The search is on to find a professional team to complete the feasibility study which, it is hoped, will finally help realise Armagh’s dream of becoming a city accessible by rail.
And that could now happen sooner rather than later.
Armagh I can exclusively reveal that Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council has now gone out to tender as part of the process.
The local authority is hoping to acquire a successful applicant to produce a “feasibility study for the reopening of the Portadown to Armagh City rail line”.
Meanwhile, Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon has just reiterated her support for the project.
It is expected that the study could take six months to complete.
And if that is the case the Minister has said it could be “considered for inclusion in a Draft Regional Strategic Transport Network Transport Plan (RSTNTP) which is due to be issued for consultation towards the end of this year”.
Officials from both ABC Council and Department of Infrastructure had what was described as a “positive” meeting on the rail link last month.
A scoping study has already been undertaken by council, which had established a working group as part of the ongoing efforts to see the restoration of the railway, of which Armagh has sadly been bereft since the last train pulled out on October 1, 1957.
It looked at how such a rail link might operate and it was recommended that it would provide a passenger only service.
The cost of the new feasibility study – one of the last cogs in the wheel of this long-standing campaign – could be as much as £100,000.
But last December, Armagh I reported that Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon had said she was committed to providing funding for such a feasibility study.
It was North Down Alliance MLA Andrew Muir who tabled a question following the review of the scoping study commissioned by ABC Council.
He sought “a timeline for a feasibility study for the Portadown to Armagh rail project”.
The Minister, in her response, said her priority was to “work on transport infrastructure that improves people’s lives, connects communities and tackles the climate emergency through prioritising active and sustainable transport options”.
And she added: “I believe that rail has huge untapped potential to deliver multiple benefits across our island.”
Minister Mallon has now reiterated her support.
Read more: The last train out of Armagh: A Bard’s account of when rail was king before city ran out of steam!
Asked for an update on the current state of play, she said: “The Portadown to Armagh Railway Society has been championing this track extension for many years and I am keen to support their enthusiasm and endeavours to enhance rail opportunities along the Armagh railway line.
“Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council has undertaken a high level scoping study which considers what might be included in a future feasibility study.
“I would like to see this further developed and the feasibility study undertaken.
“I have therefore committed to providing funding in partnership with Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council for the feasibility study.
“My officials have met with council officers to have high level discussions regarding the progression of the feasibility study, with council officers currently investigating the procurement options.”
Now Armagh I can confirm that the tender for the feasibility study has opened.
And those interested in making a submission have until 12noon on Tuesday, March 30, t0 do so.
Beyond feasibility studies the actual reopening will, of course, depend upon funding being made available, with a public enquiry also expected before any link can be reinstated.
But with the support of the Minister, ABC Council and public it now no longer appears to be a case of if, but rather when, the city can once again boast its very own train connection.