Belfast Telegraph

Rail line furore 'hitting Northern Ireland's reputation'

Northern Ireland risks international embarrassment on the scale of the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi if proper rail infrastructure is not in place by 2013, according to the man tasked with delivering the first UK City of Culture.

Martin Bradley, chairman of Londonderry’s Culture Company 2013, warned that Northern Ireland’s reputation was at stake — and could be damaged “immeasurably” if an improved and fully operational train service was not ready.

The run-up to the 2010 Delhi Games attracted global criticism due to the slow pace of preparation and constant questions over infrastructure, security and hygiene.

“In terms of visitors coming to our city we are looking at 1.1m overnight stays bringing a boost of approximately £70m,” Mr Bradley told a meeting organised by rail lobby group Into The West in Derry’s City Hotel last night

“Liverpool, when it was (European) City of Culture five years ago, had 9.7m visitors and £750m — exactly 10 times what it would cost to fix our railway.

“Not fixing it will damage our international reputation. It will create negative coverage if visitors leave having a negative view of our infrastructure and it will take an awful long time to recover.

“In November this year the actual body which awarded us the City of Culture is coming here to announce the 2014 competition. All those cities entering will be coming here.

“In terms of bed spaces for 2013, we have a shortage and people will want to stay in Coleraine,

along the north coast, and will want to get the trains into the Waterside station, walk across the bridge and be able to go back and get the train.

“If we cannot provide that it will leave a terribly negative impression. The reputation of the city is at stake. The damage to Northern ireland’s reputation will be immeasurable.

“Look at the immense damage done to Delhi when people reported sinks hanging off the wall. We really do not want this to happen.”

The Belfast Telegraph is urging the Transport Minister Danny Kennedy to urgently upgrade the line with our Keep Derry On Track campaign.

Meanwhile, Translink has confirmed that talks have begun with railway staff on the Londonderry line amid fears over possible redundancies. It is understood that two of the three inspectors on the Derry-Coleraine line have already been told their positions are to be reviewed.

Translink yesterday refused to comment on the number of jobs due to be reviewed as it prepares to cut the number of trains running between Derry and Coleraine.

A spokeswoman confirmed negotiations had begun with staff and union representatives from the Transport Salaried Staffs Association.

She said: “A consultation process is currently under way with the trade unions and employees to discuss efficiencies relating to a small number of jobs in Coleraine.

“Further efficiencies will be dependent upon future funding allocations in the North West.”

Background

The full funding for the upgrading of the Londonderry line was allocated by previous Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy. Current Minister Danny Kennedy has confirmed services are to be drastically reduced from January 2012 to facilitate “safety works”. Translink have said that the upgrade will only begin in 2014 if the funding needed is in place for the project.

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