Belfast Rapid Transit Phase 2 (BRT2)

 

Status
Construction scheme (future)
Where
To expand the Glider rapid transit system to the north and south of the city, as well as extending the existing G2 service to include Queen's University and Belfast City Hospital.
Total Length
3.9 miles (6.3 km) for Southern Route
5.3 miles (8.6 km) for Northern Route along Antrim Road OR 6.7 miles (10.8 km) along Shore Road
1.4 miles (2.2 km) for extension to Glider G2
Dates

2018 - Phase 1 of BRT opens (East, West and Titanic Quarter)
2018 - Phase 2 received a funding commitment in the Belfast Region City Deal

Jul 2021 - preliminary route options published for consultation
2025 - possible commencement of construction of bus priority routes

Autumn 2028 Earliest date for starting services, as of Aug 2023
(changed from Sep 2027 as of Jul 2021)

Cost
142-148m (as of 2020) - of which 35m funded by Belfast Region City Deal and 20m possibly from the UK government New Deal.
(changed from 70-80m as of 2018)
Links

Click here to jump straight down to updates for this scheme.

Even before Phase 1 of Glider was launched in September 2018, there was talk within Translink and DFI of a "phase 2". Phase 1 saw an East-West route connecting Colin Town Centre in west Belfast, through the city centre to Dundonald (route G1), along with a shorter route to Titanic Quarter (G2). Phase 2 will see a similar route added north-south. The routes proposed in July 2021 are as follows (click to enlarge; all DFI images):


Extension of Glider route G2 to serve Queen's and the City Hospital


Proposed Southern Route towards Cairnshill


Proposed Northern Route Option 1,
towards Glengormley via Antrim Road
THIS OPTION WAS ADOPTED IN OCT 2022


Proposed Northern Route Option 2,
towards Glengormley via Antrim Road
THIS OPTION WAS REJECTED IN OCT 2022

Updates

18 Aug 2023: DFI Roads this week released a document showing how the current roads programme will be prioritised in the current economic and legislative climate, where DFI is now required to de-carbonise transport. BRT made the cut, but DFI did say more about the significant funding shortages the scheme is facing. It now seems that, in addition to the 35m from the Belfast Region City Deal, DFI are also hoping to get 20m from the UK's New Deal funding programme. This gives total funding of 55m which is still significantly less than the 142-148m required. DFI say that this will not scupper the project, but will rather mean it will likely be delivered in phases, with phase 1 focusing on reconstructing the roads themselves to provide the necessary bus priority measures. The Glider halts and vehicles themselves would then presumably be funded through future funding allocations. The scheme is not yet ready to go out to tender, with the outline business case still under development and detailed design not yet started. DFI do, however, indicate that the scheme "could" be operational five years from now in autumn 2028. I'd regard this date as a fairly rough estimate.

27 Oct 2022: Just six days before he was forced to leave his caretaker role by the Assembly rules, the DFI Minister published the "preferred route" for Phase 2 of Glider on 21 October. I am not going to go into lots of detail here about the lines of reasoning as they are all set out in the report that is linked from the press release. Basically the southern route will follow Ormeau Road, as expected, as far as Cairnshill park-and-ride. The northern route, which was more contentious, will follow Royal Avenue, North Street and then the Antrim Road to O'Neill Road at the south side of Glengormley. The G2 extension to Queen's University and City Hospital will proceed as planned. From a roads perspective this will mean both that Carlisle Circus will cease to be a roundabout and the Bankmore Link will probably be built, albeit for buses only. You may notice that the press release states that the southern route will extend to Carryduff. However, the document itself explicitly recommends against this saying that the stretch from Cairnshill to Carryduff has very few retail or employment sites and patronage would be expected to be very low. Similarly, the report does not recommend an extension of the northern route through Glengormley town centre as some of the roads it would need to pass along are only one lane each way, meaning no bus lanes are possible without demolishing property, which would significantly slow down the Glider. Notably, the Minister has instructed DFI to explore these options anyway. As he says in the press release "I have decided that the north and south routes should extend to Glengormley and Carryduff, respectively; however, the feasibility of such will be further assessed as part of the detailed design". Proceeding with these extensions against the recommendations of the report could certainly happen, but would need to be a political decision if the business case could not be made. The most important point that keeps getting missed in discourse about this project is that it is estimated to cost 142-148m but only 35m has been allocated, meaning that unless the non-existent Executive stumps up an additional c110m this scheme will not happen. With no functioning Executive this is actually the default eventuality.

10 Aug 2022: DFI recently published the "first day briefing" that was given to the DFI Minister John O'Dowd when he entered his post in May 2022. The information therein notes that the current estimated cost of BRT Phase 2 is 142-148m (source, 2020 Ourline Business Case), which is double the estimated cost in 2018). It also repeats what we knew (see previous update) that the scheme has only been given 35m of funding in the Belfast City Deal, which represents 25% of the total cost. That is plainly a big problem, as proceeding would thus require the Executive to come up with an additional c110m. Given the current economic climate; the fact that DFI doesn't even have enough funding for its committed projects, let alone new ones; and the non-existence of an Executive this seems unlikely at the present moment. So my feeling is that while planning for this scheme will continue, it is unlikely to move to construction in 2024/25 as previously hoped.

2 Mar 2022: In my previous update below I reported that BRT Phase 2 had been granted funding from the Belfast City Deal, and that this secured the future of the project. However it has since emerged that the amount of money allocated by the City Deal is 35m, which is in fact less than half the 70-80m estimated cost. Last week the DFI Minister described this as a "significant funding shortfall" and "insufficient to deliver the project". DFI will now need to talk to the Executive and the City Deal people to try to secure the additional 35-45m that will be required to complete the project. In the current climate of a partially-collapsed Executive this may not be easy, so this could be a serious spanner in the works for BRT. However, there is no reason why planning can't continue in the interim and that is what is happening. The Minister has confirmed that work is progressing on the development of a Public Consultation Report and Outline Business Case, which are the next steps to be taken.

