Belfast Rapid Transit System

 

Status
Construction scheme (current)
Where
To construct a bus-based rapid system in Belfast running from the city centre to the east and west of the city, and to Titanic Quarter
Total Length
In total approx 24.5 km / 15.2 miles of which:
  WWAY - approx 9.8 km / 6.1 miles
  EWAY - approx 8.8 km / 5.5 miles
  CITI - approx 2.8 km / 1.7 miles
  plus a common city centre loop - approx 3.1 km / 1.9 miles
Dates

Strategic Outline Case published 8 Apr 2008

Scheme given approval 27 Nov 2008
Public consultation ran 12 Oct 2011 - 6 Jan 2012
Outcome of consultation published - 24 Apr 2012
Outline Business Case to be published - 22 Nov 2012
First construction tender released - 23 Oct 2013
First construction tender awarded - 28 Mar 2014

First actual work commenced 19 May 2014 (Dundonald park-and-ride)

(changed from "late 2013" as of Dec 2013; "during 2012" as of June 2010, and "by 2011" as of Nov 2008)

System due to be operational September 2018 (changed from Autumn 2017 as of May 2014)
Possible extension to North Belfast - operational by 2023 (as of Feb 2016)

Cost

£90m as of May 2016
(changed from £98.5m as of Nov 2012; itself changed from £150m as of Nov 2008)

Photos
See below
See Also

Official web site for scheme
Public Information Leaflet - TransportNI
Rapid Transit Enabling Measures for city centre - on this site

Click here to jump straight down to the latest updates on this scheme.

This scheme will see the introduction of a bus-based rapid system in Belfast. The initial plan, announced in November 2012, is for three routes, all to be opened in September 2018:

  • CITI - Queen Elizabeth Bridge > Queen’s Quay > Queen’s Road to Titanic Quarter and returning to the city centre via Queen’s Road > Queen’s Quay > Station Street > Bridge End > Queen’s Bridge.
  • EWAY - City Centre > Albertbridge Road > Upper Newtownards Road to park-and-ride somewhere in Dundonald
  • WWAY - City Centre > Divis Street > Falls Road > Andersonstown Road > Stewartstown Road to a park and ride site near Dairy Farm and/or McKinstry Road Roundabout

Although they will use bus lanes, the system will operate with high-specification vehicles with a tram-like feel (see images below) including off-vehicle ticketing. The Regional Development Minister said in November 2008 that he expected the scheme to run at five-minute intervals at peak times and attract 5.5 million passengers per year. The scheme promises fast journey times, an element that hinges on the use of a dedicated rapid transit lane on almost the entire length of each route. The ultimate ambition seems to be to add routes running from the city centre to the north and south. More detailed maps of the routes can be downloaded from this page.

Photos


DRD image showing how the BRT vehicles will look. [DRD, November 2015]

Artist's impression of how the BRT vehicle will look on their dedicated rapid transit lane. [DRD, November 2015]

Graphic showing how the interior of a BRT vehicle will look. Note the screen at roof level which will display
information about progress on the journey, next stop etc. [DRD, November 2015]

Elements of the Project

Project (letters refer to the map below the table)
Cost
Current status
Start date
End date
A: Transport Hub at Colin Town Centre

Planning permission granted
Spring 2017
Unknown
C: Stewartstown Road (Upper Dunmurry Lane [Michael Ferguson Roundabout] to McKinstry Roundabout) c£2.5m
Design work underway
Spring 2017 (previously June 2016)
Duration 16 months thus Summer 2018
D: Andersonstown/Stewartstown Road (Finaghy Road North to Upper Dunmurry Lane [Michael Ferguson Roundabout])
c£2.9m
UNDERWAY
25 January 2016
(previously Mar 2015)
"Spring" 2017
E: Falls Road/Andersonstown Road (Whiterock Road to Finaghy Road North)
c£3.0m
Put out to tender 14 Sep 2016
January 2017 (changed from June 2016)
Duration 13 months thus Spring 2018.
F: Falls Road (Grosvenor Road to Whiterock Road)
c£3.25m
COMPLETED
8 September 2014
2 November 2015
(previously Jul and then Aug 2015)
G: Divis Street/Falls Road (Millfield to Grosvenor Road)
c£2.5m
UNDERWAY
12 October 2015
(previously May 2015)
November 2016 (previously August 2016)
H: Albertbridge Road (Castlereagh Street to Newtownards Road)
c£1.2m
UNDERWAY
29 August 2016 (previously Apr 2016)
Duration 10 months thus summer/autumn 2017
J: Upper Newtownards Road (Albertbridge Road to Sandown Road)
c£1.5m
COMPLETED 15 June 2015
27 March 2016 (previously Nov 2015)
K: Upper Newtownards Road (Sandown Road to Knock Road) c£1.43m COMPLETED
23 June 2014 27 March 2015
L: Upper Newtownards Road (Knock Road to Dunlady Road, Dundonald) c£2.5m Design work underway Spring 2017 (as of May 2016) Duration 11 months thus Spring 2018
M: Dundonald Park-and-Ride
c£1.57m COMPLETED 19 May 2014 1 December 2014
N: Titanic Quarter ("CITI" route)
?
Design work underway
Spring 2017
Unknown
Work in city centre also to follow by 2018.






Progress on Belfast
                          Rapid Transit as of 9 Aug 2016
Map showing the various elements of the project and their progress on the date shown.

Historical Background – The Financial Case for a Bus-Based System

In April 2008, the DRD released figures that they say shows that a bus-based system is more econovmically viable than light rail. These figures are shown below and were sourced from this press release. Certainly the bus based system is much cheaper to both build and run, although it is likely to attract less patronage. Most of the criticism of the decision not to build light rail has been to do with the international "prestige" of light rail and the fact that it is seen as "better" by many users. In April 2008 the DRD said "The study found that bus based rapid transit produces positive economic results but light rail does not. This is because the likely numbers of passengers do not warrant the extra cost of light rail. There will be the option of migrating to light rail in the future should the demand increase."

BUS BASED SYSTEM
Capital Cost £m
Annual Operating
Cost £m
Passengers in Morning Peak (estimated)
East Belfast Scheme
£106
£0.67
1292
West Belfast Scheme
£35
£0.41
608
Titanic Quarter Scheme
£6
£0.36
1279
TOTAL
£147
£1.44
3179

LIGHT RAIL SYSTEM
Capital Cost £m
Annual Operating
Cost £m
Passengers in Morning Peak (estimated)
East Belfast Scheme
£282
£3.65
1633
West Belfast Scheme
£217
£1.86
708
Titanic Quarter Scheme
£91
£1.27
1464
TOTAL
£590
£6.78
3805

Updates (see also summary table and map above)

14 Sep 2016: Work on the Albertbridge Road (Castlereagh Street to Newtownards Road) stretch of BRT (labelled "H" on the map above) got underway on 29 August and will continue until "summer 2017". Meanwhile, the tender for the Falls Road/Andersonstown Road (Whiterock Road to Finaghy Road North) scheme (labelled "E" on the map above) has finally been advertised with a closing date of 18 October and an estimated cost of £3m and a contract duration of 13 months. I have updated the map and table above to reflect these changes. This leaves just two main sections unbuilt, namely the Stewartstown Road (Upper Dunmurry Lane [Michael Ferguson Roundabout] to McKinstry Roundabout) scheme ("C" on the map above) and the Upper Newtownards Road (Knock Road to Dunlady Road, Dundonald) scheme ("L" on the map above). The latter of these, in Dundonald, is due to get underway in early 2017 and TransportNI are holding public information events in the terminal building at Dundonald Park and Ride on Thursday 22nd September 2016 between 11.00am and 8.00pm and in Dundonald Library on Friday 23rd September 2016 between 10.15am and 2.00pm. All those who use this route would be recommended to attend. This is the only part of BRT that runs along a strategic road (important roads of regional significance) and so this element is the one most likely to have an impact on longer-distance traffic. Finally, this DfI press release last week confirms that planning permission has been granted for the Colin Town Centre Transport Hub ("A" on the map above), but implies that construction is still a while away. Work will also need to take place on the halts along the route and in the city centre, and in Titanic Quarter. To date there is no sign of this work getting underway.

