The Bangor line
37. The line from Belfast Central to Bangor carries
about a million passengers a year,
and Bangor station is in the process of being rebuilt, with European
funding, as part of an integrated bus and railway station.
'Moving Forward', the Northern Ireland Transport Policy Statement,
launched by Lord Dubs in November 1998, announced "a major
track upgrade programme throughout Northern Ireland, starting
with the Bangor line, will be undertaken."
The A D Little report recently indicated that the condition of
the track is such that the most economic option is a complete
NITHC has been informed that European grant aid towards the cost
of this work of just over £7 million
will be available. The level of assistance is predicated on a
75 per cent grant rate and was based on an estimated total project
cost of £9.5 million.
38. Work has not yet started, although NITHC has
been authorised to go ahead with some preliminary work.
It has been delayed by the fact that the cost of a complete upgrade
has now escalated to around £14 million
and there is a consequent shortfall in funding of around £4
We understand that further European funding for this project is
unlikely to be available to help cover the shortfall.
The deadline for use of the European Union funds is December 2001
and the Chairman of the NITHC expressed some concern to us that,
if early approval were not to be forthcoming, it would not be
possible to spend the money and have it accounted for, in European
terms, in time.
39. In answering a written question in the House
of Lords, on 12 May 2000, about the cause of this substantial
cost increase, Lord Falconer of Thoroton commented:
".... Translink has
advised that its original estimate of the cost was based on carrying
out the work using their own resources. However, these resources
are heavily committed elsewhere and in order to meet the deadline
for receipt of European grant they would have to contract out
the work. Translink has advised that the increase in the estimated
cost is largely due to this change."
NITHC, however, maintained that it had a "distinct
preference" for the use of its own labour, not least on health
and safety grounds as it hoped to continue to operate the Bangor
line on a single track basis during the upgrading works, in order
to minimise disruption to passengers and consequent erosion of
the passenger base.
NITHC conceded that the cost margin in using outside contractors
could be "as high as 25 per cent".
40. NITHC expressed the view that "everybody
believes that the Bangor line has a secure future"
and that its primary consideration would be to get the job completed
within the timescale. Witnesses admitted that there might therefore
be a need for a mix of its own workforce and contractors if that
is to be achieved.
DRD appears to have taken a slightly different view: Mr Sweeney,
the Deputy Secretary, commented:
".... in establishing
the Task Force, what was agreed was that no work would be continued
that perhaps could be classified as nugatory, should the Task
Force conclude that there would have to be substantial reductions
in the existing network. So what has been put in place is a sum
of £100,000 to enable pre-project work to proceed, so that
if the Task Force were to conclude that there was a compelling
case for the Belfast to Bangor line to be upgraded then that could
be brought forward fairly swiftly ...."
He also confirmed that the earlier announcement by
Lord Dubs had in effect been suspended, awaiting the outcome of
the Railways Task Force, and that DRD was aware of the time constraints
inherent in the reliance on European money.
41. In view of the difference of emphasis between
the evidence of DRD and NITHC,we have sought further information
from NITHC about what the Bangor line relay involves, the practical
and the history of the costings.
The project is now planned to proceed in two phases, with the
scope of the first phase defined by the extent of the available
grant and the work programme prioritised on the basis of safety
considerations. In this context, we note that there is likely
to be a further reduction in line speeds, to 40 mph, later this
year on safety grounds. It is also clear that NIR's preferred
options at the time of giving evidence of maintaining some single
line working during the works, and using its own workforce are
no longer the preferred options. As NITHC put it in their supplementary
"... in view of the
timescales, for reasons of both safety and European grant claim,
a complete closure and full use of an external contractor has,
with the passage of time, become the preferred option."
42. Another issue relating to the future operation
of the Bangor line is the state of the Connswater bridge. This
has been in a poor physical state for some time and was originally
planned to be replaced in 1997-98. It has been subject to a 20
mph speed limit since February 1998 following changes in track
alignment as a result of replacement of another bridge nearby.
NITHC told us that it had recently secured departmental approval,
on urgent safety grounds, to replace the bridge with a structure
built to modern standards and that this would be done "during
the summer holidays unless it has to be closed before."
It is regularly subject to inspection by external experts. DRD
also confirmed the parlous state of this bridge.
43. The decision to replace the bridge was taken
by the DRD rather than by Translink as the project required public
It was taken before the Railways Task Force was set up as "this
was work that simply had to be done."
Mr Sweeney pointed out that the Connswater bridge would form an
important part of the infrastructure whether or not the route
remained a rail corridor.
44. We are nonetheless surprised at the delays in
replacing this bridge, despite the agreement on the need for this
course of action. The Railways Task Force was announced on 28
March 2000, by which time the decision had been taken, but the
new bridge will apparently not be installed until August 2000,
some 2½ years after the temporary speed limit was imposed,
and despite the fact that the corroded state of the existing structure
could close the line at any time.
45. We are concerned about the whole approach to
the future of the Bangor line. We presume that the decision to
rebuild an integrated bus/train station at Bangor was approved,
both by NITHC and DRD, on the basis that the line was perceived
to have a secure future. Expert opinion indicates that the track
needs complete renewal, and is continuing to deteriorate. However,
considerable uncertainties apparently remain, as to how the project
is to be carried out, where the money is to come from and whether
it can be completed in time to take full advantage of the European
grant on offer. We would urge all concerned to make every effort
to come to an early decision on the future of this line, not least
to ensure that the considerable amount of European funding on
offer for its upgrading is not lost. We understand the Minister
for Regional Development has given approval for £1.5 million
outlay on materials for the relay of this line and that, in anticipation
of an early and favourable decision, these will be ordered as
soon as possible. We welcome this.
