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Tuesday, 25 July, 2000, 05:36 GMT 06:36 UK
Future of railways under spotlight
Northern Ireland Railways train
A railway taskforce is looking at the options
Several hundred people have attended a public meeting called by a government taskforce set up to look at the future of the rail network in Northern Ireland.

The taskforce is currently examining the system after it emerged that 183m was needed to maintain safety standards and keep it viable over the next 10 years.

It is hosting a series of public meetings to gauge opinion about the service before it prepares a report later this year.

At one such meeting in Larne, County Antrim on Monday evening, a steam engine brought a touch of nostalgia to proceedings.

The man who looks after it said he was delighted to see the level of interest in a campaign to protect rail services.

Last month, the taskforce put forward four possible alternatives to the current system.

Rolling stock
A huge investment is needed in the railways
These ranged from providing all the money needed for safety and some additional funding, to closing everything except the Belfast to Dublin railway line.

The assembly also backed a motion expressing concern at the "poor state" of the public transport system and seeking a comprehensive and integrated policy to be implemented.

Regional development minister Peter Robinson said the assembly must channel more funds into the rail network or face the further deterioration of services.

The minister said he was not prepared to compromise on public or rail employee safety.

Lack of investment

Meanwhile, Translink, the company which runs Northern Ireland's railways, has launched a campaign to save the system.

In June, staff handed out leaflets urging commuters to attend public meetings which were being held to discuss what they saw as a threat to the railways.

Up to 700 workers could lose their jobs if the railway closes due to a lack of investment.

The government taskforce is also examining the technical requirements of the rail service.

It has to make a report by the end of July so that the assembly can decide in the autumn what sort of railway network it can afford.

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