9 Aug 2016: The tender for construction of the Albertbridge Road (Castlereagh Street to Newtownards Road) stretch of BRT (labelled "H" on the map above) was awarded to John McQuillan (Contracts) Ltd on 5 August - congratulations to them. Work is due to get underway in September. Like other elements of BRT, this scheme is rather "bitty", by which I mean it involves tidying up lots of small things like the positions of drains, relocating kerbs by a few feet, adjusting signage and signals and suchlike. Individually most of these would be considered fairly minor works, but along the whole length of BRT they add up to a substantial amount of work. Work will also include resurfacing the road and footway along most of the stretch, replacing all the street lights with funky new LED lights, upgrading all the pedestrian crossings (probably to "Puffin" crossings where the Green Man is on the same side of the road as the button, rather than on the opposite side) and improving the traffic signals at the Templemore Avenue, Connswater Link and Newtownards Road junctions. Meanwhile, the timescale for the Falls Road/Andersonstown Road (Whiterock Road to Finaghy Road North) scheme (labelled "E" on the map above) has slipped yet again. In the previous update in May I noted that its start date had been pushed back from June to "autumn" 2016. However the DfI web site has been changed, now saying "January 2018". Interestingly, the completion date has not changed, and remains "Spring 2018", which is either a mistake or else they are hoping to speed up the construction phase. This may be necessary, since the whole system is meant to launch in September 2018 - for this reason I hope we do not see too many other schemes with completion dates running into mid 2018. Next, there is the Divis Street/Falls Road (Millfield to Grosvenor Road) scheme (labelled "G" on the map above) which has been under construction since October 2015. It had been due to be completed in August 2016, but I see now that the DFI web site has been updated to revise this to "November 2016", a three month delay. Next, work on the Andersonstown/Stewartstown Road (Finaghy Road North to Upper Dunmurry Lane [Michael Ferguson Roundabout]) scheme (labelled "D" on the map above) is still ongoing and so far there do not seem to be any changes to the scheduled completion of Spring 2017. Finally, the Upper Newtownards Road (Albertbridge Road to Sandown Road) scheme (labelled "J" on the map above) was completed successfully on 27 March 2016. All told, it is taking me a lot of time and effort to track the progress on the various stages of this scheme so, for this reason, I have included the table and map above to try to put it in an accessible format!

23 May 2016: Last week there was a webinar organised by the Institution of Civil Engineers at which the head of the project, Ciaran de Burca, gave a presentation (ICE members can log in and listen to a recording of the webinar here). This gave some interesting information I had not heard before. Firstly, he noted that the current estimated total cost of Belfast Rapid Transit is now £90m, which is a reduction on the figure of £98m being quoted in Nov 2012. It is unusual for the cost of a transport scheme to actually fall during implementation so this is good news. He also added that £10m of this is BRT's contribution towards a new ticketing system (which will also apply to buses etc at a total cost of £45m). Another £10m is BRT's contribution to a new depot at Duncrue Street to be operated by Translink (at a total cost of £25m). He noted that the Park-and-Ride in Dundonald, the eastern terminus of BRT, is slowly growing in popularity and is now attracting 200 cars per day, which is almost 40% of capacity. Currently the journey from here to the city centre is being operated by the limited-stop Metro route 4X, but this will be replaced by BRT vehicles in 2018. This represents up to 200 cars that are no longer commuting into Belfast.

Ciaran also confirmed that WWAY will go all the way to McKinstry roundabout as originally proposed - I had thought that it was now going to terminate at the new transport Hub in Colin Town Centre (see previous update below) but it seems it will continue on past the Hub. Ciaran reported that the Hub has now received planning permission, though this is not currently reflected on the Planning Portal. He stated that their reason why there is to be no park-and-ride at the western end of BRT ("WWAY") is that their analysis showed that most people would arrive by local feeder buses, which are going to be reorganised, and that few car drivers from Lisburn would use BRT because it would be too much of a detour to get to. He stressed the fact that WWAY goes through some of Northern Ireland's most economically deprived areas, and areas with low levels of car ownership, and emphasised its mobilising effect for the local population.

Finally, he gave some updated timescales which I've added to the table above and also updated the map above. The Albertbridge Road (Castlereagh Street to Newtownards Road) scheme, which had been due to start this spring, is now scheduled to start in the autumn. This scheme has also just gone out to tender with a closing date of 27 June and a construction cost of £1m. Next, the Falls Road/Andersonstown Road (Whiterock Road to Finaghy Road North) scheme is also due to get underway in the autumn, changed from June. This scheme has a duration of 18 months, so for the planned opening in September 2018 it would need to not slip much more from these dates. Next, the schedule for the Upper Newtownards Road (Knock Road to Dunlady Road, Dundonald) scheme is unchanged and is still due to get underway in Spring 2017. This is potentially the most disruptive stretch of all, since it is the only part of BRT that is being built on a "strategic" road (the "strategic" road network is the small set of major roads that are considered key to connecting the province together). Then, the Stewartstown Road (Upper Dunmurry Lane [Michael Ferguson Roundabout] to McKinstry Roundabout) scheme along with the Colin Town Centre Hub are due to get underway in Spring 2017, which is quite a change from the original date of June 2016. The time slippages have likely been influenced by the uncertain financial climate. Finally, the works in Titanic Quarter ("CITI") which I had previously not heard mentioned are now to get underway in Spring 2017. There will also need to be works in Belfast city centre, eg to build the halts, though they will largely use the new bus lanes that are already in place.

Lastly, Ciaran confirmed that the Executive has given permission for initial studies to take place on three possible future extensions: into north Belfast (on the Crumlin, Antrim or Shore Roads though I think it's more likely to be one of the latter two); to the Cairnshill Park-and-Ride in south Belfast along the Ormeau/Saintfield Road; and a more limited, circular, route connecting the city centre to Queen's University and the City Hospital along the Lisburn and University Roads. At this stage, these are all aspirations rather than firm plans.

10 Apr 2016: The plans for the western terminus of Belfast Rapid Transit at a new transport "hub" in Colin Town Centre were submitted for planning on 3 March and are now on the Planning Service web site here (ref LA04/2016/0430/F). The site is located here, on the edge of Poleglass. Because the Planning Service have rather unhelpfully decided not to allow direct links to documents on their site, I can't link to the relevant map, so I have instead reproduced it below (click for full version). You can see that there is to be a new signalised T-junction on the Stewartstown Road, a terminal building with toilets and a turning circle. It is notable that there is to be no car park - by contrast the terminal in east Belfast (Dundonald) has 520 car parking spaces. The DRD's own "Colin Town Centre Transport Hub Transport Assessment Form" discusses access for pedestrians, buses and cyclists but does not mention people who might want to come by car!. It does say "It is expected that the majority of users will be walkers and drop offs who are currently already using the existing Metro Services." But if BRT's customers are predominantly people who are already using sustainable transport, then why build Belfast Rapid Transit? The whole point of BRT is to encourage more people to switch from cars onto sustainable transport modes, but how is this going to be achieved if there are no facilities whatsoever for the people currently using cars?

