Belfast Telegraph

MLAs 'not treated like mushrooms'

Northern Ireland's Transport Minister has rejected claims that MLAs were treated like "mushrooms" over delays to a multimillion-pound railway upgrade.

Danny Kennedy was being questioned about the lack of progress on the long-planned Belfast to Londonderry railway line.

SDLP MLA John Dallat, who chairs Stormont's regional development committee, said: "The minister knows fine well that elected representatives, for months, were treated like mushrooms and kept in the dark about the postponement of this contract."

Last week Mr Kennedy revealed that the cost of the project had almost doubled from an estimated £22 million to around £40 million because of changes to accommodate larger trains.

Mr Kennedy told the Assembly: "I don't consider him (Mr Dallat) to be a mushroom at all, or anybody else in this chamber.

"I have treated everyone with the utmost respect.

"I made myself available to the Assembly on November 3 when I made my statement.

"I went before the regional development committee on November 12 to speak about the matter in detail. I also sought to speak with the chair and deputy chair of the committee in advance of my statement. Circumstances didn't permit me to speak to the chair but I did, however, speak to the vice chair and the clerk."

Phase two of the £22 million project involves major re-signalling between Derry and Coleraine and the introduction of a passing loop between Derry and Bellarena.

The DRD has also encountered problems finding the right supplier for signalling equipment.

The minister said his officials were awaiting the outcome of an economic appraisal by the Department of Finance but insisted he was committed to finishing the project.

Mr Kennedy added: "I also made clear in my statement to the Assembly on November 3 that I can advise that the current tendering process relating to the signalling element of the upgrade of the Belfast-Londonderry railway line will proceed subject to the necessary approvals being obtained and for an updated economic appraisal.

"I remain fully committed to the completion of the work and to the improvement of the rail service between Northern Ireland's two great cities."

Passenger numbers between Belfast and Derry have increased to 1.6 million.

The route takes in some of Northern Ireland's most breathtaking scenery and was dubbed among the most beautiful in the world by steam train enthusiast and Monty Python star Michael Palin.

Meanwhile, it was also revealed that European funding was being sought for the refurbishment of the Waterside railway station in Londonderry.

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