Eamonn McCann says the latent track bed - ‘out the line’ in Derry, and through Barnesmore in the Bluestacks, for example - should by complemented by groundwork for trains along proposed new roads like the A5.
The Into the West campaigner and People Before Profit MLA has also argued that an apparent bias favouring road building in the North is directly at loggerheads with Executive policy on emissions reductions.
It is ridiculous, said Mr McCann, that there are currently no freight trains in operation in the North, one of which could take 40 large trucks off the roads.
“When we are building the A5, we ought to build or at least leave the infrastructure there of a bed to run a railway alongside it,” he said.
“You can see that in Germany; I have been on roads that had a train running down the middle of them. It saves an awful lot, and it means that it is there for the future. If you do not put it in now, we will never get a train running again from Derry to Dublin. Why has more consideration not been given to that?” he asked.
Mr McCann was addressing the Stormont Infrastructure Committee last week.
He argued a failure to invest more in rail and public transport is damaging environmentally.
“Why is it that there are frequent references here to the environment and to the need to cut down CO2 emissions, followed by talk about this road and that road? When we build roads, we suck more cars on to them; that is what happens when we build roads,” he said.
John McGrath, Deputy Secretary at the Department, said it was not a case of roads versus public transport.
“Buses need to travel on good public roads, so, when some of the figures about balancing the two are quoted, we do not necessarily accept that there is the wrong balance,” he said.
“We would like more money for both. On expanding the rail network, a balance has to be struck. You are talking about significant funds,” he added.
Mr McGrath suggested that “notwithstanding what may happen in Germany, building railway lines running parallel to roads might be a luxury that we cannot afford here.”
Mr McCann said he was not suggesting working railways be immediately installed along the A5 but that the groundwork is put in to pave the way for future rail projects.
He said: “If you laid the groundwork for it, you would not have to vest land in the future for it and so forth.
“It is economical in terms of the amount of land that you are taking, because rail lines are not like roads.
“You do not need a 100-yard wide swathe of the countryside to build a dual carriageway in the middle of nowhere; railway lines are quite narrow.
“The track bed already exists for a lot of it. If you go through Barnesmore Gap and down through Donegal, you can see it.
“You can walk along ‘the line;’ we call it that in Derry. If you do it on a Sunday, you will see loads of people walking ‘out the line.’
“It is the railway line, and it is there. There should be more investigation, it seems to me, of what the cost would be of reinstating and expanding rail, particularly given the effect that that would have. Freight is mentioned in here.
“There is not one ounce of anything moved in Northern Ireland by freight train. Nothing. That is ridiculous, utterly ridiculous. One freight train will take 40 large trucks off the road.”