Delivering investment for Northern Ireland’s continual development
Public transport supports communities in every part of Northern Ireland by helping to strengthen economic growth and social inclusion, as well as environmental sustainability. On an individual level, public transport gives people choices, freedom and additional opportunities in terms of business, education, shopping, travel, tourism and leisure pursuits. Here, Chris Conway, Group Chief Executive of Northern Ireland’s main public transport provider, Translink, writes about the passion for providing first-class public transport which is endorsed by their guiding values of safety, people, innovation, responsibility, integrity and teamwork – the Translink SPIRIT.
Contract signing: Translink signs deal with CAF to deliver new train carriages. December 2018
An exciting time
It is an exciting time for Translink, with several major projects ongoing and more in the pipeline, coupled with record numbers of passengers across all services – something we’re set to further consolidate this year. This has been assisted by investment in fleet and the introduction of additional services, such as Ulsterbus Urby, serving towns and villages in the Belfast commuter belt with high-frequency, high-specification double-deck buses to ensure quicker and more comfortable journeys for those travelling to and from the city at peak times.
During the last 12 months, Glider has been our highest profile investment – this is a £90 million Bus Rapid Transit service linking east and west Belfast via the city centre and running to the dynamic Titanic Quarter. The project was funded by the Department for Infrastructure as a signature investment in public transport and a concrete delivery on the draft Programme for Government. Since going live in September, the iconic, high-specification, low-emission Glider has energised and connected Belfast like never before, with record passenger numbers and high levels of efficiency, frequency and reliability. Planning of Glider Phase 2, expected to run across the city on a north/south route, is underway in consultation with Departmental colleagues.
While Glider has been a headline success for Translink in 2018/2019, it is only part of the story. In particular, with the increasing popularity of NI Railways, we’re investing to ensure additional capacity in both rolling stock and facilities. We recently signed a £50 million contract with Spanish train manufacturer CAF to supply 21 new train carriages. These will be fully compatible with our existing Class 4000 fleet of trains and will create additional capacity for c2000 people, allowing us to utilise several existing three-car trainsets as six-car sets; this will be an invaluable addition to our capacity, particularly during peak times. The carriages are expected to arrive during 2021.
We are also investing in our infrastructure across Northern Ireland – work is ongoing in Portrush to complete a new train station (valued at £5.6 million) in the coastal town ahead of The 148th Open which will be played at Royal Portrush this summer. The new station will act as Portrush’s gateway to the world and will sit at the heart of the town’s tourism offering. The new station is an integral part of a wider Portrush Regeneration Programme, led by the Department for Communities, which includes a major revitalisation project for the town.
In the North-West, work is ongoing on the new North-West Multi-Modal Transport Hub, a £27 million investment to restore the Grade-B listed Waterside Train Station in Derry~Londonderry to use. Funding has been secured from the EU’s INTERREG VA fund, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body and match funding provided by the Department for Infrastructure and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport in the Republic of Ireland.
Encouraging a modal shift
This ambitious cross-border project, which has the potential to transform travel across the North-West, represents a major vote of confidence in the region by Translink, sitting alongside wider investment of approximately £55 million in the Derry~Londonderry area in recent years. The facility will act as a catalyst for development in the Waterside area of the city, encouraging regeneration. It will also support business, leisure and tourism for the North-West region as a whole. Alongside the protection of the Grade-B listed station building, the project will encourage a modal shift from car to public transport and other sustainable modes by providing integrated and convenient services to encourage more active travel for a healthier region. There will also be a new greenway link to the city centre via the iconic Peace Bridge, new track and signalling work, enhanced park and ride capacity, additional cycle storage and an integrated facility for the provision of rail and local bus services, as well as Goldline and cross-border services. Phase 1 works will complete in late-2019, with the entire project completing during 2020.
Significant regeneration opportunities
The Belfast Transport Hub is a major project which will transform public transport in Northern Ireland, creating a world-class transport interchange and surrounding master plan development at Weavers Cross. It will provide a new gateway to Belfast and a main bus and rail connection point reaching out to every corner of Northern Ireland and beyond, replacing Great Victoria Street Train Station and Europa Bus Centre. The proposed Weavers Cross master plan development for the surrounding area will present significant regeneration opportunities for this part of Belfast, providing a new city centre district and a focus for the city’s commercial life.
Translink and Iarnród Éireann will also continue to work together to develop the key cross-border route between Belfast and Dublin, alongside a reduction in journey time and investment in new infrastructure and rolling stock. This will require significant investment, but it is essential if rail is to be developed along this important international corridor.
A partnership approach to deliver results
Delivering on the required outcomes in the draft Northern Ireland Programme for Government will require sustained investment in public transport infrastructure going forward. Translink will continue to work with partners and stakeholders across our community to deliver the investment required, ensuring Northern Ireland continues to develop and prosper. We want to encourage everyone in Northern Ireland to make public transport ‘your first choice for travel’, and by doing so, ease congestion, reduce pollution and help improve the economic, social and environmental wellbeing of Northern Ireland.
Chris Conway is the Group Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company and its operating subsidiaries (Translink). He has extensive international business experience with Tata Steel Europe where he worked as Managing Director Tata Steel Distribution Ireland and previously as Vice President Operations for Nortel Networks in Europe. Chris graduated from the University of Ulster with a BSc in Engineering and has an MBA from the same university. He is a Chartered Company Director and a Fellow of the Institute of Directors, plus a Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers. Chris is Chairperson of NI-CO (Northern Ireland Co-operation Overseas) and a Member of the Board of Trustees of Young Enterprise NI. He is also a Member of CBI Northern Ireland Council and Business in the Community Advisory Board.