David Ford, Alliance Party Leader, has called on the new Minister of Regional Development to continue funding for the Antrim-Lisburn railway line next year. He met Angela Smith MP at Stormont to discuss a number of issues of concern.
David Ford said:
“When I met the Minister, I was disappointed to hear her say that the Assembly had not provided funding for the Knockmore railway line after next March. This is correct, as far as it goes, but is a misleading line being spun by those who have been trying to have the line closed.
“You might as well say that the Assembly has not provided funds for Antrim Hospital, or any of our local schools, since the Budget for next year has not been finalised.
“As part of a general discussion on public transport, I emphasised to the Minister that the Knockmore line is an important part of the future ‘Circle Line’, linking the growing commuter areas of Antrim, Newtownabbey, Belfast, Lisburn and Crumlin.
“I also told her that there is an existing demand for services on the line, which is not being met because of the poor timetable, due to the shortage of rolling stock for the immediate future.
“Finally, I told Mrs Smith of the concerns of local people – that if the line were to close, it would suffer serious damage and deterioration which would make future reinstatement much more expensive.
“I have worked in the past with Crumlin Development Association to keep the railway open. I have reported my meeting with the Minister to them and we will together continue to work to defend rail services.
“A few days after my meeting, I met the Minister again, when she opened the refurbished Ballyclare Bus Station. In her speech on that occasion, she emphasised the need for improvements to pubic transport, to deal with growing traffic congestion. That is particularly important for commuter services into Belfast.
“I welcome the Minister’s comments at Ballyclare Bus Station. I am calling on her to put her ideas into practice for the whole of Northern Ireland.
“While I want to see an early restoration of devolution, it is important that the current Ministers do not take short term decisions that will damage the welfare of local people in the longer term.
“There is increasing recognition here that the car is not the answer to our travel problems, that we need a massive boost to both the quantity and the quality of public transport. We also have the bizarre situation that Belfast International Airport must be the only major airport in the country with a railway running past it but no rail connection.
“The UK Government – of which Mrs Smith is part – has a policy of getting people out of cars and onto trains and buses. That policy is needed and supported in this area. The Minister must carry out that policy in Northern Ireland.”