‘It’s unlikely I’ll be re-opening GNR as I can’t afford it’

October 1964 - Interior image of the Great Northern Railway Station at Foyle Road.
October 1964 - Interior image of the Great Northern Railway Station at Foyle Road.

Rail Minister Michelle McIlveen says her Department is unlikely to undo the damage wrought by Henry Benson, Bill Craig and Brian McConnell’s closure of the Great Northern Railway over fifty years ago, claiming she doesn’t have the money to re-open a line between Londonderry and Omagh.

The Minister has also revealed that in her Department’s opinion building a new A5 is the only show in town because the old road is so “sub-standard” that simply upgrading it and investing the rest of the new A5 money in rail would be a non-runner.

She made the revelations in response to questioning from Green MLA Steven Agnew who wanted to know why she wouldn’t build more railways.

On the old ‘Derry Road,’ a nickname for the much-mourned Great Northern, she said: “My Department’s priority for railways expenditure, outlined in our Railway Investment Prioritisation Strategy (2014), is to maintain, improve and upgrade the existing network.

“While the strategy identifies potential benefits for limited network extensions, should additional funding become available; the costs of expanding the network along the A5 corridor in the direction of Strabane and Omagh are likely to be prohibitive over the lifetime of the strategy.”

And on the new ‘Derry Road’ or the A5, she said the current road is too bad to be upgraded.

“Provision of a dual carriageway along the A5 Western Transport Corridor (A5WTC) was agreed between the Northern Ireland Executive and the Irish Government in 2007.

“The Northern Ireland Programme for Government 2008-2011 also prescribed a dual carriageway upgrading for the A5.

“Other on-line options were examined by my Department but not considered viable for a number of reasons including: the number of settlements along the route; the number of accesses; the sub standard nature of the existing road; road safety; and the extent of disruption that would be caused during construction.”