The transport consultants Aecom have been appointed by Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council to carry out a study into the reopening of the Portadown to Armagh railway according to a report on Belfast Live
This comes as part of the wider All Island Strategic Rail review, currently being discussed by the Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA). There’s a current consultation on the Strategic Rail Review which can be found here.
The line was opened by the Ulster Railway in 1848, linking Armagh to Belfast, and continued further south, reaching Monaghan in 1858 and Clones in 1863. With the partition of Ireland in 1922 the section between Keady and Castleblayney that crossed the new border was closed in 1923.
The line finally closed in 1957 and left Armagh with no connection to the Irish Rail Network. The ten mile stretch of trackbed is mostly complete, but has some bridges missing, and a car park has been built over the site of the rail depot in Portadown. There’s a drone flyover of the line on Youtube.
There’s an active campaign group pushing for the reopening, they have a Facebook group. Last November the line was featured in Channel 5’s series “Walking Britain’s Old Railways” with Rob Bell, which can be watched online.
The study will be carried out this year, with findings expected to be released by the autumn. Here’s hoping that the £60,000 estimated cost of the study actually shows some benefit. There were consulations on the feasibility of reopening back in 2013/14 and in the UK there’s a tendency to spend vast amounts on feasibility studies that have incomplete or inconclusive results. The Ivanhoe line is a prime example, at least 7 studies over 20 years, all of which have excluded vital data and statistics that would have shown the reopening to be viable. The Borders Railway in Scotland was another case, where the consultants showed the BCR – benefit cost ratio – to be lower than needed for it to be reopened. However it did get opened and passenger numbers greatly exceeded all expectations. However it seems that many of the decision makers in the UK haven’t taken this on board. If only public transport received the same level of strategic investment and long term vision as roads…