I am not privy to the level of information the DRD have, but I still find it difficult to believe that there is no need for a park-and-ride facility at the western terminus of Belfast's most ambitious public transport scheme. The facility could potentailly attract commuters from as far afield as Lisburn and large areas of the Poleglass/Twinbrook area, who might wish to drive to the BRT terminus and go into the city by rapid transport. If it does, then they will probably park around the housing estates in the surrounding area. Given that even "small" park-and-ride facilities in places like Magherafelt or Ballygawley have proven popular enough to create significant parking problems on local roads I am rather dubious about the merits of this decision. But we shall wait and see what happens.

Anyway, in other news the DRD Minister was asked about the longer term future of Rapid Transit routes to the south of the city in the Assembly four weeks ago. She is already on record as saying that the most likely route for an extension to north Belfast is the Antrim Road (see update below for 2 March 2016). This time she states that in her opinion the most likely route for an extension to south Belfast is "from Cairnshill [park-and-ride] down the Ormeau Road". Given that Ministers tend not to make such specific comments without some input from their engineers, we should see this as a significant comment. She tentatively suggests that such a route could be operational by 2022. Given that transport schemes are practically never completed by the date originally specificed, I wouldn't bet on this, but it does seem to be a serious aspiration at least. And it does, of course, hinge on the East-West route that is currently under construction being a success.

Plans for BRT western terminus at Colin
                            Town Centre
Plans for the Belfast Rapid Transit western terminus at Colin Town Centre, consisting of a terminal building and turning circle, but no car park. Click for high-res version. [Amey/DRD]

2 Mar 2016: The team behind BRT have published an updated information leaflet to inform the public about their plans. It doesn't say anything new, but it's a useful summary. This week I spoke to a person who lives on the Upper Newtownards Road who had never heard of BRT, so anything that leads to wider dissemination of what is planned must surely be a good thing. The leaflet also confirms that the western arm of BRT will terminate at Colin Town Centre (The Hub), meaning that the section that would extend it from there to McKinstry roundabout (where the park and ride was originally to have been sited) will likely now not be built. Presumably a park-and-ride facility will be sited in some form at Colin Town Centre though I have not seen this confirmed. Meanwhile, work on the Andersonstown/Stewartstown Road (Finaghy Road North to Upper Dunmurry Lane [Michael Ferguson Roundabout]) has been underway now for five weeks. A public information event took place in the area on 11 and 12 February in Andersonstown Leisure Centre; unfortunately I didn't get a chance to mention this here beforehand. Additionally, the next scheme in planning - the Albertbridge Road (Castlereagh Street to Newtownards Road) scheme ("H" on the map above) - has now appeared on the "future tenders" list on the DRD web site with a planned release date of April 2016 and an estimated cost of £1.2m. The plan here is to widen the road to allow two citybound lanes (one for general traffic plus a bus lane) and one countrybound lane. The road here is not wide enough to allow four full lanes so this is a compromise. The schedule for this one seems to have slipped a bit: in October last year it was estimated that work would begin on this scheme in April, but it now seems as if it will only be going out to tender by then. Finally, in the Assembly two weeks ago the DRD Minister was asked about a future extension to north Belfast. She gave a tentative timescale, suggesting that the DRD is serious about this. She said "However, subject to [the success of phase 1 and funding], an outline provisional timeline for the extension to north Belfast is as follows. In 2017-18, the options assessment will be prepared. In 2018-19, a business case will be prepared and, following assessment, the first phase will be commenced. In 2019-2020, there will be the detailed design and implementation, and, by 2022-23, I hope that it will be operational." She also said that "the Antrim Road is likely to emerge as the preferred option" (as opposed to the Crumlin or Shore Roads). This could mean running BRT across the Clifton Street junction on Westlink which would be a challenge to design!

23 Jan 2016: The contract for the Andersonstown/Stewartstown Road (Finaghy Road North to Upper Dunmurry Lane [Michael Ferguson Roundabout]) scheme was awarded to Whitemountain Quarries Ltd on 22 December 2015. The DRD have since said that work will begin on Monday, 25 January and will take just over a year, being completed in "Spring" 2017. I have updated the progress map above to reflect this development. The scheme involves the following:

  • Carriageway widening and drainage system improvements to enable the introduction of an inbound bus lane for BRT.
  • Resurfacing of 1.8km of carriageway and adjoining footways.
  • Improvements to the traffic signals and pedestrian crossings at the Suffolk Road, Blacks Road and Finaghy Road North junctions.
  • Provision of a new signalised junction at Shaw’s Road [currently a priority T-junction].
  • Upgrade of all existing pedestrian crossings.
  • Upgrade of street lighting to LED along the entire section.

Interestingly, the DRD have referred to this element as being part of "Phase 2", with all previous elements (apart from the Upper Newtownards Road (Albertbridge Road to Sandown Road) scheme which is also underway as part of Phase 2) being part of "Phase 1". These "phases" seem to be a breakdown by time – as it doesn't seem to be a breakdown by geographical location. There are now three separate BRT elements underway simultaneously (the third being Divis Street/Falls Road (Millfield to Grosvenor Road) scheme, also being carried out by Whitemountain). No further elements of BRT are listed in the Future Tenders part of the DRD web site, although design work is underway - see the map and table above.

29 Nov 2015: On 26 November the DRD announced that it had placed a £19m order for the 30 rapid transit vehicles that will be required to run BRT. The model of vehicle chosen is called Exqui.City and are shown in the images that I have added further up this page. They will be built by Belgian-based company Van Hool and will be supported locally by Road Trucks Limited of Larne. It will take two and a half years to build and supply all 30 vehicles, which means they should be ready in advance of the scheduled opening date of September 2018. The system will be operated by Translink, who already run Ulsterbus, and Metro buses in Belfast. The DRD press release explains more about the vehicles: "The BRT vehicles will be 18 metre long articulated buses with a capacity of around 100 people. The tram-like buses will be a key part of the BRT system image. They will have three sets of double doors providing easier and quicker boarding and alighting, air conditioning and high quality materials for passenger comfort, CCTV for passenger safety and on-board passenger information screens, audio announcements and Wi-FI. The vehicles will utilise some of the latest hybrid technology with lower noise, vibration and pollutants." So far I have heard quite a few negative comments about the bus-like nature of the vehicles and the livery. While there are things that could have been done more ambitiously, I would nevertheless encourage people to resist the temptation to dismiss it and to give the system a chance - much effort has already been put into the infrastructure, and the vehicles will be of a higher quality than anything in use in the city today. Because of the experiences of the past in Northern Ireland, we can often be guilty of excessive cynicism but I would encourage folks to see how the system operates in practice before assessing its value. </soapbox> Meanwhile, due to the complexity of the various elements of the project, I have created a map showing the various sections of the BRT infrastructure and placed it further up this page, below the table that lists the progress on the same sections. I do hope this is useful. I have also re-ordered the table so that the various elements are in the order west to east.

