Derry railway line back on track with £46m upgrade

The Londonderry to Coleraine train passing Downhil.
The Londonderry to Coleraine train passing Downhil.

Derry’s railway line has finally got the green light for a £46m upgrade.

The contracts for a major scheme to complete re-signalling works and a passing loop on the Coleraine to Derry railway line have been awarded.

Transport Minister, Danny Kennedy said that Babcock, a leading supplier in the UK rail infrastructure market, was the successful bidder to deliver the signalling scheme, as part of an overall project costing £46 million. Local firm, McLaughlin & Harvey, has also been awarded the contract for the construction of a passing loop at Bellarena.

The Minister said: “My commitment to the Coleraine to Londonderry rail line has always been clear and I have worked hard to ensure that this line remained open.

“The project is a key Programme for Government (PfG) commitment and is evidence of the Executive’s determination to invest in our rail network. It also signals our continuing commitment to invest in the North West and improve connections and frequency of service between Belfast and Londonderry.”

In November 2014, the Minister commissioned an independent review of the project following concerns that the original cost estimate for the scheme was significantly underestimated.

Continuing the Minister said: “The outcome of the review provided me with the assurance to press on with the project. It did make it clear, however, that there might be limited interest in the signalling project due to the scale of railway investment being carried forward in Great Britain.

“Happily Translink has now awarded the contract to Babcock a company renowned for its engineering excellence. The overall cost at £46m is higher than originally envisaged but reflects the market we are competing in. I will make the funding available from my capital budget and the project should be largely completed by December 2016.”

In conclusion the Minister said: “This is good news for the North West and good news for the railways. The path to today’s announcement has not been straightforward. It has not been without criticism. I have remained committed to the North West and to this project and today is tangible evidence of that commitment.”

Clive Bradberry, Translink Infrastructure Executive said: “This announcement today is great news for the North West and a further demonstration of our unwavering commitment to secure the long term future and sustainability of this important rail corridor.

“When the work is completed it will mean a more resilient rail service to and from Derry ~Londonderry including the potential for more frequent and faster journey.

“Work will be starting in the coming weeks and will be substantially complete by the end of 2016. Our passengers will be reassured to know that there will be minimal impact as work will primarily be carried out during the night. There will be some temporary travel arrangements needed during the course of the project such as weekend line closures but we will communicate these and any interim travel arrangements in good time, once confirmed”.

The move has been welcomed by SDLP East Derry MLA and member of the Department of Regional Development committee John Dallat.

Mr Dallat who has been a vocal campaigner for the improvement of the Belfast-Derry line said: “I welcome the announcement by the Regional Development Minister today. This is the second time Danny Kennedy has honoured a commitment to the future of the railway acting in stark contrast to his predecessors who left this railway to wither on the vine.

“The signing of a contract n to complete Phase II of the upgrade to the Belfast-Derry Railway is a highly significant step forward to achieve an efficient and effective intercity service.

“I sincerely hope that this announcement is the beginning of a new commitment to investment in both road and rail infrastructure in the North West.

“The modernisation of this railway was an ambition that refused to die, kept alive by sheer people power. Those who supported the campaign and who regularly use this rail service have ensured that the Derry line now carries more passengers than the Belfast-Dublin Line, seriously strengthening the pressure to invest in both trains and track.

“We must now see progress on the creation of a new state of the art station in Derry.”

DUP MLA George Robinson said: “I welcome the news today that the DRD Minister has approved the financing of the signalling relay and passing loop Phase 2 of the Coleraine to Londonderry rail project. The project has been delayed, but, today’s news it is now being progressed is good news for the North West and especially passengers.

“As passenger numbers have been steadily growing since the investment in new trains and track, the completion of Phase 2 of the project will bring the hourly service long wanted by Translink between Londonderry and Belfast will be a step closer.

“I look forward to seeing the project completed and the improved service that has been desired for so long become a reality”.