Rail campaign moves up gear
Protesters pledge mass demonstration over threatened train service
The Transport Minister has been warned that if major upgrading work to the rail line between Londonderry and Coleraine is not carried out before the City of Culture celebrations in 2013 there will be mass protests at Stormont.
Minister Danny Kennedy faced a barrage of criticism in the city yesterday, where he met disgruntled MPs, MLAs and councillors - many of whom have backed the Belfast Telegraph's Keep Derry On Track campaign to save the picturesque rail route.
Mayor Maurice Devenney called the meeting after it was announced that work planned by Translink to upgrade the line will now not go ahead, and that a much reduced service will come into operation in 2012 - which many fear will eventually lead to the closure of the line.
SDLP councillor Gerard Diver warned the minister that he will face mass protests if the work does not proceed as planned.
"We are sick of being second best. The Executive needs to sit up and listen to the people of this city, and if we need to reprioritise then do it," he said.
"The people of this city and region will march en masse to Stormont if this does not go ahead."
East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell said: "There are people who believe that anything short of a full upgrade will result in closure - but we can do this and I propose a high-powered delegation seek a meeting with the First Minister's office and that the finance minister (Sammy Wilson) be at that meeting .
"We have to try and find the money, and I believe that it can be done by 2013. The money must be found somewhere as a matter of urgency."
Foyle MP Mark Durkan suggest that the additional £52m needed to make up the £75m needed for the work could be drawn from the budget exchange mechanism.
The SDLP man added that a "make do" approach to projects in the north west was not acceptable, especially during the City of Culture events in 2013.
"The other cities we were up against for the title, like Norwich, Sheffield and Birmingham, are still smarting that they lost out to Derry, so it is unthinkable that this will not proceed," he said.
Eamonn McCann of campaign group Into the West said he was pleased Mr Kennedy had committed himself to the railway, but added: "I hope you are not offended if I say we have heard it all before.
"In fact when we were looking back to when our campaign began in 2004, everyone we spoke to - including previous ministers and senior staff from Translink - all said they were fully and completely committed to the rail line between Derry and Coleraine.
"The decision to go ahead must be made immediately so that the work can be completed by 2013.
"In June 2013, the Turner Prize will be awarded in Derry and the final's exhibition will be in Derry. What better way to market the city than to bring the judges, finalists here by train in a fast modern carriage, down along the sweeping Foyle and beautiful scenery with the wonderful views? But the question that needs to be posed today is 'Is Derry the second city or is Derry a second class city?'"
Mr Kennedy responded by saying he would seek a meeting with his Executive colleagues including Mr Wilson "to see what we can do creatively to get this to happen".
He added: "It would be easy for me to say that I want to do this but Sammy Wilson, as the Finance Minister, will not give me the money. But I am not going to play to the public gallery.
"There are practical difficulties about making this happen by 2013 and they will not be easy to overcome, but I want to work towards a solution that everyone can be happy with."
If you want to support our Keep Derry On Track campaign, please get in touch with us. It is crucial that as many passengers as possible let Northern Ireland's politicians know how important the rail service is. Please email: firstname.lastname@example.org