Use A5 cash to improve rail system - campaign group

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Money from the scrapped A5 project could be used to improve Derry’s rail network, a campaign group has said.

Into the West say they will be seeking a meeting with the Department of Regional Development and Translink “to urge them to show that they don’t only exist to build more roads.”

ITW spokesman Martin Melaugh said:” “At the moment, 81 percent of NI transport spending goes on roads, compared with 19 percent on all public transport. This is by far the biggest disparity in the UK or the Republic. The cancellation of the A5 gives us a chance to move towards a more balanced approach.

“It was a lack of funding which led to work on the Derry line being carried out in three phases stretching over 10 years - from 2012 to 2021 - rather than as a single project. The money needed was £75 million. This amount and more has now become available.

“Under present plans, Phase Two of the upgrade is set to be carried out in 2014/15, providing a passing loop at Ballykelly and resignalling along the line. Phase Three, completing the relay of the track between Castlerock and Eglinton, is scheduled to be completed during 2021.

“The Phase Two work would allow for the introduction of an hourly train service to and from Derry. It should also allow a much shorter journey time between Derry and Belfast - Translink and NIR should be aiming for a journey time of 1 hour 45 minutes. Both the hourly service and the quicker journey would prove very attractive to people currently using other forms of transport. This would help to reduce the environmental impact of carbon emissions from road transport.

“There is also scope for bringing forward the work on Phase Three. Although this would involve another closure of the line, Into The West would be happy to see serious discussion around securing the funding now for the Phase Three work.

“This work is already planned. The project is ‘shovel-ready”. The money could be allocated within this financial year - keeping more of it within the North West. The sooner this is done the sooner people will be able to use the line to get to work. All the reasons previously given for delay are gone.

“The rail option has scarcely been mentioned in political discussion of how to use the money previously allocated to the A5. We want to meet Translink and the Minister to ensure that the case for a much high priority for rail in the distribution of funds is put at the centre of the debate.”

Mr Melaugh said the situation around the Waterside station also needs to be resolved.

“Everyone agrees that the current station is no longer suitable. However, people in Derry have been told that there is currently no money available, regardless of which option is selected in the current public consultation. Money from the A5 could now be allocated towards a replacement station,” he said.