Ulster rail part of integrated system

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The Independent Online
Northern Ireland Railways only has 206 route miles, much of it single track, which is why little attention has been paid to its fate, until today's rail debate, writes Christian Wolmar.

In a series of Parliamentary answers earlier this year, Junior Northern Ireland minister Malcolm Moss admitted that the Government was looking at privatising the non-core activities Although Stagecoach, the acquisitive bus company, has had two meetings with ministers over plans to take over the service, the Government denied there were any firm plans for a takeover.

Northern Ireland benefits from an integrated transport policy that would not be allowed by Tory dogma in Great Britain. A single company, Northern Ireland Transport Holdings, owns both the railways and the two main bus companies, Ulsterbus and Citybus and therefore runs the services in co- operation with each other.

The lines receive a subsidy of pounds 7.3m, but this amount is declining each year, which is why privatisation is seen as a long-term option.The sale would be fiercely opposed by Ulster Unionists through fear that the lines would eventually be taken over by Irish Railways.