A group set up to campaign for the reopening of the Portadown to Armagh railway line, has welcomed the announcement of a new feasibility study into the route.
The news that the line could be extended was revealed on Tuesday when DRD Minister Danny Kennedy set out his vision for the railway network over the next 20 years.
Will Glendinning, secretary of Portadown Armagh Railway Society (PARS), said this was the first time a proper study would be conducted into the reopening of the line, which closed in 1957.
The feasibility study will determine potential passenger demand, identify optimum routes and locations of halts and estimate the likely costs and benefits of construction.
Figures included in the report reveal that usage on the Portadown line has grown by 125 per cent in the last 12 years, to 3,820,000 passengers a year.
This is the second highest growth of all six lines, including the cross-border route.
Mr Kennedy said, “I am particularly keen to extend the option of rail travel to commuters from mid-Ulster and to the populations in the south and west within the catchments of Armagh and Dungannon.
“Although the speed of progress will depend on the amount of funding that can be made available from the Executive’s budget and, where possible, from the European Programmes, I am committed to exploring all funding opportunities and making this happen.
“I believe rail travel offers a safe, comfortable and efficient option, particularly for commuters and inter-city passengers. As and when additional resources become available, we must be ready to develop our rail network and this strategy sets out how we can make that happen.”
Mr Glendinning said he was pleased the rail options would be properly considered before any upgrading of the A3 between Armagh and Portadown goes ahead, which would see the road widened.
He added, “One of the positive things about the Armagh line is that most of the line is still in public ownership. Armagh council argued a long time ago for the reopening of the line but it has never reached a point where there is enough money to do this.
“At least now, if money becomes available, there will be a plan in place.”
Portadown Armagh Railway Society was set up two years ago to campaign for the restoration of the railway line and to commemorate the Armagh Rail Disaster of 1889.
Other plans set out in the strategy include work on the track between Portadown and the border, extra parking spaces at Portadown Railway Station and a possible new halt at Craigavon.