46. We are also concerned about the consequences
of the delays that have arisen with this project, which Lord Dubs
announced in November 1998. Not only has the cost risen very substantially
as a result of the delay, but users now seem certain to suffer
the inconvenience of a prolonged closure of all, or parts, of
the line while it is renewed, with attendant risks to the passenger
base. In the interests of all concerned, we hope that any periods
of closure will be minimised.
The Larne line
47. NITHC told us that the line from Belfast to Larne,
which is part of the only Trans-European (rail) Network (TEN)
in the island of Ireland,
carries 1.5 million passengers a year. It is the only remaining
part of that TEN route which remains in need of modernisation,
and parts of its are in poor condition.
NITHC told us it has identified a number of possibilities for
both passenger and freight development.
Mr Hesketh told us that finance for urgent work on the sea defences
along the route had been assured in the context of the discussions
which led to the establishment of the Railways Task Force.
He also told us that NITHC had a strong commitment to the Larne
".... The entire board
of NIR and the Transport Holding Company are wholly committed
to the concept that this funding [for upgrading the line from
Larne to Belfast] must be found to modernise the Larne line
and keep it in proper working order .... In terms of the overall
economic significance of the railway, and the Larne line as part
of that railway, the board are 110 per cent committed to that,
I have to say."
48. DRD commented that the future of this line will
be one of the issues to be discussed and considered by the Task
Force. It added that passenger numbers using the stations in Larne
"really are quite small in our view".
We are somewhat surprised at DRD's assessment of the passenger
levels at the stations in Larne. According to NIR passenger flow
in 1999-2000, Larne Town was the thirteenth busiest station on
the system outside the principal stations in central Belfast,
and ahead of flows at, for example, Newry, Ballymena and Antrim.
Nonetheless, development of the trans-European transport network
was one of the 14 priority projects adopted by the European Council
at Essen in December 1994. As the Belfast to Larne railway is
part of that link, any studies and works intended to improve the
link have the potential to benefit from European financial support.
We understand that NITHC has not submitted an application for
EU funding and that no other benefits have accrued to the line
as a result of being part of the TEN, largely, according to the
Government, because other parts of the network have been accorded
greater priority in terms of funding.
However, in view of NITHC's enthusiasm to develop the potential
offered by this route, we hope that it will make every effort
to secure any available European funding for its development.
49. We also hope that the Task Force, besides taking
account of the strategic significance of the Belfast-Larne line
in European terms, will also take due account of the fact that,
in terms of passenger journeys, this line was the busiest in the
Province in 1999-2000
and of the undoubted scope for an increase in passenger numbers
if the quality of the service is improved.
54 Q 43. Back
8, p. 62. Back
44, 125-6. Back
now expect the line to be available for operations from December
2000. Following a period of driver training, passenger services
are expected to commence in February 2001. (Appendix 12, p. 72). Back
p. 2. See also Q 21. Back
19. See also Q 116. Back
to DRD on 29 February 2000 (see House of Lords Official Report,
5 June 2000, Vol. 613, Col. WA125). Back
14, p. 77. See also Q 160 and 167. Back
12, p. 73. Back
21-23, 27. Back
p. 24. Back
p. 28. See also Q 130. Now expected in mid-August, see paragraph
12, p. 73. Back
Q 118. Back
45. See also Appendix 11, p. 68. Back
throughout the island of Ireland operate on a gauge of 5'3"
(1600mm) compared to the Great Britain gauge of 4'8½"
(1435mm) which is also the international standard gauge. The
Irish gauge is used in very few other parts of the world. Back
Forward, p. 10. Back
D Little report, Vol. 2, p. 91. Back
73 and Appendix 13, p. 76. See also House of Lords Official Report,
18 April 2000, Vol. 612, Col. WA 87. Back
73. See also House of Lords Official Report, 18 April 2000, Vol.
612, Col. WA 87, where a figure of £14.7 million is mentioned,
as against an original estimate of £9.7 million. Back
of Lords Official Report, 12 May 2000, Vol. 612, Col. WA 242-3.
See also Appendix 13, p. 76. Back
72, 82. Back
of Lords Official Report, 12 May 2000, Vol 612, Col. WA 242-3. Back
75, 77. Back
140, 144. See also Q 143. Back
12, p 71. Back
13, p. 76. Back
12, p. 72. Back
D Little report, Vol. 2, p. 99, and Vol. 3, Appendix C2, p. 6. Back
153, 155 and 159. Back
141. See also Appendix 12, p. 72. Back
105 Cork-Dublin-Belfast-Larne-Stranraer. Back
p. 25. The A D Little report concludes that, measured in terms
of track miles, about 70 per cent of the track from Belfast Central
to Larne Harbour is in need of relaying, including 90 per cent
of the track between Bleach Green Junction and Larne Harbour.
(Vol. 2, p. 91). Back
See also Ev. p. 25. Back
168. 20 a day at Larne Harbour and 244 at Larne Town. Back
11, p. 69. Back
this purpose, Great Victoria Street, Belfast Central and Botanic. Back
of Lords Official Report, 4 May 2000, Vol. 612, Col. WA 187. Back
11, p. 68. Back