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27/10/2021

'Game over' for Derry rail expansion if Clanmil housing project goes ahead

'Game over' for Derry rail expansion if Clanmil housing project goes ahead

An artist's impression of the planned Clanmil Housing Association development on Victoria Street. Rail lobby group, Into The West, say the site, if built, will halt rail expansion from Derry

Campaign group, Into The West, have warned it will be 'game over' for rail expansion from Derry if the Clanmil housing development on Victoria Street goes ahead.

Earlier this year, Clanmil had successfully appealed the decision by Derry City & Strabane District Council not to grant them permission to build on the Victoria Street site.

That green-light to Clanmil came to the dismay of Into The West who saw the prospect of the dry rail line on the site being dug up to make way for the planned new flats thereby putting a spanner in the works of the rail lobby groups hopes of having passenger trains run from Derry to the south and west of Ireland.

Steven Bradley met with the Council's Governance & Strategic Planning Committee to discuss rail expansion from Derry.

Cllr Sean Mooney (SDLP) raised the following point to him. He said: “There seems to a pressing matter that could prevent any progress on this is the one of Clanmil and the possible development on the Victoria Road.”

He proceeded to ask Mr Bradley: “In your view, if that goes ahead and is built, is that 'game over' for any future prospects of a rail review. Because when you look at the map, Derry is the end of the rail line when it comes in from Belfast. How else would you address a rail line going from Derry to Donegal or Strabane?”

Mr Bradley replied: “Personally speaking, I suspect it will (be 'game over').

“If you start with the principle of a single, central station for the city – the Waterside – and if you accept that you can't cross north of the river over the Craigavon Bridge, because the space and angles aren't there, the only way you're going to get rail south to Tyrone and then west to Donegal, is to pass through the Clanmil site.

“So the other options involve putting platforms over the River Foyle, Bearing in mind that rail is heavy, you'll be getting into big engineering solutions that are very costly. The economic viability of doing this will be blown out of the water.

“That's why I can't see it being viable if Clanmil build their structure.

“We've met with Clanmil and had discussions with the DfI (Department for Infrastructure).

“Everything is in Clanmil's court. The have planning permission to build that structure. They could start work on it tomorrow and nothing could be done to strip them unless the will is there to compulsory purchase it – which isn't there from the DfI and I suspect is not there from the Council either.

“What we're trying to do is to negotiate a solution whereby one of two alternatives happen. Either Clanmil can re-design their building and leave a strip clear between that building and the river so that rail in the future could run along there.

“The second alternative we're pushing for is for Clanmil to find an alternative site that they could transfer their ambitions onto and we'd be very keen for the Council to assist them in that.

“Otherwise I cannot see how you're going to get rail going south from Waterside towards Tyrone, Fermanagh and Donegal without going through that Clanmil site.”

Clonmil Housing have been approached for comment.

Earlier in the meeting, Mr Bradley outlined the inequalities of the current rail network in Northern Ireland by illustrating how everything appears to be geared in favour towards rail stations east of the River Bann.

How an expanded rail network from Derry to the west and south of Ireland might look

How the rail network west and south from Derry might look in the future

He said: “We have fifty-four railway stations in Northern Ireland of which only three are west of the River Bann. Belfast in greatly rich in rail provision compared to what we have here.

“An all-Ireland map of the rail network never fails to shock. It's like someone took a pair of scissors and cut out the railways of a very important corner of the island – the North West. We are lobbying to see that situation changed.

“There's a very clear east-west disparity in terms of rail provisions. We have a 'six to fix' list and so far only one of those has been fixed – the option to buy a ticket online from Derry that will get you to a station in Dublin without having to buy two separate tickets and having to pay extra for that.

“It used to be that every station east of Coleraine could do that but we in Derry couldn't. That was fixed in Spring of last year so we're grateful for that.

“However, we're still in the situation whereby Northern Ireland's second biggest city – Derry – has only one train that gets people to Belfast before nine am in the morning.

“Whether it be for studying or working, there is only one train – leaving at twelve minutes past six in the morning – that will get you in on time.

“Coleraine on the other hand, has four trains that get you to Belfast before nine am. Even Portrush, a seaside village (compared to Northern Ireland's second city) has two services that do that – one more than Derry.

“When you look at peak hours, between four and six pm, there's a half-hourly service that runs from Belfast all the way to Coleraine and then stops there. We in Derry only have hourly services compared to all stations east of Coleraine.

“Another 'fix' is the Saturday night service. If you want to go to a concert or an evening out in Belfast, you have to leave before nine o' clock at night because the last train that will get you back to Derry on a Saturday evening leaves at ten past nine.

“Which means you will have to leave your dinner table or get out of the gig around half past eight in order to catch the train on time.

“However, if you lived in Coleraine, your last train back from Belfast leaves at twenty to eleven which is plenty of time to fully enjoy at night out in Belfast.

“Sundays are a particular bug-bear. There are only six trains on a Sunday between Derry and Belfast – that's one every two hours. If you miss one, you're snookered and have to wait two hours for the next train.

“Whereas every other station from Coleraine and eastwards, has a train going to Belfast every hour and has thirteen services in total.

“There's no rationale to have a different quality of service on a Sunday because people still need to go and visit people, still need to go to university in Coleraine, Derry or Belfast and people need to catch flights – all things that are done on a Sunday.

“Even with the network we currently have, Derry is very much the second-class relation in terms of rail provision.”

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