Waterside railway station a ‘glorified hut’

LONDONDERRY’S Waterside railway station was labelled a ‘glorified hut’ by one MLA whilst another complained that the last time the number of trains to the city increased was in 1952.

The claims were made during an evidence session at the Stormont Transport committee before Christmas.

East Londonderry MLA Cathal Ó hOisín welcomed ongoing work on the line, which was necessary to avoid it being closed.

But he said services on the line have been less than satisfactory in the past.

“On the whole, it has probably been less than satisfactory over the years, and I would have used it quite often. The work on the Derry/Coleraine line, though welcome, simply will not significantly improve the timing between Derry and Belfast, which is about two hours and 20 minutes.

“That will not be significantly reduced. The station in Derry is a glorified hut, for want of a better word, which is far from satisfactory,” he told the Committee.

His East Londonderry colleague John Dallat also complained about the line saying this is the only place in Europe where the two main cities aren’t connected with a good railway track.

“I welcome the increased number of trains from Coleraine to Belfast. You may have heard me say to the Minister earlier that the last time the number of trains to Derry increased was 1952 under the old Unionist regime.

“When can we expect an intercity service? I have travelled reasonably widely, and I know of no other country in Europe in which the two principal cities do not have a decent railway connection,” he said.

He directed his comments to the Translink Chief Executive Catherine Mason who said the frequency of trains between Belfast and Coleraine was to be increased by 50 per cent with an hourly service for passengers.

She explained that the Londonderry railway is closed now because if work had not been carried out it would literally have meant the end of the line.

Ms Mason explained: “As regards what is signed off, John, we are in phase 1 of the renewal work. The line is closed at the moment. What will happen when that line reopens is broadly to reinstate what was there before the line was closed.

“If we had not closed the line and done the work, we would not have kept the service. The line was at the end of its useful life. This work is being done to keep the line in place.”

Phase 2 - which will include some signalling work and the creation of a passing loop - will take place in 2014/15 if funding remains available and this could allow an increased service.

“However, to increase the service, John, we will need more public service obligations (PSO),” said Ms Mason. “If you have a deficit-funded railway - which is what every railway is everywhere - and put out more service, there is a cost to the public purse as well as to the passenger.”

She also admitted it was vital to “work incredibly hard” to get the line re-opened on schedule in March 2013 - three months into Londonderry UK City of Culture.

“The Minister also indicated that we had a challenging programme ahead of us. The first phase has been completed, but who can tell what the winter will be like?

“It is far too early to make an assessment, but we continue to press our contractors hard, and they are responding very well to the work. They know the date, we know the date, and understand the importance of it,” she stated.