Councillors have backed calls to radically transform the train system in Greater Belfast and ditch the city’s “chronic dependency” on cars.
Campaign group Circle Line Belfast has started a petition which has quickly gained the support of local communities and elected representatives.
The idea, which proposes a circle train line stretching to 25 locations around the Belfast Metropolitan Area, was proposed earlier this week and has gained a flurry of online attention.
In the petition to the Department for Infrastructure (DfI), which has been signed nearly 2,000 times, the campaigner said that public transport in Northern Ireland had “seen decades of decay and neglect”.
They added: “Many will argue that their car is their only option for getting to/from and through Belfast. And though this may be true for some, this is not true for all.
“The York Street Interchange (YSI) has rightfully hit the skids. It’s a bad idea that will only induce further car dependency.
“The Belfast Metro Area has a chronic dependency on car use highlighted by the daily traffic jams and congestion that blight the city.
“[Our] proposal would be to reallocate the YSI funding to reopen the Knockmore Line between Antrim and Lisburn and dual the train track going North from Belfast to create a Circle Line around the city.
“[You could have] services running every 15 minutes in both directions up to Midnight and connecting with the International Airport.
“For the most part, the infrastructure is in place but additional stations will be required in key locations.
“Such a system should make train journeys the logical choice when travelling to and from Belfast removing cars and traffic from the city and ultimately reducing emissions.”
Proposed Belfast Circle Line idea
The cost to transform the train system line is currently unknown but it’s expected that it could cost tens of millions of pounds.
Alliance Lisburn and Castlereagh councillor David Honeyford, who previously advocated the reopening of the Knockmore Line (Lisburn-Antrim), said it was time that the country’s transport infrastructure was on par with other parts of the UK.
“This is something that needs to happen and soon,” said Cllr Honeyford.
“This is only an idea at this stage but it’s a very good one and something that I’ve been calling for a long time now in terms of the reopening of the Knockmore Line.
“The line and most of the infrastructure already exists and what we’re calling for is for the Department for Infrastructure or Translink to look at the feasibility of doing something like this.
“This will reconnect the people who live in the Belfast Metropolitan Area and further afield with Belfast City.
“This will enable people to travel to work, school, hospital appointments, leisure, hospitality and [Belfast International] airport by public transport rather than driving.
“This is what our train system needs to look like and we need to be ambitious with our plans. This is what a 21st-century public transport sounds like and it’s what the people deserve.”
When questioned how the circle line could be funded, Cllr Honeyford said he was convinced that funding was there to complete such a project.
He added: “You have funding from the UK Government including the Restoring Your Railway Fund which is part of the £500m Levelling Up Fund and we should be getting our part of that and putting it in place.
“The infrastructure that we have now can’t cope because the demand is huge. I know progress has been made to increase the size of the carriages in our possession but more can be one.
“We need to move away from relying on road infrastructure and provide sufficient public transport. If we’re all serious about carbon footprints and emissions then green sustainable travel is what’s required and this idea promotes that.”
Earlier this year, Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon and the Republic of Ireland’s Minister for Transport, Eamon Ryan T.D. launched their all-island Strategic Rail Review.
It’s hoped the review will enable the rail network on the island of Ireland to improve sustainable connectivity between major cities, enhance regional accessibility and support balanced regional development.
Meanwhile, Green Party councillor, Simon Lee said it was “unacceptable” that much of Northern Ireland’s rail network continued to remain unused.
“If there is a will, much of disused rail infrastructure could be resurrected,” said Cllr Lee.
“With our urgent need to decarbonise transport, the Belfast Train Circle line concept feels timely. Almost 40% of Belfast households don’t have access to a car, so there is a demand for improved public transport.
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“The Belfast Train Circle proposal of course goes well beyond Belfast, and could service areas beyond the city, including parts of Lisburn and Castlereagh.
“Rail transport is the Greenest form of public transport. Any way to get folks out of their cars is well worth looking at. I hope that the SDLP Infrastructure Minister considers this proposal, and takes steps to improve NI’s railways.”
A spokesperson for the DfI said that the minister was “committed to developing transport infrastructure”.
They added: “While the Department is not aware of any formal proposal for a Belfast Circle Line, any proposals and views will be considered as part of the Regional Strategic Transport Network Transport Plan process before any final decisions are taken.
“We would welcome further information from those advocating for this proposal.
“Minister Mallon is very ambitious for rail expansion across our island and is taking forward the All-Island Strategic Rail Review with her Ministerial colleague Eamon Ryan in the South.
“This review will consider how the rail network on the island of Ireland can improve sustainable connectivity between major cities and towns, enhance regional accessibility and support balanced regional development across our island.”