Northern Ireland

Lobbying call to secure funds for Belfast to Derry rail route

The Belfast to Derry rail route
Image caption The Belfast to Derry rail route has been described as one of the most beautiful in the world

The MPs for Foyle and East Londonderry have called for people to lobby for funding to secure the future of the Derry to Belfast railway line.

Mark Durkan and Gregory Campbell said spending £20m on safety work rather than £75m on a proposed upgrade is "unsatisfactory".

Transport Minister Danny Kennedy said he does not have the funds at present to complete the project.

Some journeys between Derry and Coleraine will be replaced by buses.

The BBC has learned that the move is over concerns about maintaining high safety standards on the line. The disruption will affect a third of trains using the inter-city route.

Translink has said it is committed to developing the route.

Mr Kennedy said that the upgrade of the line would be completed if the funds were made available to his department.

He also confirmed the safety work would begin in 2014.

Mark Durkan said they had been led to believe that the upgrade would go ahead.

"When we had the commitment given that the money would be here and would be coming, some of us questioned as to whether or not the timeline for that was really secure, that it was going to be hostage to other budget changes, but we were given assurances," he said.

"Now Translink say they have been faced with this cut, the current minister is saying this is the way it has to be.

"Of course it clearly does put the line in serious difficulty and why is that it is the Derry to Coleraine line that is always the after thought."

Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy said he was "committed" to developing the Londonderry line and said he had no plans to allow the service to be closed.

"Unfortunately, as a result of the budget approved in January of this year, the proposed £75m project to upgrade the Coleraine to Londonderry track in 2012 has had to be deferred until 2014," he said.

"However, £20m has been allocated to the 2014/15 year to allow the project to start at that time.

"In the meantime, my department is funding a programme of engineering work to maintain safety and keep the line operational."

Budget cuts

Translink announced earlier this month that it was introducing a number of cost cost cutting measures.

Image caption The diminished service will continue through Derry's year as European City of Culture

The company will have less money to spend in the coming years as part of overall budget cuts.

Translink had hoped to begin work on completely relaying the Derry to Coleraine line in 2012 but the £75m needed is not currently available. The completion date has now slipped to 2016/17.

In the meantime, it plans to carry out some essential safety improvement work on the line which will cost about £4m.

While this work is going on, Translink says it has "no alternative but to reduce the frequency of train services in order to maintain safety standards. "

The East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell said it is up to elected representatives in the north-west to lobby for additional funding to secure the future of the line.

"What we have to do is turn that potential in reality," he said.

"We've got the £20m, but we need at least, and it may well be the case in three years time that we need more than £75m, so I think each of the public representatives across the board have got to commit themselves.

"The £20m is there, we now need to get something between £60m, and probably £80m, over the next three years to develop that line."

The maintenance work and the bussing of passengers is expected to begin early next year and will last for between 18 and 24 months.

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