29 Oct 2015: The Falls Road (Grosvenor Road to Whiterock Road) scheme, which began in September 2014, has been completed and will come into use as standard bus lanes on Monday 2 November. For now, they will operate, city-bound and country-bound, during peak hours only, from 7:30am to 9:30am and from 3:30pm to 6:30pm, Monday to Friday. However once Belfast Rapid Transit is completed in late 2018, they will operate from 7am-7pm at least five days per week. This is the third element of the BRT scheme to have been completed. Since the last update, work commenced on 12 October on the Divis Street/Falls Road (Millfield to Grosvenor Road) scheme, which was awarded to Whitemountain Quarries Ltd on 8 September. According to the latest DRD procurement plan, the cost of the Andersonstown/Stewartstown Road (Finaghy Road North to Upper Dunmurry Lane [Michael Ferguson Roundabout]) scheme, currently out to tender, has risen slightly from £2.5m to £2.9m, and the contract is expected to be awarded in December 2015. The document also gives us our first cost and date estimates for some of the remaining elements, and adds a new scheme hitherto not mentioned, Stewartstown Road (Michael Ferguson Roundabout to Colin Town Centre). "Colin Town Centre" seems to refer to the "Hub" which is a proposed community centre in Poleglass, visible on the DRD's route map. Finally, TransportNI have confirmed to me that the Dundonald Park-and-Ride building, which was closed in May 2015 following budget pressures, has now re-opened. They said they have "been able to redeploy a small number of industrial staff to the Cairnshill and Dundonald Park and Ride sites. They will ensure the buildings are open during the day for the use of the public and will also carry out some low level maintenance activities."

26 Sep 2015: The tender for the Andersonstown/Stewartstown Road (Finaghy Road North to Upper Dunmurry Lane [Michael Ferguson Roundabout]) scheme has now been published (sometime in the past week) according to the DRD web site. The closing date given is 29 October 2015. The scheme description says that the main element is to widen the Stewartstown Road to provide "a widened outbound lane. Existing drainage networks will be upgraded to include kerb inlet gullies, reducing carriageway ironworks and improving bus ride quality". It is good to see that the resignation of the DRD Minister has not prevented schemes going out to tender.

19 Sep 2015: The DRD has finally conceded what I had long suspected, ie that the timetable for this scheme has been pushed back by a year to Autumn 2018. It did not come out as a press release so I can't link to it but an update has appeared on the DRD's own site. They say "The potential for delay was set out in the Department’s consultation on the draft budget last November [true] and severe budget pressures remain on the Department and there is no certainty about the position for future years." I see no reason not take this at face value - we know the DRD has found it very hard to allocate funding to schemes, and since the BRT scheme is being progressed via a series of separate contracts, this would tend to make it very hard to progress the scheme. I have already said that I felt the pace of work was too slow to allow a completion by Autumn 2017, and this is now official. That said, work is underway now on two (soon three) parts of the scheme. The photo below shows work underway on the Upper Newtownards Road (Albertbridge Road to Sandown Road) scheme a few days ago. These particular contracts are very "bitty" in their implementation, as they often require extremely localised works such as moving a kerb by a foot here, relocating a drain there etc. They involve a lot of skill, but aren't particularly high-profile or "sexy" schemes.


Work underway for Belfast Rapid Transit on the Upper Newtownards Road at Beersbridge Road junction (on the right ahead), seen looking countrybound on Thursday 17 September 2015. At face value, the works here seem to involve kerb relocation, but there may also be drainage works going on judging by the deep excavation. [Wesley Johnston]

14 Sep 2015: The fifth construction contract for Belfast Rapid Transit, the Divis Street/Falls Road (Millfield to Grosvenor Road) scheme, was awarded to Whitemountain Quarries Ltd on 8 September. I would anticipate that work will get underway fairly soon so I've gone ahead and marked it as "Underway" in the table above, even though work may not technically have started as of today. This means three separate components of the scheme are now underway simultaneously. Meanwhile, the tender for the Andersonstown/Stewartstown Road (Finaghy Road North to Upper Dunmurry Lane [Michael Ferguson Roundabout]) scheme, which was anticipated to be released in August, has been pushed back again, this time until September 2015. There is still no official change to the official timescale, which is that the scheme will be completed by Autumn 2017, but this is feeling increasingly unlikely to me, not helped by the fact that the DRD is now effectively rudderless with the resignation of the Minister last week.

There has been some publicity recently around the number of tickets that have been issued via the new fixed and mobile cameras that monitor the bus lanes in the city centre. The Donegall Square East camera has been busiest, catching over 5700 people illegally using the bus lane during the first two months of operation, which is a little under 100 per day. Calm is required in this debate. On the one hand, it is an offense for most vehicles to drive in an operational bus lane, so most of those who get caught are not being "turned into" law-breakers, but are simply being caught breaking the law. On the other hand, if the signage and bus lanes are clearly marked, and the issue is simply one of awareness, then logic would imply that the number of fines issued will rapidly drop off as the system beds in and the public learns the new rules. If this does not happen, then it suggests that awareness is not the issue. I think 8 weeks is still too early to conclude much on this question. But if we were still seeing fines being issued at this level by, say, Christmas time, then I think questions would need to be asked about whether the public have understood the rules and whether the signage and/or lane markings need to be adjusted to make them clearer. So I would encourage calm, logical reflection in the bus lane debate!

13 Aug 2015: The bus lanes constructed in the Upper Newtownards Road between Sandown Road and Knock Road (the Outer Ring) and completed in March came into use on Monday, 10 August. Initially they will operate at peak times only for normal Metro buses, but once Rapid Transit is introduced they will operate for 12 hours per day. Meanwhile, the DRD web site has pushed back the completion date for the Upper Newtownards Road (Albertbridge Road to Sandown Road) scheme, currently under construction, from November 2015 to March 2016. We now also finally have a proper schedule for the Andersonstown/Stewartstown Road (Finaghy Road North to Upper Dunmurry Lane [Michael Ferguson Roundabout]) scheme, which is for work to begin in January 2016 (earlier than Spring 2016 estimated a couple of months ago) with completion due in May 2017. Although this scheme went out to tender in 2013, the DRD web site is now saying that it is to go out to tender again around August 2015 (ie anytime) so the initial tender process must have been terminated. Positively, the cost estimate for this one has gone down from £3m to £2.5m. Finally, the start of the Divis Street/Falls Road (Millfield to Grosvenor Road) scheme has been pushed back slightly from July 2015 to September 2015, with completion now due in August 2016. There is no further work on the remaining elements. Although work is progressing, the target completion date of 2017 feels increasingly unlikely to me.

10 Jun 2015: Further to the update two days ago, the DRD web site is now saying that construction work on the fourth element of the project - Upper Newtownards Road (Albertbridge Road to Sandown Road) - will begin on 15 June. The contract was awarded to Lagan Construction on 20 May and in my update on 29 May (below) I was not sure whether or not work had begun. So that is now clarified.

8 Jun 2015: Just a quick update to note that the most recent report to Belfast City Council makes reference (page 14) to planning work now being underway on three further components of BRT. They are: Albertbridge Road (Castlereagh Street to Newtownards Road), Upper Newtownards Road (Knock Road to Dunlady Road), ie to the Park and Ride in Dundonald, and Falls Road/Andersonstown Road (Whiterock Road to Finaghy Road North) which I have now added to the list above. The same report also suggests that the long-delayed Andersonstown/Stewartstown Road (Finaghy Road North to Upper Dunmurry Lane [Michael Ferguson Roundabout]) scheme will get underway in Spring next year, 2016. This is a full two and a half years after this scheme went out to tender (on 23 Oct 2013), so there must be some kind of issue with this particular contract. Further schemes will need to follow the ones listed above, as this list does not yet include all parts of the BRT network.

