- by Maria McCann
- BBC News NI north-east reporter
Translink is looking to assess the possibility of reopening a closed railway line between Antrim and Lisburn via Belfast International Airport.
The Knockmore Line, which once passed through Crumlin, Glenavy and Ballindry, closed in 2003.
Translink said it is now seeking funding for a feasibility study on reconnecting the route.
“The study will consider passenger demand and the operational model for the line,” Translink said.
This would also include the possibility of a “possible connection to Belfast International Airport”.
Andrew MacDonald, of the Fund the Nine Railways campaign group, said it was “the best news we could have hoped for”.
“Glenwy has doubled in size, there has been an increase in the population of all the communities, but the public transport network has not,” Macdonald said.
“There is a railway line, there are tracks, there is work to be done to reopen it,” he said.
‘Not ambitious enough’
Rail campaigner Aaron Venard said he believed the reopening of the line would be a positive step, but that it was “not ambitious enough” on its own.
He wants the track to be doubled and linked as part of a circle line around commuter areas in greater Belfast.
“I would obviously like the Knockmore line open, it is a key component of the Circle line,” Mr Venard said.
“But if it’s just another hour of service, that would fall short of what I’d like to see,” he said.
He added that the reopening of the line and another line between Antrim and Whitby could enable regular train travel.
“It will give people who live along the track the ability to move away from the burdens of car ownership,” he said.
Mr Venard also said it would give people “the ability to take trains with such frequency that they won’t have to check the timetable”.
It is not yet known how much the feasibility study will cost or how much funding will be needed to reopen the line.
Alliance Party member of assembly David Hunniford said it had “the potential to spur huge economic growth”.
“The reopening of the Knockmore line is the next logical step in further planning to improve connectivity and include links to the international airport,” he added.
“At a time of financial crisis, the government needs to invest in infrastructure projects to provide an economic boost to our region.”
Stuart Brown, of the South Antrim Railway Group, said the area had expanded in recent years and would give people a greater choice of transport options.
“It will open up a lot more for people who can’t drive,” Mr Brown said.
“It will open up our economy, bringing tourism, trade, investment and more airlines where we can travel further.”
Stormont’s Department of Infrastructure said it was “currently seeking funding opportunities for a feasibility study into reopening the Knockmore line with a connection to Belfast International Airport”.
“This work underlines the Department’s commitment to improving transport connectivity to benefit our economy and communities, but also help achieve our climate objectives.”