New concerns about Derry-Belfast rail link

The Londonderry to Coleraine train passing Downhill.
The Londonderry to Coleraine train passing Downhill.

A critical upgrade of the Derry-Belfast railway, which would bring about for the first time an hourly service between the two cities, may yet again be delayed because of funding issues, according to East Derry SDLP Assembly Member John Dallat who has campaigned for many years to save the line and bring it up to a proper inter-city services.

In a letter to the Assembly Member from Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy the following update has been given: “With regards to Phase 2 of the Coleraine to Derry Track Renewal project, the procurement process for the signalling works is well underway. It is then hoped that a contract can be awarded to allow the signalling work to start on site around the end of May 2015.

“Officials at my Department are currently preparing an application for European funding to support the delivery of the Coleraine to Derry rail upgrade project. The application is due for submission to the European Commission by 26 February, and a final decision with regard to funding approval is expected approximately six months thereafter.’

Responding to the letter, Mr Dallat told The Coleraine Times: “Clearly the progress on the upgrading of the signalling equipment, which hasn’t been upgraded since the 1930’s, is welcome news and presumably there is money to carry out this vital work.

“However I am very concerned that the actual upgrade which includes the provision of a passing loop to enable a new timetable to operate appears now to be dependent on European funding which can’t happen for at least six months if at all according to Mr Kennedy’s letter.

“I don’t disagree with applying for European funding under the Special European Programmes Body (SEUPB) and indeed advocated this approach for many years believing that the Derry-Belfast line is an critical part of the European network but my proposals were dismissed without consideration.

“While I accept that the current minister inherited a legacy of neglect from previous ministers and was successful in getting the Phase 1 of the upgrade carried out it is not acceptable that the project is now left to wither on the vine so to speak.”

Mr Dallat added: “In the same letter the Minister, in a positive disclosure, informs me that there has been success in securing a very substantial European funding package which hopefully will contribute to a new train station and transport hub in Derry.

~”This is good news but doesn’t compensate in any way for a possible delay in carrying out the critical Phase II of the upgrade which will give the North West, for the first time, a proper rail link with Belfast and the rest of Ireland.”