Page last updated at 09:52 GMT, Tuesday, 8 April 2008 10:52 UK

'No light rail system for city'

Consultants recommend a high quality bus-based system
Consultants recommend a high quality bus-based system

A light rail system to ease traffic congestion in Belfast looks set to be ruled out and replaced with buses.

A report has suggested that there are not enough people in Belfast to justify a system such as the Luas in Dublin.

It said a bus network could cut commuting times while costing less. Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy said it was realistic.

However, that option has been criticised by the SDLP, which said it would be at the mercy of traffic flow.

Northern Ireland taxpayers now look set to invest more than 100m.

Instead of the 590m needed to establish a light rail network, the consultants say a high quality bus-based system with vehicles carrying 120 passengers, could be built for close to a quarter of the cost, at 147m.

The report suggests that running a Luas-style service in Belfast would cost taxpayers 6.78m annually, while investing in the large flexi-buses which many European cities have opted for would cost 1.44m to run each year.

SDLP South Belfast MP Alasdair McDonnell urged the minister "to go for the standard international option of a light rail system rather than a bus-based system".

"A light rail system, even on-road, has an absolute traffic priority which is its greatest commercial advantage," he said.

Mr Murphy said no option had been definitely ruled out at this stage.

"We haven't closed our minds to any of the solutions or any of the options or ruled anything in or anything out," he said.

"But it is a very useful report and it's a good basis for starting off this very important work."

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