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THE Alliance Party’s acting Chief Whip has called on Northern Ireland Railways to release its decision on the reinstatement of the Antrim to Whiteabbey railway line.

Councillor David Ford, who is a shadow Assembly member for South Antrim, said the NIR decision on the Bleach-Green line was “long overdue”.

However, the Alliance Party’s former General Secretary believes that NIR will not proceed with the new scheme until early next year.

The call from Mr. Ford comes after the Government’s recent announcement of a major cash injection for public transport in Northern Ireland.

“The Bleach Green line is a vital part of the railway system in Northern Ireland. It is essential to speeding journey times from stations north of antrim into Belfast,” he said.

“But the railway line is also needed to provide commuter services from areas like Templepatrick as well as to relieve the increasing traffic congestion in a place like Whiteabbey.

“If NIR don’t proceed with the Bleach Green line, then the full benefits of all other recent developments at Central Station and the cross harbour link will not be realised. I think it would also make an a mockery of the government’s claim to support our public transport system.

“I understand that Translink prepared a detailed business plan showing the value of this investment, but the DoE has refused to proceed with the scheme.

“The people of North Belfast, Whiteabbey and Antrim are being denied the rail link solely because of the Chancellors’ economic policy.

“I received great support from people who are determined to see the Bleach-Green line open again and I would call on NIR and the government to address this problem immediately,” he said.

The shadow Assemblyman, who has consistently called for the re-opening of the line, also said that he will be seeking a meeting with NIR chiefs to discuss the issue.

THE Alliance Party’s Assembly Team leader has welcomed the Government’s decision to launch an inquiry into recent railway accidents.

But Mr. Sean Neeson, who is a shadow Assembly member for East Antrim, said the announcement from Environment Minister Lord Dubs was “long overdue”.

Lord Dubs has appointed Mr. Christopher Hall, a principal inspector of railways, to review the conduct of the outcome of the NIR inquiries into the three recent railway accidents in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Neeson is hopeful that the inquiry will address what, he claims is, the current safety aspect of all trains belonging to NIR.

And the Carrickfergus Councillor, who was appointed as acting leader of the Alliance Party after last month’s Assembly election, has also confirmed that his request for a meeting with the Environment Minster still stands.

“I am pleased that Lord Dubs has taken steps with what is a very serious and very sensitive issue. The people of Northern Ireland must have confidence in their public transport service,” said Mr. Neeson.

“I have been very active in trying to bring this matter to the public notice and I will continue to monitor the situation.

“I have already requested a meeting with Lord Dubs and I will be seeking a meeting with the management of Translink. I would like to inform Translink and Lord Dubs about the serious level of under-funding of the rail network in Northern Ireland.

“It is clear that most of the trains – apart from enterprise express – are all obsolete and there is an urgent need to invest in new rolling stock.

“Furthermore, the rail track throughout much of Northern Ireland needs upgrading and the dithering of the Bleach Green loop must come to an end,” added the acting Alliance Party leader.

THE Alliance Party’s transport spokesperson has welcomed the Government’s decision to provide a £20m investment package for Northern Ireland’s public transport sector.

And Castlereagh Councillor Geraldine Rice – who is also the Alliance Party’s Environment spokesperson – has hit out at those who have attacked yesterday’s announcement from Lord Dubs.

Mrs. Rice said it was “essential” that those creating trouble in the wake of the Drumcree stand-off in Portadown should not be allowed to determine the implementation of funding for public transport.

The Castlereagh Councillor also said that £20 million investment package for Ulsterbus and Citybus was long “overdue”.

Mrs. Rice said:

“The announcement from Lord Dubs should be welcomed from all quarters and I don’t see why the continuing spate of hijackings and cancelled services should have any bearing on the announcement.

“I have consistently called for an urgent review of the public transport system in Northern Ireland and the delivery of 138 new buses has to be commended.

“We need more people to use the public transport service as the number of people with cars is rising at an alarming rate.

“I am glad that this decision has been announced and I think it will help bring our public transport service into line with other services in the United Kingdom.”

Alliance Party Chief Whip Sean Neeson is calling on Translink to carry out an urgent investigation into this mornings train crash at Yorkgate and make public its findings into this crash and the similar crash on the Lisburn line in recent times.

Mr Neeson said:

“I am disturbed that Translink are trying to play down the significance of these two train crashes. I am aware that new signaling equipment has been tried out by the Transport Company and would like the public to know if this has been a contributory factor in these crashes. Fortunately, no one has been seriously injured in either crash but passengers need urgent reassurances from Translink.”

Carrickfergus Alderman Stewart Dickson commenting on this mornings derailment at Yorkgate Railway Station expressed serious concern about Northern Ireland Railways recent safety record.

Alderman Dickson said:

“This accident following on from the recent accident at Adelaide involving a goods train requires Northern Ireland Railways to assure the travelling public that they are doing all in their power to ensure the safety of there trains track for their passengers.

“Although no one was injured in this mornings accident, it could have easily been a train full of school children travelling from Whitehead, Carrickfergus and Greenisland to Belfast.

“I saw the train myself this morning at Yorkgate and it is no doubt had there been passengers on board there would have been serious injuries.”

Alderman Dickson is now calling for a public inquiry into safety issues into Northern Ireland Railways.

