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Open letter to media from Conor Murphy on Derry railway line

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

A Chairde,

There has been a great deal of debate recently on the need for improvements to the railway line to Derry and on what I propose to do about it. I am happy to set out my position on this but, before doing so, would take this opportunity to briefly look back over recent years to show how we have arrived at this point.

In 2000, during the period of the last Executive, the Railway Taskforce Report was adopted. This confined investment to what was then regarded as the core railway with no major investment on the remainder of the network – including the line between Ballymena and Derry. In the years 1999-2002 a total of £4.5m was bid for by the Department for works on the line. Some £1.5m was actually invested. The decision to restrict investment was reviewed in 2004/05 by Direct Rule Ministers who decided that investment in maintenance only would be permitted in what was then regarded as the non-core lines.

Turning now to the present, since I have come into Office I have lifted the restriction on investment in the Derry line north of Ballymena. This now allows for the preparation of a business case for a substantial upgrade of the line between Coleraine and Derry. Completion of the process will enable the Department to apply for EU funding in support of eligible capital works on the Derry line.

The latest draft Investment Strategy currently being considered by the Executive includes provision for the complete relay of the line between Coleraine and Derry commencing in 2011. This is a major project which, in addition to a new line, also involves provision of new signalling and a passing loop. Total costs are estimated to amount to around £64m.

As with any capital scheme of this size it is critical that the project is properly planned, specified and procured. This takes time to do and that is why it is not possible to commence the scheme any earlier than 2011.

In addition to the major improvements to the railway track, provision has also been made for two additional trains which will facilitate the delivery of an enhanced level of service when the scheme is complete in 2013. This will mean that journey times to Derry from Belfast will reduce by 30 minutes and that commuter services into Derry could arrive before 9am.

There is still much to do to deliver these improvements. However as the Minister responsible for public transport I am determined to do all that I can to ensure that the North-West benefits from high quality rail services in the future.

Conor Murphy MP, MLA

Minister for Regional Development