Translink confirm Phase 3 Derry line upgrade prep now under way

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Translink’s Group Chief Executive, Chris Conway, has confirmed the long awaited Phase 3 upgrade works on the Derry to Coleraine line will be ‘scheduled into the 26/27 timeframe’ with preparatory works getting under way now.

During a deputation from Translink before Derry City & Strabane District Council, SDLP Cllr Rory Farrell, stated he understood the ‘funding has now been secured’ before asking: “It would be good to get some indication of the time-line.

“It would be good to understand when the work is going to start, when it’s going to finish and ultimately when we are going to see the benefits of the investment. “

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Responding , Mr Conway said: “We will start the preparatory work for that now and start programming it into the works.

Translink chief executive Chris Conway.Translink chief executive Chris Conway.
Translink chief executive Chris Conway.

“Exactly when we will do the closure on that time-frame we will still have to do some work on that, and it’s back to consulting on timing to make sure we don’t clash with something major happening in the region and we will have to put in substitution services to make sure we can still operate the connection to the city when we are doing that.”

"There’s more detail to be done on that now that we have the funding.”

SDLP Colr Brian Tierney commented: “I welcome the funding around Phase 3, the commitment is there and from our point of view the sooner we see the work begin the better. We all have constituents who have issues with the current service.”

Also welcoming the news of the funding, Sinn Féin Colr Christopher Jackson added: “We know there is investment needed on the Derry to Belfast line, it’s great to hear that you are listening and recognising the pressures on the line and the need to upgrade.

The Derry line.The Derry line.
The Derry line.

“We all expect and we all acknowledge that to see progress there will be closures and consultation around that is key, we all learned that around the Halloween debacle.”

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Attention then turned to the length of time the service takes to get from Belfast to Derry and the lack of an hourly service on Sundays.

Alderman Maurice Devenney asked what needs to be done to cut the time in half.

He also emphasised the importance of it in order to encourage more people to use the line.

SDLP Colr Brian Tierney added: “A strong public transport for Derry is what’s needed but when you have a two-hour train service on a Sunday it’s not really strong, so we need to be looking how we can get that hourly service on a Sunday.”

Dealing with the queries on the Sunday service, the group Chief Executive explained the issue was the need for additional investment.

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“When we received the funding to do an hourly service after the Phase 2 investment we only received enough funding to do a Monday to Saturday service,” he said. “There would be additional funding required to do an hourly Sunday service and early Monday service. We haven’t received that funding yet so we are unable to move forward with that yet. We are aware of it and have produced a business case for it.”

John Glass, Director of Infrastructure and Projects, informed members that journey time improvements between Belfast and Derry ‘will be about small wins, seconds and minutes and adding those up’.

He explained: “Take for example Phase 3 will get the speed up from 70 or less to 90 so that’s a win. If you look at the Limavady junction, as part of the feasibility study we are looking at straightening that out so you don’t have to go down to 50.

“In other areas looking between Belfast and Coleraine in getting those line speeds up but each of those will require infrastructure investment. Some of the challenges of line speeds being at 70 is because of the condition of the rail track and infrastructure and the lack of investment for 20 or 30 years so there is no answer, it’s just about biting up one bit at a time.

“Can we get the journey times close to or better than the car in the future? Yes we can but it’s not tomorrow.”

Chris Conway concluded: “For additional frequency and services again we are constrained. It would require investment which we don’t have.”

Gillian Anderson

Local Democracy Reporter