Belfast to Derry train journey time 'stuck in 1950s despite upgrade'
The journey time on the Belfast to Londonderry railway line is little better than almost 70 years ago despite a £46m upgrade, a lobby group has claimed.
Jim McBride, from the Into the West organisation, questioned the point of the revamp when the time taken is still similar to the 1950s.
Work has been completed on phase two of the upgrade, which included the construction of a passing loop at Bellarena to facilitate an hourly service between the two cities.
But Mr McBride said the lack of confirmation for when more frequent journeys would be introduced was very concerning.
He added that despite a huge investment in the line, trains still take more than two hours to reach Belfast from Derry.
"Into the West has spent 15 years fighting to save the railway line from Derry to Coleraine from closing, and then for some proper investment," Mr McBride explained.
"When you consider that it still takes more than two hours to reach Belfast after getting on the train in Derry, you seriously have to question what was the point of upgrading the line at all.
"In the 1950s, it took two hours and 19 minutes to get to Belfast from Derry. Today, after the upgrade of the line, that same journey takes around two hours and 10 minutes.
"We are concerned about the lack of information on when - or indeed if - the promised hourly service will begin.
"It is our understanding that plans to introduce the hourly service by April at the latest have not been approved and in fact could be put off for at least 18 months because the department hasn't agreed the necessary funding of £1.2m. This is disgraceful.
"This is the most lucrative route for Translink. Last year, approximately 2.5 million people took the train between Belfast and Derry, compared to 800,000 using the Belfast to Dublin line."
A Translink spokeswoman admitted that the hourly service was subject to funding, but added that it hoped most of the upgrading work would be completed by the end of the year.
"This will allow for a more resilient rail service and facilitate the expansion of an hourly service between Derry/Londonderry and Coleraine, subject to appropriate funding," the Translink spokeswoman said. "Hourly services currently operate between Coleraine and Belfast.
The spokeswoman also explained a "multi-modal transport hub" was planned for the site of the former Waterside Station in Londonderry.
"These projects demonstrate our commitment to transforming transport and helping to attract investment, talent and tourism for the entire north-west region," she stressed.
"When the current works are complete, approximately five of the 33-and-a-half miles of the line between Coleraine and Derry/Londonderry will be able to accommodate speeds of up to 90mph.
"The Derry/Londonderry to Belfast route, which is largely comprised of single-line track with passing loops, requires that trains travelling in opposite directions are timetabled to meet at set locations to enable them to pass each other.
"The faster line speeds on parts of the newly reopened Derry/Londonderry to Coleraine section will assist in making sure services arrive at these passing points on time, making the timetable more robust and resilient".