Over the last few weeks, the general public has probably had its fill of the almost daily stories about City of Derry Airport and doubtless the media will return to the subject when the report on the recent closure of the airport at the behest of the Civil Aviation Authority is published.
During the airport crisis, I participated on a local radio programme with, among others, local entrepreneur and chairman of the highly successful Port and Harbour Board, Garvin O' Doherty.
The port serves the needs of the cross-border economy and in doing so competes directly with the ports in the Republic of Ireland. It is essential to its prosperity and to the needs of the all-island economy that it continues to do so. Last year saw the publication of a report which attempted to find an organisational model for all the Northern Ireland ports which would enable them to escape from the constraints of Public Corporation status, operate with appropriate commercial freedom, retain control of their own resources (financial and physical) while also ensuring that the need for appropriate public accountability and modern standards of corporate governance are both fully satisfied.
Little attention has been paid to the railway's needs and this is quite a shame as the rail link from Derry to Belfast is an important part of the infrastructure of the North West. With increasing possibilities for North West companies doing business in the Greater Belfast area, it is essential that the railway network does not become the poor relation in the transport triangle. It was highly significant that the European Parliament Citizens' Forum met in Bundoran last week and examined the issues of sustainable development for the North West region.The event was also an opportunity for localInto The Westrail lobby group members Mary Casey and Colm Joyceto discuss thepotential of rail investment in the North West region withFrancis Jacobs, Head of European Parliament Office in Ireland.
After the Forum event Mary Casey of the Into the West railway lobby group spoke to tthe Business Journal and said:'The European Parliament Forum recognised the potential for further development on regional development in the North West, climate change and equal opportunities and the social dimension. We were told at the meeting that the Dublin to Cork rail line secured significant EC Trans European Networks (TENs) funding. We in the North West peripheral regionhave the potential to secure funding from the same source for a transnational rail corridor linking the North West gateway Derry-Letterkenny and Sligo.We now need to see political support turned into action by Government Ministers. Why is investmentin therail line to our city of 105,000 population not forthcoming? Whyis Government's wholefocuson roads investment for the North West peripheral cross border region with a population in excess of 350,000? An integrated public transport system establishing balanced regional development reducing car and roads dependency is needed urgently. If policymakers do not address this issue there will besignificant chaos on our roads in the next 10 years.'
Few would disagree with such an analysis. The time is right for a sustainable integrated public transport system with North-South collaboration that makes sense. As a new government is in the process of being formed in the Republic, I hope to see further financial commitment to cross-Border projects as has been outlined in the National Development Plan and the numerous commitments of ministers on previous visits to the region. By the end of the summer the scene should be set for the meetings of ministers on a cross border basis and development of an integrated infrastructure should be high on their agenda. However, the development of the Derry/Belfast railway link is the prime responsibility of the North's Executive and Translink.
Mary Casey believes there are many issues that have to dealt with and that there is a growing momentum for this to happen. 'Last month, members of ourInto the West Railway Lobby Group attended a Public Meeting on Rail in Donegal when Mr. Brian Guckian, a Dublin based rail and integrated transport researcher gave a very informative presentationshowing all the figures, maps and routes for the rail link up between Sligo, Letterkenny and Derry.At the meeting he put forward what he described as'realistic ideas'and said thatthe proposed route would cost a fraction of the Irish Government's Transport 21 capital allotment. The transnational cross border rail connection for the North West peripheral regionwould create an allIreland rail loopand set in place a huge impetus fortourism andfreight.'
At a time when the port is powering ahead under dynamic leadership and a driving entrepreneurial ethos, there is a need to see such success replicated at both the airport and in the development of rail links.