Alerts close Belfast to Dublin rail line 30 times in three years due to bomb threats
Published 12/02/2016 | 08:36
The Belfast to Dublin rail line has been shut almost 30 times in just three years due to bomb alerts.
Since 2013 the cross-border Enterprise service has been disrupted on 57 occasions.
In more than half the cases it was because of a security scare - many of them hoaxes.
New figures reveal Northern Ireland's rail network was hit by 89 security alerts in the last six years.
Almost £270,000 was spent providing bus substitution services because tracks were closed.
The details were released by Regional Development Minister Michelle McIlveen after an Assembly question by Ukip MLA David McNarry.
The Enterprise service, which carries 840,000 passengers a year, has been a frequent target.
Last month it was hit by two security alerts in 10 days.
It has led to concerns that our main rail corridor can be paralysed so easily and so regularly.
SDLP MLA John Dallat, who sits on the Assembly's regional development committee, said the disruption came at huge cost.
"There is a horrendous economic cost to this," he said.
"Not only does it cause severe inconvenience for commuters, it is extremely disappointing for people working hard to improve our reputation."
Mr McNarry had queried the cost of bus substitution services linked to alerts on Northern Ireland's rail lines.
Since April 2010, 89 security alerts across the network required passengers to be moved by bus at a total cost of £269,305.
Separately, in response to enquiries from this newspaper, Translink confirmed that the Enterprise service has been disrupted 57 times since January 2013.
In 29 cases this was due to a security alert.
The line at Lurgan has been a particular target. The track runs near the republican Kilwilkie estate, and has been repeatedly targeted by dissidents in recent years. In January the line at Lurgan was targeted twice in 10 days.
On January 14 Army bomb experts examined two suspicious objects in Lake Street and Bells Row in the town. Both were elaborate hoaxes. The line was closed and passengers were transported between Belfast and Newry by bus.
A second hoax alert on January 24 also closed the line and caused major disruption to rail services.
Mr Dallat hit out at those behind the continued disruption.
"A considerable number of security alerts on the Enterprise line are caused by people masquerading as republicans who want a united Ireland," he added.
"The rail service is one of the outward signs that we have connectivity between north and south. It seems rather hypocritical to be interfering with one of the few thngs that does bring north and south closer together."
Mr McNarry, who sits on the regional development committee, said the constant disruption was embarrassing.
"If this was on any major inter-city connection on the mainland there would be outrage - it would not be tolerated," he said.
Several incidents south of the border caused further disruption.
Last May a bomb alert led to the Enterprise line being closed near Kilbarrack station outside Dublin.
Passengers were bussed between Connolly Station and Malahide, before being able to continue their journey to Belfast.
In other cases disruption was caused by basic error. Last week the line between Lisburn and Portadown had to be closed after a train struck a piece of construction excavation equipment.
Services between Lisburn and Portadown, including the Enterprise train, were affected.
A Translink spokesperson said: "We can confirm there have been 57 incidents which have caused disruption to the Enterprise service to date since January 2013.
"In many cases the line reopens within a short space of time. The safety and security of our passengers and employees is our top priority.
"In the case of security alerts on our rail network, we work closely with the PSNI and other relevant authorities and take their guidance in managing the potential impacts to our services.
"There are around 800,000 passenger journeys made on Enterprise services each year and in these challenging situations, we work hard to make alternative transport arrangements in order to minimise disruption caused."
In December the Belfast Telegraph reported that there had been almost 700 security alerts in the past three years.
Police figures show there were 680 security alerts since January 2013 - 151 of them viable.
In the first 10 months of 2015, a total of 202 alerts were recorded - more than one every other day on average.