O'Dowd says Translink given £97m for Phase 3 upgrade as Durkan slams ‘wrangling’

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Mark H. Durkan has complained of ‘drawn-out wrangling around Phase 3’ of the Derry to Coleraine rail upgrade while John O’Dowd has confirmed his department has given £97m to Translink to bring the project to completion.

During a debate in the Assembly on Tuesday the Foyle SDLP MLA called for an update on the project as well as a separate feasibility study for half-hourly trains on the Derry to Belfast line and new rail halts at Eglinton/City of Derry Airport, Strathfoyle and Ballykelly.

A motion tabled by the SDLP MLA on Tuesday further urged the Infrastructure Minister to bring forward a costed implementation plan for the All-Island Strategic Rail Review by the end of this year.

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"In recent years, we have seen incremental improvements, including an hourly service and the delivery of the award-winning north-west transport hub.

Rail minister John O'Dowd says DfI approved the business case for phase 3 of the Coleraine to Derry project in November 2022 and made available over £97 million to Translink to take the project forward.Rail minister John O'Dowd says DfI approved the business case for phase 3 of the Coleraine to Derry project in November 2022 and made available over £97 million to Translink to take the project forward.
Rail minister John O'Dowd says DfI approved the business case for phase 3 of the Coleraine to Derry project in November 2022 and made available over £97 million to Translink to take the project forward.

"Those modest but transformational changes have all but eliminated any doubt that the naysayers cast about the viability of the line.

"Since the hourly Belfast service was introduced in 2017, we have witnessed, year-on-year, record-breaking passenger numbers for Derry rail. That is the living embodiment of the phrase: ‘If you build it, he will come.’

“Therefore, it stands to reason that, if and when we build more, even more will come. The motion calls on the Minister to get his Department working on how that will be built and how the building of it will be paid for,” he said.

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Mr. Durkan complained there are ‘fewer trains and less frequent services than elsewhere’ in the North West and that ‘Derry and Fermanagh — the west — deserve accessible rail provision, hourly Sunday services and stops at City of Derry Airport, Ballykelly and Strathfoyle’.

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He referred to what he described as ‘drawn-out wrangling around Phase 3 to Coleraine, which needs commencement and completion’.

Phase 3 of the rail upgrade will involve a renewal of the entire track bed including ballast and sleepers between Castlerock and Eglinton; upgraded structures to accommodate the track relay; and associated drainage works, all of which will allow for speed increases to 90mph where possible.

Last year in correspondence with Derry rail campaigner Paul Hughes of the Enagh Youth Forum, Stuart Wightman, Director of Public Transport Operations at the Department of Infrastructure, confirmed that subject to full approval construction could be carried out from August 2025 to July 2026, with work continuing to the end of 2027.

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A separate feasibility study on a half-hourly train service and the north west rail halts is currently underway.

Speaking in the Assembly this week Mr. Durkan said: “It is long past the time that we end Derry's status as the most isolated station on the Northern Ireland rail network. That will help to tackle regional imbalance, and will steer the whole region on a course towards a brighter future.

"I call on the Minister to give immediate sign-off on the feasibility study and the funding required — and promised — to see its delivery. It is due to start in 2025 for completion in 2027. We cannot afford more slippage.”

Rail minister John O’Dowd acknowledged concerns about ‘the proposed lack of connection to City of Derry Airport’ and said ‘there are huge opportunities for connections, particularly to our ports and airports’.

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He said: “On ongoing rail developments, my Department has in recent years invested over £100 million in major rail projects in the north-west. That includes Phases 1 and 2 of the Coleraine to Derry track relay project, totalling over £70 million, as well as the north-west multi-modal transport hub, which amounts to over £27 million.”

Mr. O’Dowd confirmed that a business case for the work on Phase 3 of the Derry to Coleraine upgrade has now been approved and almost £100m has been allocated for its delivery.

"I accept that more can be done, and that is why my Department approved the business case for Phase 3 of the Coleraine to Derry project in November 2022 and made available over £97 million to Translink to take that project forward.

“A separate feasibility study that will examine the introduction of a half-hourly service between Derry and Belfast and consider the possibility of additional rail halts on the Coleraine to Derry line, including at Derry City Airport, is also being progressed and will inform future investment in that area,” he said.

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During the debate Sinn Féin MLA Pádraig Delargy said: “We have all seen the comparison map between 1920 and 2020 and the decrease in rail over that time, and we have to look at partition as having been essential in making that happen.

"Partition decreased not only the quality of rail on our island but the quantity of rail on our island. We have the opportunity now to work together to advance that and to move in the right direction on this.”

DUP MLA Gary Middleton said: “Since the 1950s, the Northern Ireland rail network has been cut by some 450 miles. It is evident that we have suffered historical underinvestment in our rail network and services in comparison with regions across the United Kingdom.

"We do not have any railway electrification, and there are clear disparities in access to services in specific areas, particularly the north-west and Fermanagh.

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"There is no doubt that it is unacceptable that such a disparity in services exists across Northern Ireland, in the rail network and across our infrastructure network in general.”

Mr. Durkan’s motion calling on ‘the Minister to work with the Irish Government to produce a costed implementation plan this year, to deliver rail options to every county in Ireland’ was passed.