No road through Knockmore

Here’s an awful warning:

That’s from the Rail Accident Investigation Branch web-site. The RAIB is — finally — being allowed into the secret, two months on.

Yesterday evening, the BBC News website had picked up the story and published this:

More than 100 people escaped injury after a train ran over a section of damaged railway in County Antrim.
However, the full incident, which took place on 28 June, was not reported to an investigation team for two months.
The driver was unable to stop before the first of six carriages had run onto an unsupported section of track.
The train was bound for the Irish open golf tournament, over a line not normally used for passenger services.
The train did not derail and was reversed away.
The Rail Accident investigation Branch (RAIB) is looking into the incident at Knockmore, outside Lisburn at 07:05 on 28 June.

So that’s all right, then?

Not really.

At first sight this looks like a repeat of another near disaster when the Broadmeadow Viaduct, near Malahide, north of Dublin, was washed away. That was on the main Dublin-Belfast line (and on a major commuter route). Iarnród Éireann hadn’t inspected the viaduct, which was known from previous erosion to have stability problems, for three days.

The Knockmore line, of course, does not have that strategic importance — though, arguably, it has considerable potential:

It could provide a corridor through Antrim to the north coast and to Derry. Currently the intention remains to upgrade the A5 trunk road  from Derry to the south. This involves a total cost of at least £850 million — that estimate is already three years old. And only last week, the lead constructor, Mouchel, went bust. Meanwhile the fragile rail link along the spectacular coastline of County Londonderry is closed for many months — while the grand and long-overdue sum of £75 million is spent on it. Do the comparisons.

Beyond that, Belfast has two under-used airports (City of Derry is NI’s unsatisfactory and even more under-used third — it is right on the rail line, too): the Westminster Northern Ireland committee is taking minutes and lasting months chewing on all this. Dublin airport, by comparison, is heavily patronised, and — until recent cut-backs — was going to get a second runway, long enough for direct flights to the Far East. The Knockmore branch runs immediately behind the terminal at Belfast International: it could easily connect with central Belfast, and Dublin (particularly so, if and when the Metro North plan were implemented).

Politics. Politics. Politics.

The old Unionist regime at Stormont disgracefully ripped up the Ulster rail network. There may have been an economic case for retrenchment and “rationalisation”; but the main issue was to break unnatural connections with those damnable Fenians in the Free State. So a whole swathe of natural links were abruptly severed. Anyway, the motor car was the future.

From that, notice how , when the Malahide viaduct went down, so did any north-south link. Any rolling stock north was stuck there.

That map is unfair in that it omits the real improvements in the Dublin commuter belt — unlike Belfast which is liable to a daily tail-back along every arterial route. North of the Dublin commuter lines there isn’t a millimetre of electrified track; and any mass transport system to alleviate the Belfast photochemical smog — an airport tram, for one obvious example — is systematically rubbished. The present “dynamic” pie-in-the-sky is a “rapid-transit”, based — believe it or not — on Las Vegas. It amounts to a bendy-bus.

Knockmore is a symptom of wilful neglect

In this climate, the rail sector in Northern Ireland will continue to decline and decay.

Malcolm is left bemused left bemused by the bizarre insouciance evident in the Knockmore incident:

  • A span of some fifteen sleepers and tracks was unsupported. A train was seemingly sent down that track, which is usually-unauthorised for passenger service, apparently without proper inspection. For heaven’s sake, were there any doubt s over the security of the line, why not run a pilot loco along it? That (and proper daily inspection by linesmen) was the Victorian approach — and still (linesmen apart) the norm for many lines.
  • The collapse and a near calamity has gone two months without being reported or (apparently) investigated.

Questions (as they say) must be asked.

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Filed under Belfast, City of Derry Airport, Dublin., History, Ireland, Irish Railways, Northern Ireland, Northern Irish politics, railways

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