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18/09/2021

A crucial six months ahead for the future of Derry's rail infrastructure

Steve Bradley is the chair of the Into the West organisation which campaigns for improvements to the local rail network

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A series of reports and strategies due to be published over the next six months represent a huge opportunity for rail in our area.

Since 2001 Into The West has been campaigning for rail services to be improved from Derry.

In recent years the organisation has also begun pushing for previously closed rail lines to be reopened – including from Derry to Strabane/Omagh/Portadown and from Derry to Letterkenny.

We have held meetings with various politicians, civil servants and business groups - including NI Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon and the Republic’s Transport Minister Eamon Ryan - to outline the role that improved rail could play for the North West City Region.

And our efforts have started to have a positive impact upon a number of reports and strategies that are currently being development.

The first of these strategies is Westminster’s ‘Union Connectivity Review’ (UCR).

It was established in Autumn 2020 – and whilst most attention has focused on talk of a tunnel or bridge between Scotland and NI, the review is taking a much wider look at where infrastructure needs improving across the UK.

Into The West made a detailed submission to the Review – describing the West of NI as ‘The UK’s most isolated region’, and calling for £2bn to be invested in creating a revitalised rail network there.

The UCR’s interim review in March 2021 took those points on board and acknowledged the need for “Faster and higher capacity connections from Belfast to North-West Northern Ireland”, and for better infrastructure in the West of NI overall.

The committee’s full report is due to be published later this Summer, and Into The West are hopeful it will recommend improvements to rail locally.

The UCR committee have accepted that infrastructure in the west of NI is sub-standard and needs to improve. We wait to see what changes they will recommend to address that, and hope it will include enhanced rail for the north-west.

Three further studies into improving the existing rail line in the North-west are due to complete in November 2021.

The first of these is a feasibility study into the third and final phase of track modernisation work on the Derry-Coleraine line – originally scheduled for 2021, but now delayed to 2027.

A feasibility study is required before Stormont can approve the £30m funding for that work, and Into The West are hopeful it will be given the green light.

Once completed, that work will introduce the possibility of faster and more frequent rail services between Belfast and Derry.

Running alongside that is a separate but connected feasibility study which is exploring the creation of new rail stations to the east of Derry – at Strathfoyle, City of Derry Airport (for Eglinton) and Ballykelly.

Derry’s railway station is the second-most isolated on the island – with the next nearest station being over 21 miles away at Bellerena.

That’s why we’ve been campaigning for new halts to be created on the existing line to the east of Derry.

It would enable rail to become a genuine commuter option for people living in fast growing suburbs like Strathfoyle, Ballykelly and Eglinton, and we hope this feasibility study will look favourably on the case for at least one new halt in those areas.

The final of the three studies that are taking place into improving the existing rail line is looking at what would be required to enable a service every 30 minutes between Derry and Belfast.

Finally - the last of the various reports due to be released in the next six months is the new ‘All-Ireland Rail Review’ that has been jointly commissioned by Ministers north and south of the border.

That review is expected to be published in Spring 2022, and will set out a strategy for how rail should be improved across the island – with NI Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon confirming that it will include a specific focus upon the north-west.

There is an obvious gap in the Irish rail network across the North-West and the border counties.

We expect the new All-Island Rail Strategy to look seriously at how to address that, and we hope that it will make the case for extending rail from Derry to Letterkenny and from Derry to Portadown – restoring a direct route between our region and Dublin”.

Rail is undeniably having a resurgence again - with people in Derry, Donegal and Tyrone no longer prepared to suffer the poor infrastructure we’ve faced here for the last 50-plus years.

There is a long way to go before we see concrete improvements to the rail network in the North-west, but we hope that this series of reviews and strategies will mark the beginning of the end for our second class transport infrastructure

It therefore makes the next six months crucial to the future of rail in our area.A series of reports and A series of reports and strategies due to be published over the next six months represent a huge opportunity for rail in our area.

Since 2001 Into The West has been campaigning for rail services to be improved from Derry.

In recent years the organisation has also begun pushing for previously closed rail lines to be reopened – including from Derry to Strabane/Omagh/Portadown and from Derry to Letterkenny.

We have held meetings with various politicians, civil servants and business groups - including NI Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon and the Republic’s Transport Minister Eamon Ryan - to outline the role that improved rail could play for the North West City Region.

And our efforts have started to have a positive impact upon a number of reports and strategies that are currently being development.

The first of these strategies is Westminster’s ‘Union Connectivity Review’ (UCR).

It was established in Autumn 2020 – and whilst most attention has focused on talk of a tunnel or bridge between Scotland and NI, the review is taking a much wider look at where infrastructure needs improving across the UK.

Into The West made a detailed submission to the Review – describing the West of NI as ‘The UK’s most isolated region’, and calling for £2bn to be invested in creating a revitalised rail network there.

The UCR’s interim review in March 2021 took those points on board and acknowledged the need for “Faster and higher capacity connections from Belfast to North-West Northern Ireland”, and for better infrastructure in the West of NI overall.

The committee’s full report is due to be published later this Summer, and Into The West are hopeful it will recommend improvements to rail locally.

The UCR committee have accepted that infrastructure in the west of NI is sub-standard and needs to improve. We wait to see what changes they will recommend to address that, and hope it will include enhanced rail for the north-west.

Three further studies into improving the existing rail line in the North-west are due to complete in November 2021.

The first of these is a feasibility study into the third and final phase of track modernisation work on the Derry-Coleraine line – originally scheduled for 2021, but now delayed to 2027.

A feasibility study is required before Stormont can approve the £30m funding for that work, and Into The West are hopeful it will be given the green light.

Once completed, that work will introduce the possibility of faster and more frequent rail services between Belfast and Derry.

Running alongside that is a separate but connected feasibility study which is exploring the creation of new rail stations to the east of Derry – at Strathfoyle, City of Derry Airport (for Eglinton) and Ballykelly.

Derry’s railway station is the second-most isolated on the island – with the next nearest station being over 21 miles away at Bellerena.

That’s why we’ve been campaigning for new halts to be created on the existing line to the east of Derry.

It would enable rail to become a genuine commuter option for people living in fast growing suburbs like Strathfoyle, Ballykelly and Eglinton, and we hope this feasibility study will look favourably on the case for at least one new halt in those areas.

The final of the three studies that are taking place into improving the existing rail line is looking at what would be required to enable a service every 30 minutes between Derry and Belfast.

Finally - the last of the various reports due to be released in the next six months is the new ‘All-Ireland Rail Review’ that has been jointly commissioned by Ministers north and south of the border.

That review is expected to be published in Spring 2022, and will set out a strategy for how rail should be improved across the island – with NI Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon confirming that it will include a specific focus upon the north-west.

There is an obvious gap in the Irish rail network across the North-West and the border counties.

We expect the new All-Island Rail Strategy to look seriously at how to address that, and we hope that it will make the case for extending rail from Derry to Letterkenny and from Derry to Portadown – restoring a direct route between our region and Dublin”.

Rail is undeniably having a resurgence again - with people in Derry, Donegal and Tyrone no longer prepared to suffer the poor infrastructure we’ve faced here for the last 50-plus years.

There is a long way to go before we see concrete improvements to the rail network in the North-west, but we hope that this series of reviews and strategies will mark the beginning of the end for our second class transport infrastructure.

It therefore makes the next six months crucial to the future of rail in our area.

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