29 May 2015: Work on this scheme began a year ago, in May 2014, and the scheme is officially due to be operational sometime during 2017. It has been proceeding as a series of small contracts, each for a particular stretch of road or park-and-ride facility. There has been both good and bad news for the scheme over the past few weeks. On the plus side, the fourth construction contract - for the Upper Newtownards Road (Albertbridge Road to Sandown Road) stretch - was awarded to Lagan Construction on 20 May 2015. Construction is likely to get underway soon if it has not already. The duration of this scheme has been previous estimated at six months. Secondly, the tender for the Divis Street/Falls Road (Millfield to Grosvenor Road) stretch has now been advertised, with an estimated cost of £2.5m and a closing date of 29 June. Since the tenders then need to be assessed, this date makes a July commencement date for the project seem a little optimistic, but it is nonetheness good news as it is the sixth element to go out to tender. Thirdly, the DRD have now announced that they will be introducing six fixed cameras in the city centre, plus one mobile detection vehicle, to monitor the bus lanes and fine those caught using them illegally. On the negative side, the likely completion of the scheme does increasingly appear to be slipping beyond the official date of 2017. This is backed up not only by monitoring the pace of work (see previous update below), but also by the minutes of a DRD meeting held just over a month ago which talks about a possible "gateway review" of Belfast Rapid Transit, which may mean re-thinking the construction timetable. Finally, the increasing financial pressures on the DRD appear to have forced the closure of the terminal building and removal of all security personnel from the Dundonald Park-and-Ride facility, which only opened on 1 December 2014. It is important to stress that this is the closure of the building, not the whole site, and the car park remains open and continues to be served by express 4X buses. Nevertheless, it is a retrograde step as removal of security makes a car park much more attractive to thieves, and closure of the building makes waiting less comfortable, particularly in inclement weather. With the complete financial chaos that reigns in Stormont as of this week, it would not be too melodramatic to say that literally everything is on the table in terms of when or even whether future road schemes will go ahead.

17 Apr 2015: The improvements to the Upper Newtownards Road (Sandown to Knock Road) were completed on 27 March 2015. That marks completion of the second element of the project, so congratulations to the project team. There is just one element currently under construction, and that is the Falls Road (Grosvenor Road to Whiterock Road) scheme which began in September 2014. Originally scheduled for completion in July 2015, then delayed to August and it now looks to have been delayed again as estimated completion is now being given on the DRD web site as "October 2015". Three elements are in planning (see above), but none have as yet commenced: The Upper Newtownards Road (Albertbridge Road to Sandown Road) scheme is still due to commence in May 2015. It has been out to tender since January, and as yet no contractor seems to have been appointed. The Divis Street/Falls Road (Millfield to Grosvenor Road) stretch was due to commence in May 2015 but this has now been pushed back to July 2015. It does not appear to have gone out to tender yet, so even this looks a bit optimistic at this stage. The Andersonstown/Stewartstown Road (Finaghy Road North to Upper Dunmurry Lane) element has been out to tender since October 2013 but has yet to be awarded, implying there is some sort of issue preventing this one going ahead. Finally, there are of course a large number of additional elements that have yet to progress to the point of going out to tender.

Actual construction has now been underway for 11 months. According to the DRD, the whole system is due to become operational in Autumn 2017, which is about 30 months from now. The total length of the project - in terms of dedicated rapid transit lanes - is just over 24km, and to date work has been completed or is underway on about 2.4km of this. Some additional lengths, such as the 3km in the city centre, don't require much more work since they were largely built as part of the Belfast on the Move bus lane project. So at this point we've only commenced or completed work on around 10% of the scheme, but are more than a quarter of the way through the construction period. The pace of work does appear to be slower than would be necessary to complete the whole project by Autumn 2017 as planned. This may be due to the financial situation, or it could be that the pace of work will increase over the coming year. Watch this space.

7 Feb 2015: As stated in the previous update, work on the Divis Street/Falls Road (Millfield to Grosvenor Road) stretch is due to commence in May 2015. It was announced this week that on 12 and 13 February there will be a public information event to let residents know what is planned and give you an opportunity to speak to the planners of the scheme. It will take place in Falls Road Library on Thursday 12th February 2015 between 11:45am and 7:45pm and on Friday 13th February 2015 between 9:45am and 1:45pm.

28 Jan 2015: A quick update to note that the fifth tender for the project was released on 13 January 2015. It covers works to the Upper Newtownards Road (Albertbridge Road to Sandown Road). The estimated cost of this element is given as £1.5m. The start date has been pushed back slightly to April 2015, but the completion date is still being given as November 2015. Meanwhile, the DRD web site now says that the sixth element, Divis Street/Falls Road (Millfield to Grosvenor Road), will get underway in May 2015 and be completed in June 2016. This timescale would require the tender for this element to be issued within the next month or so. Finally, the same web page is no longer giving an estimated start date for the Andersonstown/Stewartstown Road (Finaghy Road North to Upper Dunmurry Lane) element which has been out to tender since October 2013. There is presumably some issue here. The Northern Ireland Budget 2015-16 which was published a couple of weeks ago thankfully continues funding for this scheme.

7 Dec 2014: The first component of Belfast Rapid Transit to be completed, Dundonald Park-and-Ride, opened to traffic on 1 December 2014. I have driven past it each morning since then and a few dozen commuters appear to be using the site already which is an encouraging sign so early on. The 520-space site is located here and is accessible via fully traffic-light-controlled junctions. Engineers were evident on the first few days watching how traffic responded to the change and making adjustments. The traffic signals on Upper Newtownards Road at Dunlady Road may be triggered by buses since I've noticed that a bus emerging from the park-and-ride seems to cause the signals to change early. This is likely deliberate, to give buses the shortest possible waiting time. The park-and-ride is served by Ulsterbus services. However, during the morning and evening peaks (roughly 7-9am and 3pm to roughly 6.45pm) it has its own dedicated express Metro service, the 4X - timetables here. The photos below show the completed terminal building in use. Meanwhile, we are still awaiting a definite start date for the scheme to construct the BRT infrastructure on the Divis Street/Falls Road (Millfield to Grosvenor Road) stretch. The minutes of a TransportNI Board meeting held on 1 October (but just published) says "ongoing discussions are taking place with DSD/BCC [Dept of Social Development and Belfast City Council] in relation to the delivery programme and funding for the works on the Falls/Divis scheme". The DSD is responsible for public realm works (such as nice footpaths) and Belfast City Council will be taking on this role from April 2016. So this sounds like the DRD, DSD and BCC are working together to ensure that they combine their various plans for this road so that someone isn't coming along and digging stuff up weeks after it's built. This is the sort of thing that attracts much criticism, so the fact that the three bodies seem to be collaborating in this locality deserves to be highlighted and applauded. Finally, in terms of overall timescale, the DRD has released a draft budget for the period 2015-16. In the face of significant funding cuts, the document commits to completing Rapid Transit, but it does contain the worrying comment that "it may be necessary to manage delivery over a longer timeframe". The system is due to the completed and operational by Autumn 2017 so this suggests funding cuts may push this timescale on a bit. (With thanks to Steven Patterson for a correction.)

