciting start of a journey, many have been waiting for.”

Mr Ryan described himself as a “firm believer in the potential of rail”. “I’m particularly pleased that we’ll undertake this review on an all-island basis, working with our colleagues in the Northern Ireland Executive,” he said.

“The review will look at how rail can help better connect cities and regions across the island and will complement the investment we already plan in our commuter rail networks.”

The Strategic Rail Review will be delivered by external consultants and overseen by the Department of Transport in co-operation with the Department for Infrastructure, supported by key stakeholders including the Commission for Rail Regulation, the National Transport Authority, Iarnrod Eireann and Translink.

Sinn Fein MLA Martina Anderson welcomed the move. She called for a feasibility study on extending the Londonderry line into Letterkenny and beyond.