In 2001 the rail track between Derry and Coleraine was approaching the end of its life.
Only 500,000 passengers a year were using the service between Derry and Belfast, so Stormont and Translink decided to close the line west of Coleraine.
‘Into the West’ was established to fight that proposal, and their successful campaign saved Derry’s railway and eventually forced Stormont to agree to upgrade the track instead.
Those improvement works were originally planned for 2013 - which would have left Derry without a railway during its City of Culture year. So the work was instead split into 3 distinct phases. Phase 1 was completed early in 2013.
Phase 2 finished in 2016, and enabled a new hourly train service to be introduced between Derry and Belfast. And the third and final phase of the work was scheduled to be completed in 2021 - but wasn’t signed off before the Stormont Executive collapsed two and a half years ago.
2027 at the earliest
Now the Department for Infrastructure has decided that the outstanding last phase of essential modernisation work to Derry’s rail line won’t finish until 2027 at the earliest – 14 years after it was originally supposed to happen.
The shock news has provoked anger from local transport and environmental groups, because no further improvements to rail services in the North-West will be possible until those basic Phase 3 works are completed.
Despite being Northern Ireland’s second city, Derry has significantly worse rail provision than every station East of the Bann.
For example - we have only one train which reaches Belfast before 9am in the morning, whilst Coleraine has four and Portrush two. Stations east of the Bann have a train every 30mins in weekday peak hours, whilst our service is only hourly. And there are only 6 trains from Derry to Belfast on a Sunday – one every two hours - whereas Coleraine and stations east have 13 trains and an hourly service.
It is therefore clear that there is a rigid east-west divide in rail services in NI, leaving Derry and the North-West with a second class service.The final phase of modernisation work to the Derry line will change that imbalance by allowing increased speed and greater capacity on the line – resulting in huge improvements to rail services in the North-West.
It will mean faster and more frequent trains between Derry and Belfast – including express services with fewer stops. It will allow direct trains to be introduced from here to Dublin.
And it will open the possibility of a new station in the Eglinton area, as well as future line extensions to Strabane and Letterkenny. Phase 3 is the final key that unlocks all those future improvements - but until those works are completed we will be stuck with a second-class service. It’s therefore unacceptable that DFI have unilaterally decided to push that work back until at least 2027 – fourteen years after it was originally supposed to happen.
The news that no significant improvements to rail services from Derry will be possible until 2027 at the earliest comes despite the huge growth in demand from the city. Over 3 million passengers used the Derry to Belfast line for the first time ever across 2018-19, with much of that growth driven by the new hourly service from Derry that began in 2017. Since then passenger numbers locally have increased by 61 per cent, making Derry the star rail performer on the entire island.
Into the West is now calling on the Council and local politicians to demand that the DFI reprioritise the Phase 3 works to happen as soon as possible – with a start date no later than the end of 2020. It will be presenting its case on this to a meeting of the council’s key Governance and Strategic Planning Committee next month. And in advance of that Into the West is launching a public campaign to make people aware that there will be no significant improvements to local rail services until the Phase 3 works are completed.
DFI has confirmed that the Phase 3 works will cost £30m. That is a tiny sum in infrastructure terms – especially compared to the £90m they’ve spent on Belfast’s Glider bus, or the £220m for widening the A6 from Drumahoe to Dungiven. Stormont civil servants have that money in their budgets, and also have the power to take decisions like this. So there is no excuse for the Phase 3 work not to be brought forward to end Derry’s second class rail status sooner than 2027.
FASTER MORE FREQUENT TRAINS
If you want to see faster, more frequent trains from Derry, through-trains to Dublin, a new station in the Eglinton area and the possibility of future line extensions to Strabane and Letterkenny, then please support our campaign and sign our petition. Because the Phase 3 works are the key that will unlock all those major improvements for our city. Please add your voice to the call for Derry to get the improved rail services that it deserves as a regional capital.
Into the West’s petition on the timing of the Phase 3 works can be accessed on the change.org site by searching ‘Complete Phase 3 Works’, or by clicking here: http://chng.it/6xTc2P7GgF