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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 January 2007, 12:20 GMT
City rapid transit plans examined
light rail train in Beijing
Light rail is one of the options being examined
Belfast may get a rapid transport system, the government has said.

A pilot project is being considered which could link the city centre with the Titanic Quarter, George Best Airport and the Harbour Estate.

A link from Dundonald to the city centre along the old Comber rail link will also be examined.

Mike Thompson from the Department of Regional Development, said they were looking at a number of schemes, from light rail to a bus-tram type system.

He said they wanted to get the right system for the city.

"The phrase rapid transit covers a spectrum of different types of transport systems," he said.

"Certainly at one end of that spectrum is the concept of trams, something like the Luas scheme in Dublin, but we are also looking at bus-based schemes.

"These aren't buses that you and I know, these are buses that in many ways look like trams and operate like trams, but have the advantage of being able to go off the rails."

Regional Development Minister David Cairns said an economic feasibility study would take place.

This will prepare public transport appraisals to assess the Belfast Metropolitan Transport Plan (BMTP) proposals for the EWAY rapid transit scheme - between Dundonald and the city centre the airport Titanic Quarter and the new retail developments in the Harbour Estate.

Modern tram in Paris
Such schemes are expensive and it is important that they are fully and properly studied
David Cairns

"Rapid transit was identified in the department's strategic thinking as a major element of the delivery of a step change in the quality of public transport within the Belfast Metropolitan area," he said.

Bus based rapid transit was previously assessed in 2004 as the most "cost effective and operationally flexible" but the government said the situation had not remained static and light rail would also be among the options examined.

"These studies will result in a business case that will identify the optimal routes and technology," Mr Cairns said.

"They will cost the proposals, identify their benefits, and indicate likely sources of funding.

"If the outcome is positive it will provide a sound basis to take forward these schemes. Any public sector funding requirements will be assessed in the normal budgetary processes."

"Such schemes are expensive and it is important that they are fully and properly studied before decisions are taken."

Congestion

The SDLP's Alasdair McDonnell said something had to be done to combat traffic congestion in Belfast.

"Belfast is a growing city and to accommodate the proposed increased population particularly when the Titanic Quarter development comes to fruition we need a modern reliable transport system," he said.

Alliance Councillor Mervyn Jones said the Titanic Quarter currently had poor public transport links.

"However, I ask that this proposed system be analysed to see whether it is viable and can complement the existing public transport network," he said.

Harry McGimpsey, of the Federation of Small Businesses, also welcomed the plans, but said they should not be used as a cover to introduce road tolls or congestion charges.

A report on the subject is expected to be ready in the middle of 2007.




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