The first evidence of the hard-won upgrade planned for the Londonderry to Coleraine railway line has arrived on site.
Hundreds of sleepers have been delivered for the first stage of the track re-lay — from the Waterside to Eglinton — planned to start next summer.
The sleepers are being stockpiled by Translink at a yard behind the old railway station building in the Waterside, close to the start of the Belfast line track.
It marks the first concrete proof that the line will be upgraded following a massive campaign led by local lobby group Into The West and the Belfast Telegraph to have the decision not to upgrade the line overturned.
Transport Minister Danny Kennedy received praise earlier this year after he announced that he had been able to secure funding from within his own budget for the work.
The first truckload of sleepers arrived at the old rail goods depot yard at the weekend, with more due to arrive over the next five days.
The first phase of the re-lay is due to start in July 2012. It will include re-laying the end sections of the line, from Coleraine to Castlerock and from Eglinton to Derry, and essential bridge works.
The line will be completely closed for approximately nine months during the works, from July 2012 to April 2013.
Eight return trips per day will operate when the line reopens in April 2013.
Phase two will complete the re-signalling works between Coleraine and Derry in 2014 and construct the new passing loop in 2015, with a total estimated cost of £22m.
Phase three will undertake the relay of the track from Castlerock to Eglinton in 2021.
This is expected to cost £36m and should deliver half-hourly services.
Bill Mooney, a long-standing member of Into the West, welcomed the arrival of the sleepers.
“Following the change of heart on the railway we are now seeing the first piece of action in that they are now bringing in the materials to do the job,” the lobby group member said.
“It’s encouraging to see such an early action since the decision to upgrade the line was only taken a couple of weeks ago and followed the successful campaign of the Belfast Telegraph and Into The West rail lobby group.”
A Translink spokeswoman confirmed yesterday: “A number of sleepers have been moved to Londonderry for storage, in order to free up space at another location.
“The sleepers will be used on the line renewal work which is expected to begin next summer.”
Story so far
Transport Minister Danny Kennedy last month secured the Stormont Executive’s approval a phased re-lay of the rail line to Derry. It was a U-turn on an earlier decision not to go ahead with the planned upgrade. The initial phase of of track enhancement will be completed in time for the spring of Derry’s City of Culture year in 2013.