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'Heads should roll' over £20m Coleraine-Derry rail fiasco

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DUP MLA Jimmy Spratt claimed someone should be held to account for the 'fiasco'

DUP MLA Jimmy Spratt claimed someone should be held to account for the 'fiasco'

DUP MLA Jimmy Spratt claimed someone should be held to account for the 'fiasco'

Heads should roll over the handling of a railway project which has run £20 million over budget, the Northern Ireland Assembly has been told.

Costs to upgrade the line between Coleraine and Londonderry have more than doubled to over £40 million while difficulties in finding signalling equipment suppliers have also caused major delays to the second phase of the project, MLAs heard.

DUP MLA Jimmy Spratt claimed someone should be held to account for the "fiasco".

He said: "If he (the Transport Minister) is not prepared to sack folks within his department or Translink, will he consider his position?"

The comments were made during Question Time.

It was originally thought improvements to the 30-kilometre stretch of railway - described by Michael Palin as among the most beautiful journeys in the world - would cost around £20 million.

But last year officials at the Department for Regional Development were forced to admit they had vastly underestimated the cost of creating a passing loop and introducing new signalling for trains.

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Mr Spratt, a former chairman of Stormont's regional development scrutiny committee which launched an inquiry into the overspend, also claimed there was a "cosy relationship" between public transport operator Translink and the Department for Regional Development.

However, Transport Minister Danny Kennedy defended his handling of the situation and accused the South Belfast MLA of grand-standing.

He hit back: "I am sorry that it is not possible to nominate anyone now for an Oscar so soon after the event overnight.

"The member (Mr Spratt) well knows that I have expressed my displeasure to Translink at the sequence of events which led to this."

Mr Kennedy also claimed that completion of the project was now his priority.

"We are in a position where we are moving forward on this scheme, not least thanks to the actions that I have taken," he added. "I have made clear that there will be no hiding place for anyone in terms of lessons learned.

"But what I am particularly interested in is moving forward to see the project successfully completed. That's the task that I have set myself.

"I believe that's what people in the region of the north west want to see. We can do the 'redding' up later."

Meanwhile, there were also calls for a new Translink chief executive to be legally obliged to stay in post for a "reasonable" period of time.

Earlier this month David Strahan announced he was quitting the £150,000-a-year job to become a gospel preacher.

Mr Strahan, who will step down in the autumn, only took up the post last October, replacing Catherine Mason, who was previously Northern Ireland's highest paid public official.

Mr Kennedy said: "The decision by the current chief executive, Mr Strahan, was a highly personal decision which I completely respect. As I have indicated, the appointment process is a matter to be handled by the board.

"But I do hope, looking forward, that we can look forward to a degree of stability because there are challenging financial issues to be addressed and it would be important that (a), the appointment is made at the earliest possible time, but also that we can get some degree of stability as we move into the future."

The chief executive's salary would be a matter for negotiation, according to the minister.


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