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There's no doubt about rail project

In response to Eamonn McCann's column on the transport system in the west (February 11), I would like to point out a number of facts.

I am supportive of the principle of rail links to and through the north west of Ireland. You will appreciate however, that my priority at present is to improve and upgrade existing railway lines as quickly as possible within funding limits.

I met representatives from Donegal County Council in January 2009 and explained that I would be happy to consider the findings of any feasibility study into aspects of rail development. I agreed to match any contribution from the south towards the cost of the study. I remain open to consider any specific proposals.

Since coming into office I have removed any restrictions on investment on the railway line. There is no 'serious doubt' about the £75m plan to relay Derry to Coleraine, as Mr McCann alleges. I have publicly committed to plans for the next few years which will ensure delivery of a batch of new trains and improved rail infrastructure from Coleraine to Derry.

My current priority is to ensure these key projects are delivered and financed as Executive plans are firmed up. Some £700m has been spent or is planned on the rail network infrastructure.

Around £86m will be invested in infrastructure and additional trains for the Belfast to Derry line. A £12m project to extend the track life of the line between Ballymena and Coleraine has been carried out.

In relation to Mr McCann's comments on the A5, he alleges consultation has not taken place, but Roads Service has held a series of public consultations at various stages of the development of the A5 project. Since the announcement of the preferred route, Roads Service and Mouchel have had meetings with directly affected landowners and further meetings are planned.

It is proposed to publish draft orders in late 2010 and this will start another consultation period which will result in a public inquiry in 2011 where all unresolved issues can be discussed.

It is untrue to state that a visual impact assessment was carried out by helicopter. If Mr McCann had read the preferred options report he would note that Tully Bog has been avoided and is unlikely to be impacted upon.

CONOR MURPHY

Minister for Regional Development

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