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Wednesday, 10 January, 2001, 09:01 GMT
70m plan to replace all NI trains

NI rolling stock is to be completely replaced
The company which runs Northern Ireland's railway network has announced a 70m plan to replace all of the province's trains within the next three years.

Translink, which runs NIR, has now advertised for a manufacturer to replace its entire rolling stock.

The new funding for the railways will also enable the installation of a new integrated ticket system and the renewal of the Bangor line in County Down and the Larne line in County Antrim.

It is a remarkable turnaround, as just a few months ago rail travellers were facing the possibility that part or all of Northern Ireland's rail network would be closed because of a lack of money to keep it safe and viable.

The investment which will secure the network's future was confirmed by the Northern Ireland Assembly, which made rail transport a priority in the December budget.

This followed the publication of a number of damning reports on the rail network last year, which said that it needed massive investment to continue to run safely.

Translink's Kerian Rogan: "Investment is good news for passengers"

Speaking to the BBC, Kieran Rogan from Translink said: "We are advertising for the provision of 23 additional train sets and also for structural work, which will allow us to relay the Bangor line and the Larne line.

"It is us getting down to spending the additional 20m which the budget allocated us last year and we are looking froward to the additional provision of another 85m over the next two years."

Anger over route closure

However, news of the new investment followed Translink's announcement on Tuesday that it intends to close the Lisburn to Antrim railway line in County Antrim.

This would completely cut off the rail service from the villages of Crumlin, Glenavy and Ballinderry - to make way for the new Bleachgreen route.

Jeffrey Donaldson: Call to retain Crumlin route
Crumlin's population has increased substantially over the past ten years.

Residents said they could not understand why they were being left without their train service, which is vital for commuting to work.

One man said: "It leaves people like myself in Glenavy, which is a small village, stranded."

Another passenger, a young mother said: "It means I won't be able to take public transport, because I can't get the buggy onto the bus."

One of the reasons for closing this stretch of railway line is to shorten the journey time from Londonderry and Ballymena to Belfast.

Kieran Rogan said: "We don't have sufficient resources, be it trains or investment, to maintain both lines.

"Significantly more people will benefit directly opening of the direct Antrim to Belfast line.

"But I would say that passengers in Crumlin, Glenavy, etc, will not be left without a public transport option, as we are going to significantly increase the frequency of bus services so that they can connect into the rail network at Lisburn or Antrim, or travel directly into Belfast."

Consultation period

Ulster Unionist Lagan Valley MP, Jeffrey Donaldson said he would oppose the move to close the Crumlin route.

"I'm very concerned about this and I'm taking a delegation to meet the minister Gregory Campbell on Thursday to ask him to intervene to prevent the closure of this line," he said.

Gregory Campbell: Commitment to consider all options
Following Translink's announcement there will be a six-week public consultation period, before the minister makes a decision.

The minister said that at this stage he was keeping an open mind.

Mr Campbell said: "I will be wanting to see how many people are using it. And what the expenditure would be required to keep it open and maintain it and try to build up the numbers of people using the line, and then obviously a decision will have to be made to maintain the line or possible closure."

Mr Rogan urged passengers affected to make their views on the closure known to the minister, as he said this may mean additional resources may be made available to for the railways in future years.

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See also:

19 Dec 00 | Northern Ireland
Assembly approves NI Budget
18 May 00 | Northern Ireland
Demand for rail rescue package
17 May 00 | Northern Ireland
Public consulted over railways
09 May 00 | Northern Ireland
Railway 'under subsidised'
28 Mar 00 | Northern Ireland
'NI railways facing cash crisis'
16 Mar 00 | Northern Ireland
Public transport in 'a mess'
03 Nov 99 | Northern Ireland
Rail system is 'shambles'
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