Page last updated at 23:01 GMT, Thursday, 19 February 2009

Downsized rail network 'speedier'

By Mike McKimm
Environment correspondent

Northern Ireland is about to get one of the smallest publicly-run rail networks in Europe.

Trains run at half speed on the track at present
Trains run at half speed on the track at present

When its main line from Belfast to Londonderry is cut between Ballymena and Coleraine, just three trains will be left to run between the town, Londonderry and the seaside town of Portrush.

But it will only be a temporary network to allow miles of track to be re-laid.

For years the Derry Line, as its become known, has been under threat.

Some politicians claimed there was a plan to let it become so rundown it could be closed.

However, last year saw passenger numbers rise by 20% following the introduction of new modern trains.

But the condition of the track, much of which is over bog land, means that the trains can barely reach half speed at times.

It makes for a slow, uncomfortable and sparse service.

The constant thumping of the train wheels on the track joints every 20 metres is also damaging the new trains.

Using equipment and experts from France and Germany, the track will be re-laid as continuous welded rails.

It will take about four months in total to complete the project which will see trains being able reach much faster operating speeds.

This means more trains operating per hour and a much quieter journey for passengers.

Translink's Mal McGreevy explains the benefits of the work

"Its going to mean a lot more comfort for our passengers", says Mal McGreevy, general manager of rail services for Northern Ireland Railways.

"It's going to mean that our trains travel faster and more consistently.

"It's going to reduce the time between Ballymena and Coleraine from 44 minutes to 34 minutes and ultimately I am looking to get that time down to just over 30 minutes."

Work has already started on the section of line but at the end of March it will be completely closed between Ballymena and Coleraine with a substitute bus service in place.

"We're going to create a very small network that runs from Londonderry to Portrush and we will have a dedicated fleet of trains based in Coleraine", says Mr McGreevy.

"So we probably will have one of the smallest publically operated commercial operations in Europe."

It is hoped the work will be completed by the end of June.

But until then the Derry line will enjoy its moment of fame and independence.

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