Belfast Telegraph

Jobs of Translink bosses should be on line over rail upgrade costs gaffe: MLA

By Donna Deeney

Translink's persistent refusal to explain how it failed to provide accurate figures for the cost of upgrading the Londonderry to Coleraine rail line has been branded as totally outrageous and has sparked calls for resignations.

Translink was tasked by the Department for Regional Development to estimate the cost of the work and produced a figure of between £20m and £22m. The real cost is now known to be nearer £40m.

Translink receives millions of pounds every year from the public purse, but despite repeated requests this week from the Belfast Telegraph for an interview or a statement, the company has remained tight-lipped.

East Londonderry MLA John Dallat, the SDLP's spokesman on regional development, said the silence from Translink now and its handling of the project had shown that the company was not credible and he called for resignations.

He said: "In their vision statement Translink make particular reference to the community and I quote: 'Our services enrich the economy, the environment and the life of communities in a sustainable fashion. We want to be a good neighbour'.

"Well, their performance at being a good neighbour to Derry and the north west hasn't exactly been award-winning when you consider their history, and in particular the disgraceful way they handled the most recent attempt to project the cost of the upgrade and then keep their blunder under wraps for three months while the finances of the Assembly plunged deeper into chaos.

"Quite frankly, those serving on the board of Translink should resign because they have clearly been asleep in their directors' chairs and have made no contribution to ensuring a modern intercity rail link in the north west happens.

"By their indifference they are no better than those who went before and almost managed to close what is one of the most wonderful and important railway lines on these islands. Shame on them."

Jim McBride from the Into The West lobby group is also extremely critical of Translink, but thinks officials at the Department for Regional Development must shoulder some of the blame, too.

He said: "When we look at the findings into the scandal of the Belfast to Bangor line which showed Translink underestimated the cost of that upgrade from £15m to just under £34m, you see a mirror image of what appears to have happened again.

"When that report was published the department and Translink said procedures were in place so that those mistakes would never be repeated.

"For this to have happened once was disastrous, but for it to have happened twice is inexcusable and outrageous.

"The public deserve answers and we are just not getting them. In fact, there is more transparency in North Korea than there has been from Translink.

"Having said that, the department was also aware of the report and gave its assurance that the same gross mistake would not happened again, so the officials in the department must also take their share of the blame."

DRD Minister Danny Kennedy was not available for interview, but a spokeswoman for the department said: "It is important to remember that phase one of the Coleraine to Belfast rail project has been a huge success, which was delivered ahead of time and on budget.

"The minister remains focused on delivering phase two within the current timetable.

"In 2002 the PAC produced a report into the Belfast-Bangor project, we believe the NI Audit Office has assured itself that the recommendations from this report were implemented.

"The upgrade of the Belfast to Bangor railway line was completed in September 2002.

"The project experienced a number of difficulties resulting in the late completion of the project with final costs greatly exceeding the initial budget allocation.

"The recommendations in the PAC report have been implemented and my department has also put in place procedures to monitor all of Translink's capital projects. Departmental officials sit on the project boards for major projects.

"In addition, Translink's capital projects are discussed at monthly monitoring meetings involving staff from DRD and Translink."

The nine questions we put to the company

This is a list of the questions submitted by the Telegraph to Translink and the response received.

Q: Who was appointed to work out the estimate of the cost of phase two of the upgrade?

A: No reply

Q: How was the figure of between £20m and £22m reached?

A: No reply

Q: When and by whom was it realised that the actual cost was more likely to be £40m?

A: No reply

Q: When was the minister told?

A: No reply

Q: In 2001 Translink estimated that the cost of upgrading the Belfast to Bangor line would be £15m. The final cost was almost £34m - was there no procedure put in place then to make sure this gross underestimation could not happen again?

A: No reply

Q: If so, was this procedure not adhered to?

A: No reply

Q: Why is Translink refusing to give the public any explanation as to why and how it underestimated the cost of the phase two given that it is a body that receives public money?

A: No reply

Q: How long will rail travellers now have to wait until the phase two is completed?

A: No reply

Q: Where will the additional money come from?

A: No reply

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