Saving the line

In 2004, 6 years after the Good Friday Agreement, Stormont decided to close the only remaining railway line into Derry~Londonderry and County Derry, and only rail link between the two main cities in Northern Ireland.

A group of individuals got together and determined to fight the cuts. They formed the campaign group Into the West and highlighted the plans to the public and canvassed politicians to oppose the plans.

Eventually the plans were shelved and the line was saved from imminent closure, and instead it was agreed to invest in the line and specifically to relay the expired track. Almost twenty years later the line is still open, and passenger numbers have increased 5 fold but yet the track relay is not fully complete and parts of the track declared expired all that time ago are still in use. Furthermore, beyond laying some sections of the track and replacing signalling there have been no improvements to the line in terms of passing loops or new stations that would allow for improved timetabling and faster more frequent services, and there remain some speed restrictions at particular locations for safety reasons.

Nevertheless, the retention of the line remains a resounding success for the campaign and a tribute to the original campaigners without whom the Derry – Belfast line would certainly have ceased.

The old station

Following the successful campaign to save the line from closure, Into the West campaigned to have the former railway station restored. During the troubles the previous station had, like many other beautiful buildings, been bombed and while it had physically survived intact, it was no longer used as a train station. It had been replaced by a functional but unlovely modern building but by the early 2000s that was no longer fit for purpose in terms of space, facilities, or even passenger numbers.

Into the West campaigned that rather than replacing the existing station, located about 100 metres from it architecturally impressive predecessor, that the former station should be restored and returned to its original use as a working railway station. This was a more expensive option than replacing the existing station, and was not the favoured option by Translink, but it captured the public mood for whom it was a reminder of a darker past but equally a brighter future if restored to its former glory.

In 2019, the 1874 Waterside Station re-opened for trains following a £27 million restoration, and the 1980 station was demolished.

To the future

When Into the West was founded the future of rail in Derry looked very bleak. The government had already decided to close it. It was only the efforts of the group with strong public support that finally forced Stormont to rethink.

20 years later, things are very different. Suggesting to close a railway station now would seem absurd. From the railway closures of 70 and 80 years ago, railways are now seem as modern, essential and most of all environmentally sustainable. The public now expect fast, frequent and affordable transport and rail is better placed to provide this between major population services than buses or cars. In some countries, rail even competes with aviation.

Into the West, along with other rail lobby groups, were delighted at the announcement of the All Island Rail Review, to be conducted by Stormont and the Irish government. We also welcome the recent publication of the British Government Union Connectivity Report, in which Derry~Londonderry and West Ulster featured prominently and which recommended restoration of rail services from Derry to Letterkenny, Dublin and Sligo which would also see restoration of services to Strabane, Omagh and Enniskillen.

These two reviews represent a once in a lifetime opportunity to restore rail to the North West of Ireland. With the support of the two governments and the public, we are confident this will finally happen.