Minister derails hopes of line upgrade for 2013 celebrations
Transport Minister Danny Kennedy's department has ruled out upgrading the Londonderry to Coleraine line in time for the inaugural UK City of Culture celebrations in 2013.
The minister claimed that even if the additional £50 million-plus needed to upgrade the track became available immediately there was no chance of the works being completed in time.
Figures obtained by the Belfast Telegraph - which is pushing for an urgently needed upgrade to the line with our Keep Derry On Track campaign - reveal that not a penny of capital funding has been set aside by the Department for Regional Development for the line in 2013/14.
The DRD capital allocations demonstrate that an initial £5m has been budgeted for safety improvement works during the current 2011/12 financial year.
While up to £2.7m more has now been allocated for the following year, none of the rest of its £1,378m capital budget is due to be spent on the 34-mile stretch from April 2013 to March 2014.
The plans do confirm that £20m of the £75m needed to carry out the work has been allocated for the final year of the DRD's four-year budget in 2014/15, but this still leaves a shortfall of over £50m.
Work to upgrade the line had been due to start this year, with a completion date in early 2013 to facilitate the influx of tourists expected for the City of Culture celebrations.
Translink and DRD, however, have since announced the work will not go ahead until 2014/2015, and may not finish until 2017.
Minister Kennedy this week gave assurances that he would speak with his ministerial colleagues to address the growing concerns over the plans for the Derry line, while attending an emergency cross-party meeting of MPs, MLAs and councillors in Derry.
A spokeswoman for the DRD said: "The immediate availability of additional finance would not now in itself allow the work to be completed before the City of Culture year in 2013 because of the requirements of European procurement law.
"In addressing concerns that the additional £55m needed to complete the full project might not be available in the next Spending Review, the minister made it clear that he would be pressing ministerial colleagues, including the Finance Minister, to make sure that this was not the case. He will be taking any and all available opportunities to make his case in the coming weeks and months."