Members of the Stormont watchdog at the helm of an Inquiry into how rail costs doubled on the Derry to Coleraine project have warned that the line must be placed back at the centre of the all-Ireland network after years of neglect.
Regional Development Committee members East Derry MLAs John Dallat and Cathal O hOisin were speaking to the Journal as they gathered opinions from train users and stakeholder groups in Derry over the past week.
Speaking at an event in the City Hotel, Sinn Fein MLA Mr. O hOisin said the event was part of the overall Inquiry into “the debacle that Phase Two of the development of the Derry Coleraine line has been, doubling of the prices from £20m to £40m”.
“The way in which it was dealt with and actually delivered to committee members was less than satisfactory,” Mr O hOisin claimed, adding: “Everything, as we know, is now running behind schedule in terms of the railway line.
“We know its importance in terms of tourism, jobs, the economy, in terms of the entire North West. It will become even more important when the Department for Agriculture and Regional Department headquarters are transferred to Ballykelly by 2017, 450 people there.
“The work should start there by the end of this year but the railway line has been an essential piece of infrastructure which has been seriously neglected for many, many years now and indeed run down.”
SDLP East Derry MLA John Dallat said that having the information gathering and subsequent Inquiry hearing event in Derry is highly important.
“It means that the Regional Development Committee, which is all-party, has decided to come here and listen to the views of people who use this train.
“At this stage I would want to dispel any notion that the line is in danger, but nothing can stand still, it has got to be invested in because the ultimate goal is to make the Derry line part of the all-Ireland rail network and two things must happen. The service between Derry and Belfast must be inter-city standard. The loop from Knockmore to Lisburn must be re-opened. It is mothballed. It must be reopened because that would give Derry the link with Dublin, Galway. Cork, the main cities of Ireland.
“There is an urgency about this because there has been too many disappointments in the past and that needs never to be repeated again.”
Mr Dallat said the people of the North West have demonstrated that the train means a lot to them in economic and social terms.
“It now contributes significantly to tourism and the movement of students, people that are working and casual users. It may be over stating it to say it is a miracle the railway is still here but thank God it is.
“Everybody knows who stood in the way of progress in the past but let the past be the past.” He further said he would like the Old Railway Station to be a new focal point “because that will give the railway that particular status it needs and will be another milestone in the city”.
“I’m flexible about how they do that, a bit of compromised may be required, but I am confident that in a short time we can have the Old Station as a focal point of the new service,” he added.