16 Jan 2022: The Belfast Region City Deal was signed on 17 December 2021. This is the source of funding for the Phase 2 of BRT, so it makes the future of the scheme a bit more secure. The scheme is still in early planning stages, so it's a moot point in terms of timescale. Currently the earliest possible completion date is September 2027.

8 Sep 2021: DFI launched a public consultation into the route options for BRT2 on 26 July. You can see details of the proposals here, and the public consultation document can be downloaded (for now) here. The proposals have already attracted a lot of attention (not all positive) in the media and on social media, and I would strongly encourage anyone with views on BRT2 to respond to the consultation. You have until 4 October to respond. I would stress that the purpose of the consultation is to give the public a chance to respond to the various route options - the routes have NOT yet been decided. I have included maps of the options further up this page, but the three proposed routes are as follows.

  • To extend the existing G2 service, that connects the City Centre to Titanic Quarter, south to the City Hospital and Queen's University via Shaftesbury Square and then Lisburn Road, Elmwood Avenue and University Road. Elmwood Avenue would become one-way eastbound under these proposals.
  • To provide a Glider route south from the City Centre south along Great Victoria Street, then east along a new bus-only road from Bruce Street to Cromac Street, then south along Ormeau Road and the Saintfield Road, past Forestside and terminating at the existing Cairnshill Park-and-Ride.
  • To provide a Glider route north from the City Centre along Donegall Place and Royal Avenue, and then either along Clifton Street to Carlisle Circus (which would become a signalised crossroads) then Antrim Road to Glengormley, terminating at a new park-and-ride site located at O'Neill Road or else along York Street and then the Shore Road to the Abbeycentre, wjhere there woudl be a park-and-ride site, then inland along Longwood Road and Church Road to a a new park-and-ride site located at O'Neill Road.

The first two are relartively uncontroversial but - as expected - the North Belfast options have unfortuinately, but not surprisingly, been more controversial. The basic reason for this is that the Antrim road serves a primarily Catholic area while the Shore Road serves a primarily Protestant area. This has led politicians to take different views on the route. From a purely construction point of view, the Shore Road is probably easier to construct given that it is already the equivalent of four lanes in width along the entire stretch, whereas the Antrim Road reduces to two lanes around the zoo. However, the Antrim Road route is 2 km shorter and has a larger number of sites that could attract users, including the Mater Hospital, Belfast Castle, Belfast Zoo and two large secondary schools (St Malachy's and Blessed Trinity). The Shore Road would serve Cityside Retail Park, Hazelwood College, Grove Leisure Centre, Seaview Stadium and the Abbeycentre.

One possible solution would be to build a circuit that took in both routes, perhaps with both clockwise and anti-clockwise services. The main disadvantage of this would be that it would double the length of required infrastructure and significantly raise the costs.

Other than these points, perhaps the most questioned proposal is to terminate at the city side of Glengormley, rather than extending the route through the village towards Sandyknowes. A park-and-ride at O'Neill Road would not be attractive to people travelling from further afield, as it would involve driving through suburbia. DFI may be taking the view that people like this would be served by park-and-ride facilities such as Templepatrick. The consultation document concludes that a route along the Antrim Road through Glengormley village would require highway widening, woudl be slowed by general traffic and would have a high impact on local traffic. It also suggests that it would compromise Sandyknowes' role as a strategic traffic route. As someone who lived in Glengormley for several years, I'm not convinced that the problems are quite that bad, and in particular I am not sure that it stacks up to say that it would compromise Sandyknowes' strategic role, since traffic going into Belfast from the north is itself strategic, and the fact that it is changing mode to the Glider does not make it any less important. However, in fairness to DFI, they have been trying for some years without success to acquire a park-and-ride site near Sandyknowes, so there are other reasons why it may not be possible.

Finally, it has been noted that BRT2 still does not attempt to link to the new Belfast Transport Hub at Grosvenor Road, which is currently under construction. This still does feel like a strange decision. One possible option would be to re-route G1 along Grosvenor Road instead of Divis Street, though this would involve decommissioning part of a Glider route that has only been in operation for three years and would take services away from sites like Belfast Metropolitian College. Another option would be re-route the G2 extension via Grosvenor Road -> Durham Street -> Bruce Street, so that it passed closer to the Hub. However, this option is addressed in the consultation where it is described as offering "limited carriageway width and the constrained City Centre nature [resulting] in lack of ability to provide high-levels of bus priority". This might be worth revisiting rather than accepting at face value, especially since Durham Street is to be completely rebuilt as part of the Hub works.

In conclusion - read the consultation and, if possible, respond before 5 October. Construction is still several years off as a lot more planning has to be done, and DFI have said that the earliest operational date for the scheme is 2027, which is still six years away.

10 Apr 2020: The scheme was included in the Belfast Region City Deal of 2018, and for this reason DFI are progressing the plans. This doesn't appear to mean that the scheme will definitely go ahead. The DFI Minister explained in February that "...the next stages will require close working across all departments and with the other Belfast Region City Deal partners. The work will include reaching agreement on funding and on which projects are most capable of delivering the City Deal objectives." The first part of the process is to carry out a feasibility study which will identify route options. This will also include cost estimates and cost/benefit analyses and will help to determine whether the scheme will be progressed. DFI have said that this feasibility study is due to be completed before the end of 2020.