Belfast and Derry are NI’s largest cities, and key economic drivers for their regions. However – poor infrastructure has long prevented Derry from genuinely fulfilling either its potential or its role as regional capital of the North-West.
Whilst the existence of a rail line to Derry is positive for the region, the track and service in the west is second rate and very much the ‘poor relation’ on the line.
The track was deemed ‘grade expired’ when civil servants proposed shutting the line in 2004. After campaigning by Into the West, it was eventually scheduled for renewal in 2013, but then due to Derry~Londonderry gaining the title of UK City of Culture 2013, the track relay was instead broken into 3 phases and delayed again.
The 3rd and final phase of that track renewal work has still not been allocated funding, will happen no earlier than 2027, and is proposed to entail closure of the track for almost one year.
The slow speed and limited frequency of rail services between Derry and Belfast were amongst the issues highlighted in the 2021 Union Connectivity Review.
The end-to-end journey time from Derry-Belfast by train is 2hrs 12mins. This is significantly slower than by road, compounded by the state of the track, numerous speed restrictions and longer coastal route.
In 2014, cyclist John Madden, gained media attention by racing – and beating – the train from Derry to Belfast.
With the A6 Derry-Belfast road currently being part-dualled, this journey-time disparity will only worsen when that new stretch of road opens in Summer 2022.
The 34 miles of track west of Coleraine are single-width, with only one location where trains can pass each other (at Bellarena station). This severely limits capacity & frequency of service to/from Derry and the two other stations in the west. In contrast, the line east of Coleraine has passing loops approximately every 8-10 miles, so does not face these limitations. That section of the line is therefore enabled to have a rush hour frequency of one train every 30mins from Belfast between 4-6pm on weekdays. However these services can only travel as far as Coleraine, however, as they cannot be accommodated west of there.
So in addition to campaigning to have the line relaid, Into the West have campaigned to have additional passing loops installed west of Coleraine, to facilitate improvements to the timetabling and frequency on the line.