A new express service on the Londonderry line has shaved 20 minutes off the journey time to Belfast — despite plans by Translink to introduce cuts from January.
Yesterday saw the introduction of a Sunday express train from Derry, leaving at 10.23am and arriving, via Coleraine, in Belfast at 12.07am.
Railway campaigners Into The West said the new 1 hour 45 minute service proved that if the will was there rail journey times between Northern Ireland’s two main cities, which normally take over two hours, could be slashed.
An additional Sunday morning train service was also introduced yesterday from Coleraine to Belfast due to demand.
Despite the new measures, the return evening ‘Belfast to Derry’ express train only goes as far as Coleraine and Portrush.
Into The West has questioned why express services could not be used during the week as well, to get commuters from Derry and the wider north west to Belfast in time for work.
At present the first train leaving Derry in the morning goes from Waterside station at 6.38am and arrives in Belfast at 8.52am — leaving just eight minutes for most people to get to work.
An express service via Coleraine could result in an extra 30 minutes to get from the station in Belfast to workplaces.
Into The West spokesman Jim McBride said that the new express train and the additional service from Coleraine proved that usage continues to increase on the Derry line.
He added the journey time on trains to Belfast could rival buses and cars, even with the current restrictions on the Derry line.
“It could be much quicker if this line was upgraded,” Mr McBride said.
“If they offered this express service Monday to Friday it would turn people away from cars and the congested roads and the bottlenecks at Sandyknowes and the Westlink onto public transport, which is the stated aim of the Department for Regional Development.”
Figures from Translink show that demand for the Derry line has increased massively over the last decade.
The Belfast Telegraph is currently running a campaign, Keep Derry On Track, to highlight the threat that now exists to the Derry line.
A £75m upgrade, which was due to get under way this year, has been shelved until at least 2014/15, with rail services to be slashed from January 2012.
The Department for Regional Development has allocated just £20m of the funding needed to upgrade the line before the next Assembly elections.
The Telegraph has also learned that the £7m Transport Minister Danny Kennedy revealed last week had now become available for the Derry line will be spent on just one section of it.
In a further development, the Department for Regional Development has confirmed it has not yet applied for specific funding set aside by the European Union to go towards major infrastructure projects, under the TEN-T Agency, to help plug the hole in funding required for the Derry line.
A spokeswoman said: “The next call for applications from the TEN-T Agency is anticipated to be in December 2011 and officials from the Department will liaise closely with the Agency staff to determine if the call criteria meets the aims of this project. If these discussions prove successful, then an application for funding will be submitted.”
Mr McBride said there seemed to be a lack of political will towards upgrading the Derry line.
“This line could be relaid in a matter of months and could be completed before 2013 if the political will was there to do it.
“Instead there is going to be a patch-up job which is only a short term fix so it’s a waste of money. Why not do the whole project properly at once?
“This line also qualifies for European funding. Why is the DRD not making the most of that to date? Why not look at as many funding avenues as possible?”
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: email@example.com