   
4X Metro service serving the new Dundonald Park-and-Ride. [DRD image from here]

23 Nov 2014: Work on the park-and-ride site at Dundonald seems very well advanced with the car park largely completed, as shown in the picture below. The new traffic signals for its junction onto Dunlady Road are now in place, covered with orange hoods. It is due to be completed in December, so it should open any time. It will initially operate as a conventional park-and-ride served by Metro buses, presumably (hopefully?) beginning early in 2015. TransportNI has also confirmed that all BRT works will be suspended from tomorrow (Monday 24 November) until Friday 2 January as part of their "Christmas roadworks embargo". They do deserve the appreciation of motorists who have tolerated the various works for this gesture of goodwill. This may be part of the reason why the completion date for the works on Upper Newtownards Road (Sandown Road to Knock Road) has been pushed back quite considerably from November 2014 to February 2015. This revision suggests that the works are behind schedule and have not been completed prior to the Christmas works embargo beginning. The fact that they will now not be able to do any work for six weeks is why it will probably take until February to complete everything. The completion date for the Falls Road (Grosvenor Road to Whiterock Road) scheme, which began in September, has also been pushed back slightly from July to August 2014. The Andersonstown/Stewartstown Road (Finaghy Road North to Upper Dunmurry Lane) scheme was due to have begun in January, but is now expected to begin in March. There seems to be a bit of a delay in awarding the contract for this component - at the time of writing a contractor does not seem to have been appointed. TransportNI are keeping their own page on this scheme impressively up to date so it would be worth bookmarking it.


The almost-completed car park for the Dundonald park-and-ride, seen on 3 November 2014 [TransportNI image from here].

22 Sep 2014: Just a quick update to let you know that the BRT team are holding two public information events in east Belfast to inform people about the impact that this scheme is going to have on the Newtownards Road from Albertbridge Road to Sandtown Road. They are being held in Holywood Arches Library on Thursday 25th September 2014 between 12:30pm and 7:45pm and on Friday 26th September 2014 between 12:30pm and 5:15pm.

18 Sep 2014: Due to the increasing number of components getting underway, I have now added a table above to help you keep track of it all. At Dundonald, works to adjust the lanes approaching the Dunlady Road junction for the new park-and-ride facility appears to have finished. You can see photos of this work on the DRD's web site. Three elements of the project are now underway, but there does seem to have been some sort of hitch with the fourth project (Andersonstown/Stewartstown Road - Finaghy Road North to Upper Dunmurry Lane) which we had been expecting to begin in October 2014 but has slipped back to January 2015 in recent weeks. This part of the project has been out to tender for almost 11 months, but for some reason has not been awarded yet. Meanwhile, two further projects have now appeared on the DRD's web site - Upper Newtownards Road (Albertbridge Road to Sandown Road) and Divis Street/Falls Road (Millfield to Grosvenor Road), both of which are estimated to get underway in February 2015. Neither appears to be yet out to tender.

5 Sep 2014: Further to the previous update, it is now confirmed that the work to prepare the section of Falls Road, Grosvenor Road to Whiterock Road will commence on Monday 8 September, and last 12 months. The Rapid Transit team have also put 5 photos of recent works on the Newtownards Road on their web site here.

25 Aug 2014: The third construction tender, to prepare the section of Falls Road, Grosvenor Road to Whiterock Road was awarded to John McQuillan (Contracts) Ltd on 13 August. Construction is due to begin during September. At the works for the Dundonald Park-and-Ride site, work began over the past week on the Upper Newtownards Road itself with work to extend the right-turn lane approaching Dunlady Road commencing and ducting for the revised traffic signals being put in place.

16 Aug 2014: Work has been continuing in earnest on the Dundonald Park and Ride, which began three months ago. The terminal building is now rising recognisably (see picture below) and the earthworks for the car park are also well advanced. Work has taken place on modifying the access onto Dunlady Road from the site, which will eventually be a signalised junction. No significant work has yet begun on upgrading the nearby Upper Newtownards Road / Dunlady Road junction which also needs to be upgraded, but there is evidence of what might be service ducting being installed to carry new cabling. These works are due to be completed in December 2014. The works to date on the Upper Newtownards Road, Sandown Road to Knock Road are somewhat hard to interpret. There are a lot of cones about, and lane closures, and there appear to have been changes to various elements including the drains at the side of the road. But it's hard to yet see how it all fits together. These works are due to be completed in November 2014. The start date for works on the section Falls Road, Grosvenor Road to Whiterock Road has now been put back slightly to September 2014 (completion due July 2015), while the start date for the section Andersonstown/Stewartstown Road, Finaghy Road North to Upper Dunmurry Lane is now being given as October 2014 (completion due November 2015). These latter two have much longer timescales than the current works to the Upper Newtownards Road, suggesting that they involve more substantial work. Once again, keep an eye on the DRD web site for this scheme which is being kept impressively up-to-date with progress on these various elements.

DRD photo of the terminal building Dundonald Park-and Ride taking shape on 25 July 2014. You can see more photos here. [DRD]

19 Jun 2014: The DRD has now re-launched their web site which now features details on each element of the scheme and progress on it. That page is likely to be kept more up-to-date than I can keep this page updated (!) so it would be a useful one to bookmark. It also features an informative section of Frequently Asked Questions. It confirms the timetable for the first four elements as below. This means that the second element of the scheme will kick off on the Upper Newtownards Road on Monday 23 June.

  • Dundonald Park and Ride - UNDERWAY - commenced 19 May 2014, due to be completed Dec 2014. Will initially be served by Metro buses, switching to Rapid Transit vehicles in 2017.
  • Upper Newtownards Road, Sandown Road to Knock Road (1km - see map) - localised widening, relocating drains and upgrading pedestrian crossings - to commence 23 June 2014, due to be completed November 2014.
  • Falls Road, Grosvenor Road to Whiterock Road (1.3km - see map) - localised widening, relocating drains and upgrading pedestrian crossings - to commence August 2014, due to be completed July 2015.
  • Andersonstown/Stewartstown Road, Finaghy Road North to Upper Dunmurry Lane (Michael Ferguson Roundabout) (1.9km - see map) - road widening to create a citybound bus lane (presumably there will be no outbound bus lane), and upgrade of traffic signals.

7 Jun 2014: Since the last update, the second construction contract has been awarded. This one is the works to adjust the layout along 1km of the Upper Newtownards Road from Sandown Road (Ballyhackamore) to Knock Road (the Outer Ring) to accommodate Rapid Transit. It was awarded to White Mountain Quarries Ltd on 21 May 2014. The estimated value of the contract is £1.43m. There is no immediate sign of work beginning at the time of writing. Meanwhile, at the Dundonald park-and-ride site, where work has been underway now for almost three weeks, a lot of site earthworks are very evident indicating good progress. There has been no work as yet on the associated improvements to the Upper Newtownards Road / Dunlady Road junction which are part of the scheme. The third contract that is in the pipeline has still to be awarded.

19 May 2014: Work finally began today on construction of the Dundonald park-and-ride site, the contract for which was awarded to Lagan Construction on 28 March. Since this is the first element of Belfast Rapid Transit to go to actual construction, today marks the official commencement of the construction phase of the project. For this reason, it was accompanied by a press release and media coverage. The press release notes that procurement for the 40 Rapid Transit buses is to begin, with £20m being allocated for the task. The Minister estimates that the whole process of procurement, construction and delivery of the vehicles will take three years, with the three routes (WWAY - from Stewartstown Road, EWAY from Dundonald and CITI from Titanic Quarter) to open for business in autumn 2017. The press release also notes that two further construction contracts are due "to start next month", ie June 2014. This presumably refers to the two sections that have been out to tender for some time (here and here) but have yet to be awarded. This incarnation of the BRT scheme was first announced in the 2002 Regional Transportation Strategy, so it is exciting that it has finally reached the point of construction. Listening to the radio and discussing it on Twitter suggests widespread public ignorance of even the existence of this scheme, let alone the route it will follow and impacts it will have. So hopefully the next three years will see a proactive public information campaign to raise awareness.

