Belfast Telegraph

Back the battle to upgrade railway link by 2013 or Derry will struggle, MLAs warned

By Brendan McDaid

The Executive must make the under threat Belfast-Londonderry railway line its key infrastructure priority to get the track reinstated by 2013.

That’s the plea from Martin Bradley, chairman of Derry’s 2013 City of Culture Company.

He has written to all of Northern Ireland’s 108 MLAs urging them to back an emergency motion for the rail line to be upgraded immediately.

He is warning that the city would struggle with the influx of visitors in 2013 when it becomes UK City of Culture if the key rail connection between Derry and Coleraine is not upgraded.

The future of the line has been under threat since it was confirmed that a complete refurbishment of the line between Derry and Coleraine is needed, but has been put back for at least five years.

In the meantime, passengers will have to be taken by bus for part of the journey because of health and safety concerns and a reduced frequency in service.

Maintenance work costing £75m has been delayed until 2014 because of budget pressures.

But railway bosses, under pressure to have the track reopened in time for the 2013 City of Culture, have said that even if the money was available, the work could not be completed in time.

Mr Bradley said it was in “everyone’s interests” to have the line fully functioning by then.

“All of Northern Ireland stands to benefit — and benefit greatly — from Derry’s City of Culture year,” he said.

“Our city is preparing itself for one of the most important periods in its recent history. So much great work has already been done, and it would be unfortunate if we were let down at this crucial stage by our transport infrastructure.

“Government has been visibly committed to the City of Culture project — just as MLAs have been vocal in their support for the rail-link.”

Mr Bradley said it was time for MLAs to follow through on that support “with decisive action”.

The culture chief’s call comes as campaigns to have the line fully re-instated gathers steam with people queuing up to sign petitions and express their outrage at the lack of commitment to the multimillion pounds project.

The Belfast Telegraph’s Keep Derry On Track campaign is also gathering pace with readers pledging support since its launch.

Today, we are focusing on words of support the campaign has received with a selection of readers’ opinions highlighting what the rail link means to them.

Meanwhile, a separate campaign called Into The West has also been inundated with backing.

Its campaigners are to present petitions at the Department for Regional Development headquarters in Belfast on October 20.

They were on the streets of Derry over the weekend, gathering signatures for a petition which calls on the Department for Regional Development, Assembly and Executive to reallocate funds within the DRD budget to provide for the immediate upgrading of the Coleraine to Derry line by 2013.

According to Into The West member Goretti Horgan, the response was “overwhelming”.

“At times, people were queuing to sign the petition”, she said.

“And many said they will try to get the day off work to join us on the train to Belfast on October 20 when we will march through Belfast to deliver the signed petitions to the Department for Regional Development.

“The response to the petition, which has been taken by individuals to distribute around community organisations, schools, colleges, offices, shops and other commercial enterprises across the north west, indicates the strength of feeling on the issue.

“This fight is by no means over. We haven’t given up.

“We flatly refuse to accept that our rail line cannot be relayed in time for City of Culture.”

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