Increasing concern about delays in the funding of the Antrim – Whiteabbey railway line has led the Alliance Party to table two Parliamentary questions.

The questions, tabled by the Party Leader, Lord Alderdice, ask the government to confirm its commitment to the line and question whether EU funding may be lost because of delays in the scheme.

Local Alliance spokesman, Councillor David Ford, said: “I have been pressurising successive government ministers for six or seven years on this issue. It is clear that the massive investment in the cross harbour railway bridge in Belfast will only be fully justified if the trains from Ballymena, Coleraine and Derry use the Bleach Green Line.

“The line would also help solve the growing commuter congestion between Antrim, Ballyclare and Belfast and the development of local services, with a new station at Aldergrove, would be a massive boost to the Antrim, Crumlin and Lisburn area. It would also facilitate the scheme to provide many thousands of jobs at the airport.

“Alliance is concerned at the considerable delays in this scheme. Both Lord Alderdice and I have spoken to people with interests in the railway in recent weeks. That is why he has tabled the questions in parliament. It is important to find out whether the government is prepared to act while EU funds are available.”

South Antrim Alliance Councillor David Ford has welcomed a Sustainable New Housing Group claim which refers to the development of land – alongside the ‘Bleach Green Line’ – by Northern Ireland Railways.

Councillor Ford, who is the Alliance Party spokesman on rural development, said the proposal should be welcomed as part of the ‘Bleach Green Line’ planning and development strategy.

Councillor Ford said: “Antrim continues to be designated as a major growth area – especially in relation to the ‘Bleach Green Line’. Any potential development would be of immense importance to the people of Antrim.

“I understand that by purchasing the land, NIR could then sell off the land to developers and allocate the profit to the development of the railway scheme. This could overcome some of the current funding difficulties.

“Although NIR may not wish to act as a land developer, it is important that any future development in the South Antrim area – including Antrim, Crumlin, Templepatrick, Ballyclare and Glengormley – make maximum use of public transport.

“There is a major traffic and commuter problem between our area and Belfast which cannot be solved by roads improvements alone. It is also essential that all types of development are thoroughly investigated.”

South Antrim Alliance Councillor David Ford has called on the Department of the Environment to reverse their decision to re-appraise the direct railway line scheme between Antrim and Belfast.

Councillor Ford, who is the Alliance Party spokesman for Rural Development, urged Environment Minister Lord Dubs to “use his influence” and press ahead with the project.

Mr. Ford was responding to a letter from Translink stating that the DoE had requires a further re-appraisal of the “Bleach Green Line”. He also said that Lord Dubs should review “all relevant factors” relating to the project.

Councillor Ford said: “What is the hold up? This railway scheme would be of immense benefit to the people of Antrim – especially in relation to the development of Aldergrove International Airport.

“The development of Aldergrove is of major importance and if it brings in 15,000 new jobs, then it’s imperative that our public transport system is upgraded to meet the demands of this development.

“I’m sure the people of Templepatrick don’t want 30,000 cars roaming through their village every day.

“We have a major traffic problem between Antrim and Belfast and the re-opening of the line would, I believe, encourage many motorists to leave their cars at home and use public transport.

“I think the DoE should give an indication of when the project will commence because this campaign has been going on for long enough. I would hope that the government would realise – both economically and financially – the importance of this project.”

Alliance Councillor, Kieran McCarthy, made an impassioned plea to the members of the Forum at its weekly sitting on Friday, namely the shame of the so called savings on service and safety.

Cllr McCarthy said:

“So called savings or more accurately described as savage but backs by government on our health service has completely annihilated the NHS and we have for all to see a two tier health service to the eternal shamed this Tory Government. The latest effect is now being felt on patients of non fund holding GP’s who cannot have their surgery but are placed on a long long waiting list to suffer unnecessary pain and discomfort. This is a shame on Malcolm Moss and his government and call for the restoration of total equality to all members of our society. Mr Moss told us there is no crisis in the Health Service. Let him ask those who suffer. Another concern of Councillor McCarthy is the question of safety as it relates to public transport.

“Every year at the start of the new school term we experience a real problem of overcrowding on school buses giving rise to possible dangers to all passengers and on a grossly overcrowded bus all safety regulations are tossed overboard and undue responsibility placed on the skills of the driver. Certainly pupils from the Ards Peninsula and indeed many other parts are crammed on to a 53 seater bus which at times can well exceed the acceptable limit. One terrible example of overcrowding was related to where a 53 seater bus was so full a young pupil had to stand on the step just inside the closed door of that bus. I say, and I’m sure every member of the Forum would agree that this is totally unacceptable. Why should our young people be exposed to such dangers. Again a case putting so called savings before safety.

“Finally safety on another mode of transport. Namely the Portaferry/Strangford Ferry Service. Again, probably because of cut back in resources, passengers have expressed deep concern about their safety while using this service. Users which include many school children of this essential service on a twice daily basis do feel that safety standards on this short sea crossing, has deteriorated in recent times, and by brining these concerns to this Forum it is hoped and indeed we appeal to the Department of the Environment to ensure that every safety precaution s taken and to update their maintenance programme on a more regular basis.

“All three aspects of service and safety for our community has been put in jeopardy and we call on the relevant authorities to instigate immediate remedies namely sufficient funding to be released to avoid disaster. We call on Mr Moss to save our services.”