4 Apr 2014: The first tender for Belfast Rapid Transit - the construction of the Dundonald park-and-ride site - was awarded to Lagan Construction on 28 March 2014. As contractors tend to be keen to start work as soon as possible, I would expect to see work beginning imminently. The estimated value of the contract is £1.57m. It will primarily involve the construction of a 521 space car park with a terminal building, sited here in Dundonald. However, it will also require changes to the adjacent Dunlady Road, and alterations to the Dunlady Road/Upper Newtownards Road junction. This will include lengthening the right turn lane when coming from Newtownards as many more vehicles are anticipated to want to turn right here. As this is the first Belfast Rapid Transit contract, until the whole scheme is completed the park-and-ride facility will by served by conventional buses. The estimated duration of the works is 8 months, so we could expect to see it completed by early December 2014. Meanwhile, two other tenders are still to be awarded (see previous update below).

22 Jan 2014: These are exciting times for supporters of this scheme, as it edges ever closer to actual construction. In the previous update three months ago I noted that the first actual construction tender (for 3.8km of WWAY, about 40% of the bit in West Belfast) had been advertised. This tender has not yet been awarded, but the closing date was 28 November 2013 so surely it cannot be far off now. Since then, the second tender has also been advertised - the construction of the Dundonald Park-and-Ride which will form the terminus of EWAY, the bit in East Belfast. This tender was released in December 2013, earlier than expected, with a closing date of 3 February 2014. The third tender, for a 1km stretch of EWAY from Sandown Road to the Outer Ring, is due to be released imminently. At this rate of progress, and barring any difficulties with the tender process, I think it is likely that we will see work commencing on WWAY before the summer. The whole Rapid Transit system (consisting of EWAY, WWAY and the CITI link into Titanic Quarter) is due to be completed by 2017/18. Presumably some work will also have to take place between now and then to tweak the new city centre bus lanes to accommodate Rapid Transit. This has always been the intention, but it will require a bit more work - perhaps additional traffic signals, the construction of several rapid transit "halts", and certainly some meaningful enforcement of the bus lanes which are woefully enforced at present.

28 Oct 2013: Work seems to be rapidly gearing up towards a commencement of the Belfast Rapid Transit project. The first tender for construction of the road infrastructure was advertised on Wednesday last week. This contract covers two sections of WWAY (the bit in West Belfast): the 2km from Grosvenor Road to Whiterock Road; and the 1.8km from Finaghy Road North to Old Colin Road). Together these constitute roughly 40% of WWAY. It's not clear when work would begin, but the first tender closes on 28th November and I would expect that work would be likely to commence, therefore, during the first half of 2014. The project is scheduled to take 11 months, so would be completed by early 2015. They will probably initially operate as normal bus lanes while the rest of the project is completed.
Information on Roads Service's own web site suggests that this tender will be followed in January by two more: a 1km stretch of Upper Newtownards Road from Sandown Road to the Outer Ring, representing just over 10% of the EWAY route; and the Dundonald park-and-ride site. Combined, these three projects account for about 20% of the total length of Rapid Transit and represent a good start.

23 Sep 2013: While it now looks unlikely that any work on the ground will begin during 2013 as hoped last December (see below) work on this project is definitely progressing. The first two planning applications (that I am aware of) are now in - with thanks to Gary Potter over at Future Belfast for alerting me to these. The first one is for the terminal park-and-ride at Dundonald, which we now know is to be sited in the grounds of the former Lidl supermarket at Dunlady Road in Dundonald. It is to have 521 parking spaces. Click here to see a PDF of the traffic flow assessment, which includes a map of the proposed facility near the end. Both the WWAY (West Belfast) and EWAY (East Belfast) routes will terminate at such facilities, which are considered vital to their operation. Dunlady Road is a better place for a park-and-ride than the earlier proposal at Quarry Corner, since Robb's Road is a natural point of divergence – this will help traffic flows on the main Upper Newtownards Road which will have to reduced from two to one lanes from this location into the city centre. This is also likely to the the most unpopular part of the plan. The plan for the park-and-ride involves lengthening the right turn lane from the main A20 citybound into Dunaldy Road, and also adding new traffic lights at the Dunlady Road/park-and-ride junction. The second one is for localised road widening on Divis Street to allow for the provision of dedicated bus lanes in both directions at this point. Although more modest in scale than the first planning application, this one is also vital as the bus lane must be continuous, as far as possible, to provide the journey times needed to make it attractive to travellers. At this point in time it seems likely that at least some work will begin on the ground during 2014, with all three pilot routes (WWAY, EWAY and CITI [Titanic Quarter] due to be operational by 2017/18).

12 Dec 2012: In a talk at the PLACE Architecture and Built Environment Centre today, Ciarán de Búrca (the head of the project) stated that work to implement the necessary infrastructure for Rapid Transit would begin on the ground at the end of 2013, ie in one year, and that the system would be finished and operating in 2017. He also confirmed all three routes would be opening simulatneously. He also said that the dedicated Rapid Transit lanes would not run straight through the Outer Ring / Upper Newtownards Road junction due to its sheer importance to strategic traffic. Finally, he confirmed that cyclists would not be banned from the bus lanes once the Rapid Transist system was operating.

1 Dec 2012: Further to the last update, where I commented that the location of the proposed park-and-ride site in Dundonald was not specified, I have heard a rumour that the DRD has made an offer for a piece of land in Dundonald for a 400 space site. I don't know what site this actually is, but the reference to 400 spaces would be consistent with the size of this vacant site. There is also some vacant land at the site of the old Rolls-Royce factory here.

23 Nov 2012: The DRD yesterday published a summary version of their Outline Business Case. You can access it, along with an updated map of the proposed routes, from here and the press release here. There is a lot to read here, but as this web site focuses on the impact on the road network, I'm mostly restricting my comments here to that aspect of the plan. Of note are the following points:

  • The decision made a year ago to route WWAY along Grosvenor Road, rather than Falls Road has been reversed, due to public pressure expressed in the last public consultation. WWAY will now run along Falls Road, as can be seen from the map linked to above. I've updated the text at the top of this page with the most recent route corridor information.
  • The remainder of the routes remain largely unchanged from what was previously publicised.
  • There will be a park and ride on WWAY "near Dairy Farm and/or McKinstry Road Roundabout".
  • There will be a park and ride on EWAY "in Dundonald". Although documents last year indicated this would be at Quarry Corner, this is no longer being specifically mentioned. The new map is shows it at Ballybeen Estate. This may just be indicative, however.
  • The scheme has a calculated cost-benefit ratio of 3.4, which would be considered good value for money, ie over the assessment period (usually 60 years) will will bring 3.4 times more benefit than it will cost to build. It is not anticipated that revenue will be sufficient to cover the investment costs within the assessment period.
  • The total cost is estimated to be £98.5m, assuming it opens in 2017/18. This is actually less than the £150m estimated in 2008. Of this, £12.5m is already allocated up to 2015. Proceeding with the plan to be open in 2017/18, therefore, will require an additional £86m to be allocated between 2015 and 2017/18. Yesterday's announcement that the scheme has secured Executive approval suggests this is likely to be forthcoming.
  • BRT is predicted to increase public transport patronage on the route corridors by between 43% and 75%, and reduce public transport journey times by 30%.
  • BRT is predicted to reduce general traffic levels on the route corridors by 20%, of which half is modal shift from car to BRT and 10% by cars switching to other parallel routes. Journey times for general traffic are predicted to increase by 8% generally, but up to 40% in certain locations.
  • On-street parking will be reduced in areas where BRT is built.
  • Each of the park-and-ride centres will have space for 500 cars plus secure cycle facilities.

