Are Translink trying to get around the consultation?

The former Waterside Railway Station. 2001JM65
The former Waterside Railway Station. 2001JM65

At last! We’ve finally heard the outcome of the consultation on Derry’s train station. But is it as good news as it first sounds?

Maybe not. We want a rail station but Minister Kennedy is talking about a transport “hub”. (By the way, isn’t “hub” a great buzz word these days?)

The consultation was completed last spring. We had been expecting its results by early autumn last year, at the latest. We haven’t had an explanation for the additional six or seven month delay but we do know the results wouldn’t have been to Translink’s liking. It was clear all along that they favoured a new building at Waterside Link. The rail lobby group, Into the West (ITW) had campaigned for the old station. I’ll not rehearse the arguments again but the case for its restoration is overwhelming. Once again, ITW’s argument found favour. The public, the City Council, and even Ilex in a significant change of heart, opted for restoration of the Victorian building. It got 64% of the ‘vote’ against 17.5% for a new Ebrington Station, 13.7% for a Waterside Link station and just 3.2% for the refurbishment of the present little halt.

Announcing the result, DRD Minister Kennedy recognised the historic building’s value. “It is an important part of the city’s built heritage and once refurbished has the potential to serve as an attractive destination for tourists arriving in the city,” he said.

Just a week earlier a group of Queen’s University architecture students had come up with imaginative proposals for the old terminus. Despite all this apparent success, there is still a danger of the Minister and Translink rowing back from, or getting around the commitment to the old building that Derry people want.

At various times, Translink officials had mentioned a difficulty with ventilation in bringing trains into the old station’s “shed,” despite the fact that such “sheds” are regularly used by trains at other stations such as at Dublin’s Connolly. Apart from that, people with some technical knowledge of this are convinced that any alleged ventilation difficulties could be overcome.

Minister Kennedy now says he wants an “integrated transport hub”.

His press release, accompanying the consultation results, mentioned, “The role that cycling and public transport can play in creating accessible and attractive urban environments.”

At face value these sentiments are fine but there is a danger that an “integrated transport hub on the site of the Old Waterside Station” is a disingenuous formula of words carefully crafted to allow Translink some wriggle room.

The old building could, for instance, be used to provide storage for bicycles and “changing facilities” for cyclists, both of which are referred to in the minister’s press release. That would be a far cry from actually bringing trains back into the Victorian shed. It would allow Translink to go for their preferred option of building a new station off the Waterside Link Road at the rear of the original building, after all. It could then be in the “hub” scheme but actually used for some lesser, ancillary purpose.

We want funding for a railway station, as distinct from no funding for a transport “hub”. The minister’s statement sounds suspicious to me.