Members of a rail lobby group have warned that Derry is being deliberately and systematically starved of investment during a protest over the latest delays to hit the railway upgrade.
Into The West members were speaking as they gathered at the Waterside Train Station on Thursday morning amid anger over a new controversy surrounding the cost of the project.
The group have spent over a decade leading the campaign to secure what will now be a £40m upgrade.
Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy told the Assembly on Monday that the three-part rail project along the 30 km track from Derry to Coleraine would cost double Translink’s original estimate of £20m to £22m – which he described as “little more than a guesstimate”.
Translink officials are now to be summoned before a Stormont committee inquiry into how the transport project was handled.
Speaking at the protest yesterday, Mary Casey from Into The West said there seemed to be attempt to “kill off” any chance of economic prosperity for Derry.
“You kill off by starving; you kill off by closing down the railway line at Coleraine; you kill off by not expanding the university at UU Magee, you kill off by not investing in the A5 and the A6, you kill off by allowing multi-national corporations to leave this area because the infrastructure is not in place.
“This is a final straw which will break the camel’s back.
“The rail-line that we have campaigning on since 2001 is an integral vital part of our North West infrastructure cannot be allowed to be stopped at this stage of its phased completion.”
Fellow Into The West member Jim McBride said: “Derry is the fourth largest city in Ireland and the railway link is very important to this city, which once had four railway stations and now has one.
“Without a modern railway service we can’t attract tourists, investment or attract students to study.
“The train is much more comfortable for people with young families and disabled passengers than the bus.
“We are the only city in Ireland without a motorway or a modern railway station and I think it is essential we retain the line upgrade it.
“This line has had a 200% increase in passengers over the last ten years. That is unprecedented anywhere in the British isles or Europe.”
Into The West member and veteran rights campaigner Eamonn McCann said many people in Derry “are getting that sinking feeling that we are not going forward but we are going backwards”.
He said: “When we look at the imminent threat to our railway line we can see that Derry is out of sight, out of mind to many people in Belfast.
“It seems to be the easiest thing in the world for bureaucrats to say we will save a million here and a million there by depriving Derry. It wasn’t good enough in the 1950s and the 1960s it certainly shouldn’t be good enough now.”
He added: “An example of the detachment of senior officials at Translink and the Department for Regional Development is this- there wasn’t a single piece of transport put on for Hallowe’en in Derry, there were late night buses put on in Belfast for Hallowe’en but nothing in Derry. Anybody who doesn’t know that Halloween is a big deal in Derry doesn’t know Derry.
“That is one of the reasons why we want a component or unit of the DRD and Translink to be located here in Derry. Whoever is going be handling Phase Two of this line and on into the future should be based in Derry.
“Northern Ireland is a very small place it is utterly ridiculous people can be treated in a disadvantaged way because they come from a particular part of the north. It is not as if we are 1,000 miles away in some distant mountainous region that can’t be reached by ordinary transport. We have stood for this for far too long.”