30 Jul 2012: According to the minutes of a DRD Board meeting held on 2nd July, there has been a discussion between Geoff Allister, the Head of Roads Service, and Ciarán de Búrca, the Head of the Rapid Transit Division. The discussion seems to have focused on the issue of "traffic disruption/increase in car journey times forecasts". This is because the scheme will see key arterial routes reduced from two to one lane each way, most notably the A20 Upper Newtownards Road which is not simply a commuter route, but also part of the Strategic Road Network, linking the Ards Peninsula to the rest of Northern Ireland. It has been agreed that there will be a re-assessment of the current status of the A24 Saintfield Road. This is presumably because the A24 is also a strategic road, and a similar reduction in capacity was implemented there when the bus lane was opened a few years ago. The disruption to strategic traffic on the A20 will be one of the most sensitive aspects of the Outline Business Case.

1 May 2012: The DRD have published their Consultation Report into last Autumn's public consultation (along with an Equality Impact Assessment) on 24th April. The main findings of the consultation are:

  • 62% of people thought that the most appropriate routes had been considered. The main objection was to the choice of Grosvenor Road over Divis Street for WWAY. There seems to be a broad consensus that the Comber Greenway should not be used for EWAY.
  • 88% felt that the proposed system would be a "high quality public transport system".
  • Quite a few people felt the system ought to be expanded to cover other parts of Belfast.
  • Concerns about the level of fares and impact on 'regular' buses.
  • The importance of good park-and-ride facilities.

The report concludes by noting that an Outline Business Case will be published late in 2012 that will consider the emerging design more specifically, especially the impact on specific junctions and property along the route. There will be another round of consultation after that. Although there is a question mark over when funding will be available, it does seem as if development of the scheme is progressing well.

Personal comment: While supportive of the scheme in principle, I did make a submission to the consultation outlining my concerns about the 'pinch point' that will be created citybound at Quarry Corner (similar to that at Greenisland).

15 Jan 2012: I have just realised that I did not write an update for the official announcement that I mentioned in the previous update - apologies. The Route Options for the pilot phase of Belfast Rapid Transit were announced on 12 October, and the public consultation ran from then until 6 January. The report is accessible here. Although the consultation was about "route options", in practice the report  goes on to reject all but one option for each of the three routes and therefore would be more correctly described as a "preferred route" announcement. The preferred routes are as follows (the route in Belfast City Centre itself is not yet finalised):

  • CITI - City Centre > Queen's Quay > Queen's Road
  • EWAY - City Centre > Albertbridge Road > Upper Newtownards Road to Quarry Corner park-and-ride
  • WWAY - City Centre > Grosvenor Road > Falls Road > Andersonstown Road > Stewartstown Road to McKinstry Road roundabout park-and-ride

These are bold proposals, in that they will require significant reallocation of roads space from general use to public transport. The most controversial element (in my view) is the decision to route EWAY along the stretch of Upper Newtownards Road from the Outer Ring to Quarry Corner, as this is part of the strategic road network, unlike the remainder of the system. This decision has been made due to significant public opposition to the use of the Greenway route. Advocates of Rapid Transit have raised concerns that DRD may be tempted to save money by downgrading the quality of the vehicles used on the system, and so we hope this does not happen. Meanwhile, measures to prepare the city centre for rapid transit are well underway, with Phase 2 of the enabling measures already underway (and Rapid Transit Enabling Measures planned). The DRD is still being vague on when exactly construction work on the Rapid Transit system itself will commence. It is currently planned to be in operation by 2017 (see update 12 Sep 2011). There is no update on cost, which was last estimated at £150m four years ago.

8 Oct 2011: Information leaked by the BBC yesterday indicates that the plan to use the Comber Greenway has now been abandoned, with some kind of announcement expected in the coming week to coincide with the commencement of a public consultation on 12 October. The reason given is "cost", although there has been significant public opposition to the proposal. Watch this space.

12 Sep 2011: The new "Transport" Minister today offered some more information on where we are with this scheme during the first session of the Stormont Assembly of the autumn. He noted that there would be a three month consultation exercise, beginning next month (October 2011). An "outline business case" will then be completed "in 2012" at which point the planners will seek permission from the Executive to proceed. He confirmed that there are no plans to commence major construction work before 2015, but did comment that the budget for the period to 2014-15 does include money "for the planning and commencement of initial implementation measures", presumably the detailed design, etc, and possibly some minor works such as adjustments to road junctions that will be affected. Finally, he said that "the target date for the operation of the system is 2017" but went on to say that "that is very much an aspiration and is subject to available finance". So I don't think we can say anything firm about if or when this scheme will be implemented.

14 May 2011: My scepticism about the timescale for this project (see previous update) seems to have been well founded. Speaking at the Annual Dinner of the Chartered Institution of Highway Enginners Northern Ireland, the Permanent Secretary of the Department for Regional Development Malcolm McKibbin said "funding to begin to implement [the Rapid Transit System] will not be available until at least 2015" (quoted in Plant & Civil Engineer, May 2011). So this means that we are probably at least four years, and possibly more, away from work actually beginning on the ground.

7 Mar 2011: The Minister answered a question on the status of this scheme in the Assembly three weeks ago. He did not give any dates, but did say: "this project is identified in the Programme for Government as a key project for Belfast, and we want to keep it live and on the books. Although I would prefer that we were much further ahead with the capital commitment to rapid transit, we will continue with the preparatory work." This does not sound like the description of a project that is likely to start on the ground next year, as was being said last summer. It sounds more like a project that is on a longer finger, awaiting funding or more progress on design work. We shall have to wait for more information to see where we are with this scheme.

14 Jan 2011: The DRD published their draft budget for 2011-15 yesterday. Despite savage delays to many schemes, this scheme appears to have survived. The budget states that "The spending proposals would also allow the Department to fund the development of a bus based Rapid Transit system on a pilot network of three routes connecting East Belfast, West Belfast and Titanic Quarter with and through the City Centre." It's not clear, however, if there will be delays. Currently work on the first scheme is scheduled for the end of 2012 (see previous update).

15 July 2010: Roads Service have released a public information leaflet about the scheme. It doesn't say much that we don't already know, but it does say that commencement of the first route is now expected "during 2011". However, this is contradicted by the DRD's own End of Year Report issued a few days later. In relation to the scheme it says "We have been advised not to undertake public consultation on the preferred routes whilst this process is ongoing. This has resulted in a delay in taking forward the project by 9-12 months. The three routes set out in the Strategic Outline Case will now be taken forward in a single Outline Business Case. This includes further route options which will require full public consultation. The revised target date to commence work on site for the CITI-route is end of 2012." CITI is the route connecting the City Airport and Titanic Quarter, and is likely to be the first one built.

28 Mar 2010: In the Assembly earlier this month, the Minister said that the public consultation into the details of the three routes of the proposed rapid transit system have been deferred until "early 2011". This is apparently due to the existing public consultation on the legislation that will allow rapid transit to operate. He said "there was a possibility of confusion arising if the public were also being consulted on the details of route alignment options during the enabling legislation process." This has not prevented debate about the route - the most controversial part is the plan to route the rapid transit system along the Greenway (a former railway line and current cycle/foot way) through east Belfast. Such is the strength of feeling locally, that it has spawned a campaign group - Greenway to Stay. The DRD has already spent considerable sums on the Greenway proposal, and has even bought a site related to the scheme, but it seems if a route along the Upper Newtownards Road will also have to be considered. At the project launch in November 2008 it was stated that work on the rapid transit system would begin "in 2011". With a consultation into routes not planned to begin until early 2011, this timescale seems increasingly unlikely to be achieved.