Enniskillen born Alan Devers is a lifelong railway enthusiast and Vice-Chair of Headhunters Railway Museum in Enniskillen.

ONCE upon a time in the beautiful lakelands of Fermanagh, and in the Western counties, people could easily travel by puffing steam trains to Belfast or Dublin, but the Civil Service Fairies said “You do not pay enough for this railway”, and “There are too few of you”, and they made the railways disappear forever – but this could change...

Enniskillen lost its railway more than 60 years ago, and Omagh seven years later. The loss has always been acutely felt in this Council area.

Recently Fermanagh and Omagh District Council have asked central government to fund a feasibility study into reintroducing railways to Enniskillen and Omagh, with Minister Nichola Mallon agreeing to provide the necessary funding. A first step!

The man or woman in the street might say: “The railway is long gone, the tracks lifted, the stations and land sold and the nearest railway is 60 miles away – impossible to restore”.

But maybe not? In Scotland, the Borders Railway has reopened 30 miles of track on a line closed in 1969.

Like our own railway lines, this route had been closed, lifted and the land sold.

However, the Borders Railway built 31 miles of track, 42 new bridges, refurbished a further 95, plus two tunnels, provided six new stations at a cost of £295 million in construction.

This line has exceeded its passenger targets from the start, and by 2017-18 was carrying 1.5 million passengers.

The average person might say the cost would be high, but the West [of Northern Ireland] is in dire need of decent infrastructure if it is to be developed for the 21st Century. Connectivity is vital in 2021, be it the internet or transport.

In the Republic of Ireland, railways have also been re-opened. The Cork area has seen the old line to Youghal reopened as far as Middleton.

Near Dublin, the line from Clonsilla to Navan closed in 1963 and was lifted, but has been reopened as far as the M3 Parkway near Dunboyne.

The Western Rail Corridor has been reactivated from Limerick to Athenry for passengers, from being a goods-only line for years.

Community pressure

To rebuild the railway to Enniskillen and Omagh will need central Government to be persuaded and pressurised by the local community.

The cases I have cited as examples of rail reopening have happened because of the combination of several factors.

The wholehearted and constant support of local authorities is vital – Fermanagh and Omagh District Council backing a feasibility study is a good first step, but the Council should not let central government discourage it.

The backing of local papers in the form of articles and, in particular, editorials can be very effective in keeping the momentum going.

This has been the case in the West of Ireland, where the editors of local papers have been very active and vocal in promoting the railway cause.

Support within the community will also be vital and can be carried out by people contacting their local councillors, MLAs and MPs to press them to support a return of the railway.

Railway reconstruction will bring benefits. The construction will bring employment to the area, the quarrying industry will profit from the thousands of tonnes of stone needed for ballast, engineering of bridges etc will require manpower and the line itself provide permanent jobs.

A railway now will be a modern railway – fast, comfortable and air-conditioned, with Wi-Fi providing much-needed connectivity.

The modern railway will be environmentally-friendly. New trains are being developed as hybrids and even using hydrogen power.

At present, NIR trains are CAF diesels but are much quieter than older rolling stock.

A railway line requires much less land than a roadway, and causes considerably less noise pollution.

Although the trackbed of former lines have been built over and redeveloped around towns, a new railway does not have to slavishly follow a former route, but can be built elsewhere.

This would be a big project – not an impossible one – but needs the political will to make it happen from the local community. In the West of Ireland, there is much discontent and resentment that all development focuses on Dublin; in Northern Ireland, the West of the country has a similar sentiment about Belfast.

The balance can be redressed, but it needs the pressure and unity of all.

Like all good fairy stories, there should be a happy ending – the railway rebuilt despite the odds, and everyone living happily ever after ...