MLAs ‘kept in the dark’ on Derry rail upgrade: SDLP

Northern Ireland’s Transport Minister has rejected claims that MLAs were treated like “mushrooms” over delays to a multi million-pound upgrade of Derry’s railway line.

Danny Kennedy was being questioned about the lack of progress on the long-planned revamp of the Belfast to Derry rail link.

SDLP MLA John Dallat, who chairs Stormont’s regional development committee, said: “The minister knows fine well that elected representatives, for months, were treated like mushrooms and kept in the dark about the postponement of this contract.”

Last week, Mr Kennedy revealed that the cost of the project had almost doubled from an estimated £22 million to around £40 million because of changes to accommodate larger trains.

Mr Kennedy told the Assembly: “I don’t consider him (Mr Dallat) to be a mushroom at all, or anybody else in this chamber. I have treated everyone with the utmost respect.

“I made myself available to the Assembly on November 3 when I made my statement. I went before the regional development committee on November 12 to speak about the matter in detail. I also sought to speak with the chair and deputy chair of the committee in advance of my statement. Circumstances didn’t permit me to speak to the chair but I did, however, speak to the vice chair and the clerk.”

Phase two of the £22 million project involves major re-signalling between Derry and Coleraine and the introduction of a passing loop between Derry and Bellarena.

The minister said his officials were awaiting the outcome of an economic appraisal by the Department of Finance but insisted he was committed to finishing the project.

Mr Kennedy added: “I also made clear in my statement to the Assembly on November 3 that I can advise that the current tendering process relating to the signalling element of the upgrade of the Belfast-Londonderry railway line will proceed subject to the necessary approvals being obtained and for an updated economic appraisal.”