The re-emergence of the old Waterside Railway Station as a new North West Multi-Modal Transport hub will be a game-changer for Derry, according to Translink Chris Conway, who is hopeful work can start on the £27m project within the next three to four months.
The transport chief was speaking on a flying visit to Derry yesterday when local elected representatives and stakeholders were provided with a progress briefing on the exciting proposals for the old station.
Mr. Conway said he hoped to see work commence in May or April if planning approval is successfully secured.
And, if that happens, the architectural gem, designed by John Lanyon and built for the Northern Counties Railway between 1873 and 1875, will reopen as a rail hub for the first time in 40 years in 2020.
“It’s a real opportunity to restore this old Victorian building, a Lanyon building actually, and bring it up to modern use,” said Mr. Conway.
“Really, what we want to do is bring back the trains coming into the station as well as bringing in other modes of transport, bus-turning circles, cycling, active travel, we’ll open up the Greenway here, all the way to Ebrington, and make it more accessible for people generally.”
Mr. Conway explained that the bulk of the funding for the scheme, €23million in fact, has been secured from the European Union’s cross-border INTERREG VA fund and that this allocation is contingent on the new station becoming a hub for cyclists, buses, car poolers and all other forms of transport as well as rail.
“It’s important that it is an integrated multi-modal transport hub that will enable people to come up here by train but also to connect to the North West using other modes of transport.
“It’s important, therefore, that everyone in the North West and everyone in Derry can actually use it,” he said.
Under the plans, the old station shed will become a vibrant new public space and waiting area with a café and bike repair facility, shops, and views out onto the River Foyle.
Space has also been allocated for community or council use and Translink envisage the new station being used for public events such as craft fairs or public markets.
“We want to create enough space for community regeneration,” said Mr. Conway.
“The opportunity is to help regenerate the wider area; there will be opportunities for people to come and use the space within the station and that’s a key aspect of the design,” said Mr. Conway.
“It goes beyond what the train station used to be. It goes far beyond that. We’re keen to work with the local community to decide the best flexible use for the space inside and that could be markets, different functions for the council, it could be the arts.”
Concerns had been raised during a public consultation on the proposals for the new rail hub that public access to the riverside would continue to be cut off even once it’s redeveloped.
In response to these concerns, Consarc Conservation, the design team behind the proposals, have built in a riverside walk that will run from the current Waterside Railway Station, which will be demolished, for 250 metres along a proposed new park and ride car park that will be developed between the new hub and the river.
However, Mr. Conway explained that, unfortunately, proposals to have trains running directly into the station, as in the days of yore, were a non-runner due to rail regulations.
Under current rules, trains must terminate five metres from a safety buffer with an additional 25 metres of rail run-off beyond that buffer for safety reasons. The old shed is just 60 metres in length, making it too small for this to work.
“Primarily, when you come and look at the facility, it’s about 60 metres long,” said Mr. Conway.
“In terms of safety buffer requirements for run-off for trains, that will take up about 40 metres.
“Effectively, a large part of the actual inside of the train station as they call it would be used up by, basically, a large hole with tracks in it.
“We feel a much better use is to bring the trains to the side of the station and then use that for a lot of other multi- modal uses.
“We’d be utilising a lot of space to meet the safety requirements and even after doing that we would only be able to get 15 metres of the front carriage into the station and the rest of the carriages, 120 metres long, would sit out beyond the station in any case.
“There’s nothing that could be done with it,” he said.
Mr. Conway said the new station will be the most modern in Ireland when complete and, as well as being a major boon for regular rail users and commuters, it will also boost tourism in the North West.
For example, once up and running, Derry will be able to accommodate the luxury Belmond Grand Hibernian train, the Irish equivalent of the Orient Express
“At the minute, it only really comes as far as Central Station in Belfast because we don’t really have enough stabling for it. Whenever we put this new station in and we put the new platforms in...the Belmond will be able to come to Derry/Londonderry and bring lots of tourism to the area as well.”