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Infrastructure blog

Public transport post-Covid: building back more responsibly 

20 October 2021

Chris Conway, Translink Group chief executive, encourages continued investment in public transport infrastructure to help tackle climate change and support green economic recovery.

Public transport post-Covid: building back more responsibly 
Weaver's Cross development, part of a new gateway for Belfast. Image credit: Translink Group

Covid-19 has helped us realise what is truly important in our lives: family, community, and health and wellbeing. But it has also given us a glimpse of what a less congested Northern Ireland (NI) could look like.

The substantial improvements in air quality witnessed on a worldwide basis during 2020 occurred while public transport continued to operate, and one key lesson that should be drawn from the pandemic is the need for modal shift in favour of public and other sustainable forms of transport over the coming years.

The role of public transport in net zero ambitions

More people choosing energy efficient public transport will help reduce harmful emissions and meet national air quality standards, tackle the climate emergency and create a healthier region for all.

Public transport is an essential part of the drive to net zero, and is fundamental to supporting a healthy, sustainable, inclusive and green recovery for the benefit of everyone in our community. Sustaining the network and rebuilding passenger confidence post pandemic requires ongoing investment.

NI citizens have better access to public transport with a comprehensive network providing direct access to bus and train services to more than 80% of the population across thousands of bus routes and rail lines.

This enables a more inclusive society, giving people choices, freedom and more opportunities in business, education, shopping and leisure pursuits that are accessible to everyone, promoting equality, social inclusion and reducing isolation.

Translink is leading the transport transformation, aiming to operate a net zero-emission fleet by 2040. Work has already started on a decarbonisation strategy, with an order placed recently for 145 zero and low-emission buses that will bring a step change in environmental standards and air quality.

Our path to the future

Our plans are ambitious – we intend to operate a net-zero fleet across the entirety of our network by 2040 – bus networks in Belfast and Derry~Londonderry are on schedule to meet that target by 2030.

Our initial zero-emission buses have entered service, and additional hydrogen and battery-electric buses will debut in the coming months, giving us the UK and Ireland’s fourth largest zero emission fleet by mid-2022.

We have invested in 21 new Class 4000 intermediate carriages to the rail network, facilitating the creation of a number of six-carriage walkthrough trains, providing an additional 1,600 seats across the network every day. These will enter service by early 2022.

We are excited to be participating, alongside other key stakeholders, in an all-Island Strategic Rail review. This will examine how the rail network can improve sustainable connectivity between major cities, enhance regional accessibility and support balanced regional development. This will also consider the feasibility of higher speeds on the network, re-opening lines and utilising rail for freight transport.

Encouraging greater use of public transport

Improved fleet and infrastructure have a major role to play in encouraging greater use of public transport.

Translink is planning for sustained growth in passenger numbers in the years ahead; we are investing in new fleet and have welcomed the consultation on Glider phase 2, building on the success of existing East/West links by extending the service North/South. We're also undertaking essential infrastructure upgrades on the rail network and investing in our bus and rail stations.

The Belfast Transport Hub and associated Weavers Cross development will represent a new beginning for public transport, not just in Belfast, but regionally.

It will be a fully multi-modal transport facility, a highly impressive gateway to Northern Ireland with increased passenger capacity and active travel options, encouraging a healthier, greener society, as well as being a catalyst for regeneration and development.

The hub is the largest integrated transport facility on the island of Ireland and due to open in 2024. It will provide approximately 400 jobs and provide a major boost for the construction industry locally, alongside the added commitment to education and skills training for apprenticeships and new entrant opportunities for local people. Translink is committed to Buy Social provisions and training academies in co-operation with Belfast City Council and other stakeholders.

These important projects ensure we have the right infrastructure in place for a healthier and greener recovery as we move through this pandemic.

While Covid-19 has been immensely challenging for everyone, we’ve been privileged to help people during the pandemic, and now is the time to look forward, to continued investment in public transport infrastructure to tackle climate change and support the green economic recovery as we work to build back more responsibly.

In case you missed it…

  • Chris Conway, ceo at Translink Group and ICE Fellow