Technical study presents positive findings for re-opening Portadown to Armagh railway line

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L-R: Jackie Robinson (DfI Director of Public Transport Policy & Climate Change Response), Lord Mayor Alderman Margaret Tinsley, Cllr Kevin Savage (Chair of Economic Development and Regeneration Committee)

An in-depth technical study exploring the potential for re-opening the former Portadown to Armagh railway line has determined that this major infrastructure project is operationally feasible, technically deliverable and would promote sustainable transport across the borough and wider region.

With funding provided by ABC Council and the Department for Infrastructure, leading infrastructure consulting firm AECOM was appointed to assess the potential merits of reinstating the rail link which closed in 1957.

The study examined a range of aspects including the need and demand for rail passenger services; land requirements; an economic appraisal; the technical feasibility of reinstatement; the impact on the operational rail network; stakeholder engagement; future strategy and funding options.

The study has been a long-term ambition of the Portadown Armagh Railway Society (PARS) who supported council throughout the delivery of the study.

Speaking about the findings, Lord Mayor Alderman Margaret Tinsley said: “Thanks to the extensive research undertaken as part of this study, Council has renewed its commitment to work in partnership with the Department for Infrastructure and Translink to take this project forward.

Armagh is the only city on the island of Ireland without a rail connection. The lack of investment in its infrastructure is hindering the historic city from reaching its full potential.

Restoring the Portadown to Armagh line will provide a higher quality, sustainable, low carbon and climate resilient public transport network that connects the city to Belfast and beyond. It will cater for an increase in demand from the borough’s rapidly growing population, help connect communities and improve accessibility to jobs, homes, education, and social and economic opportunities.

Furthermore, it will boost the city’s attractiveness as a major tourism hub in NI and support economic growth along the Craigavon corridor. Council is keen to work with the Department for Infrastructure and Translink to further develop the proposals.”

Jackie Robinson, DfI Director of Public Transport Policy & Climate Change Response said: “We appreciate the work that has gone into this technical study by the Council and their consultants AECOM. This provides further evidence and information that will assist in the prioritisation of recommendations outlined in the All-Island Strategic Rail Review once the responses to the consultation on it have been considered and the Report finalised and agreed. In addition the Department is currently drafting a Transport Strategy for Northern Ireland which is a high-level strategic document to look at the overall policy context and identify transport priorities across the region; whilst also considering how we make our contribution to net zero.  This is expected to be published for public consultation in the coming months.  The Transport Strategy will guide the future Transport Plans within which this rail extension can be considered.”  

The report has highlighted overwhelmingly positive support from stakeholders for the scheme.  A range of transport options were considered but a direct, heavy rail passenger service between Portadown and Armagh best met the objectives set for the study.

The re-established line would see many benefits in terms of shorter journey times between Armagh and Portadown, and Armagh and Belfast, as well as a 10% shift in sustainable trip-making, with the study indicating that the line could attract 670,000 journeys each year.

No significant engineering or built-environment constraints to re-instating the former railway line were identified and there is clear evidence that the scheme is both technically deliverable and operationally feasible.  The study also shows there are clear economic benefits to the reopening of the railway, which would outweigh the investment and operating costs of the project.

Wider benefits of the project include reduced car dependency and greenhouse gas emissions, a more integrated transport system, improved social inclusion, the facilitation of compact urban development and a better work/life balance for the travelling public.

The recently published ‘All-Island Strategic Rail Review’ also recommended the re-opening of the Portadown to Armagh railway line. It also recommended this as part of a wider reconnection of the rail network to Monaghan and all the way to Mullingar via Clones and Cavan.