Fellow delegates, I have pleasure in supporting this motion particularly the part which calls for the railway system to be secured and expanded.
In the light of the horrendous terrorist slaughter of innocent rail travellers in Madrid on Thursday, it is ironic that our ‘non-core’ railway lines may now face closure at the hands of faceless civil servants, and a Westminster MP who has no accountability here, while throughout over 30 years of bomb attacks on trains here, causing loss of life in some instances, NIR staff kept going and courageously continued to provide a service often in very difficult circumstances.
There are strong political, environmental, economical, financial, social, and indeed recreational factors which provide strong and compelling reasons not only for securing the whole network but for providing an increased frequency of service using the new trains which the Assembly voted for.
1. If the ‘non-core’ lines were closed, then the city of Londonderry/Derry, with a population of over 100,000 in its catchment area, not to mention much of north Donegal, would be denied a rail service which would leave the Maiden City as the only city of this size in Western Europe suffering that fate. This closure would be nothing less than utter vandalism of a valuable asset.
2. And of course, one must assume that the Irish Government, given its commitment to enhancing rail passenger services throughout the Republic, will undoubtedly be deeply concerned at closure possibilities.
3. It is very significant that loss making lines in Scotland, ie to Oban, Kyle, Mallaig, Wick/Thurso and in Wales — the Aberystwyth and Pwllheli lines — all of which carry far less traffic than our threatened lines, are not in any danger of closing — why? Perhaps it is a lot to do with the fact that the active Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly would simply not countenance it. I have absolutely no doubt that if we had our own Assembly up and running we would not be facing this problem today.
4. I would also remind delegates that the Bleach-Green-Antrim line was totally renewed in 2001 (80% of the cost being met by European funding). Likewise the Portrush branch was totally renewed in 2001 and the Dargan Bridge linking the rail networks together was completed in ’94. All of these significant enhancements to the network would be largely nullified of the non-core routes were closed.
5. And we are told that this Labour Government is committed to the Kyoto Treaty in terms of reducing greenhouse gases and is also allegedly encouraging more people to use public transport. Yet the threat facing the ‘non-core’ routes from this short-sighted government policy flies in the face of this avowed pro-environmental philosophy. The fact is that a rail replacement bus service is simply not used by those denied a train service. Instead they inevitably turn to the private car which results in increased road congestion and increased emission of CO2.
6. Of course it has been suggested by some of the faceless civil servants and the Minister, that the price for bringing the ‘non-core’ network up to the standard of the rest of the system is £40,000,000 — a figure which must be music to the ear of the Treasury!
A group of experts has queried this exorbitant statement and pointed out that the track, laid down in the mid and early 70s is only a fraction of the time through its life expectancy “while some track renewal is necessary at a small number of locations, the rest of the track infrastructure is capable of use for many years to come, provided regular maintenance in the form of packing, tamping, lining and tightening is carried out.” This work would only cost a fraction of the £40,000,000 mentioned.
While on the subject of finance/costs, it should also be pointed out that of course the sea wall protecting the track along parts of the Coleraine-Londonderry section (a line with very high potential in its own right) needs to be renewed and repaired, but it should be pointed out to the short-sighted mandarins that even if the railway closed, the wall would still have to be repaired since it protects agricultural land behind the railway line.
I could give you many more reasons to justify particularly that part of the motion which calls for the railway system in Northern Ireland to be secured and expanded but time limits me.
Therefore I urge you, Alliance delegates, to support this motion unanimously so that you can send out a strong signal to Westminster Ministers and civil servants who have shown through direct rule, contempt for local communities. To avoid closure by stealth tell all your friends and neighbours — all those you come in contact with — what is on the cards. Perhaps you could even concentrate on senior citizens who will have far fewer interesting travel opportunities if the lines are closed. I beg to second this motion.