The Belfast–Derry line (referred to as the Derry~Londonderry Line by NI Railways) runs from Belfast to Derry in Northern Ireland. The line is double-track on the short section it shares with the Belfast–Larne line, but is composed primarily of single track from Monkstown to Derry with passing points at Templepatrick, Antrim, Magherabeg, Ballymena, Killagan, Ballymoney, Coleraine and Bellarena.
Weekday and Saturday services on the line run hourly from Great Victoria Street in Belfast to Londonderry and vice versa (except weekdays last train from Derry will terminate Lanyon Place). Hourly shuttle services to and from Portrush connect with the line at Coleraine.
On Sundays services from Great Victoria Street to Derry operate every two hours from Derry to Belfast and vice versa. During those hours when trains do not depart from Derry, the shuttle service from Portrush to Coleraine continues on to Great Victoria Street. This means that only passengers departing from Derry, Bellarena and Castlerock have a two-hour wait between departing services.
The first train Monday to Saturday begins at Coleraine and weekends begins from Coleraine.
Prior to 2001 and the reopening of the Bleach Green viaduct, services operated via Crumlin, Glenavy, Ballinderry and Lisburn. The reopening of the Bleach Green viaduct resulted in shorter journeys between Belfast and Derry. A skeleton service continued on the Lisburn–Antrim line until 2003, when the line and its stations were closed. This section of railway is now used solely for driver training or other operational requirements e.g. special services to major events.
Recent history and futureEdit
In August 2011 it was planned to reduce services on the Coleraine to Londonderry section to five services, in each direction on weekdays, to facilitate safety improvement works during 2012. A refurbishment of the line was due to commence in April 2012, however the £75 million that it was to cost, was unavailable. This resulted in opposition from supporters of the section who feared that the line would be permanently closed down.
In October 2011, after years of uncertainty, Regional Development minister Danny Kennedy relocated funding from the A5 dualling project to the railway upgrade project, allowing for a 3-phase upgrade, which commenced in July 2012.
Phase 1 saw the line close for nine months to completely relay two sections (Coleraine to Castlerock; and Eglinton to Derry) of the route, extending the life of the remaining section by converting the currently jointed track to continuous welded rail, elimination of wet spots, and essential bridge repairs. This was completed on 24 March 2013, and new timetable changes have resulted in a morning train reaching Derry before 9:00 am for the first time since Northern Ireland Railways took control of the network in the 1960s.
Phase 2 has seen the passing loop removed and the 'down' track lifted at Castlerock, replaced with a new loop further down the line at Bellarena halt. New signalling has been introduced, and the signal boxes at Castlerock and Waterside, Derry closed, with the line operating under absolute block. An hourly service between Belfast and Derry was introduced on 3 July 2017.
Phase 3 will include rail renewal between Castlerock and Eglinton, the introduction of a 90 mph (140 km/h) line speed between Castlerock and Derry and other works, however funding for this part of the project is doubtful for the foreseeable future.
Other future plans for the Derry line include the reinstatement of the double line from Antrim to Ballymena, and the doubling of the track from Monkstown to Templepatrick. The route terminus in Derry was relocated in October 2019 when the former Belfast and Northern Counties Railway Waterside station reopened, replacing the 1980 terminus.
Burning car on trackEdit
About 9pm on 12 April 2021 a burning car was left on the Belfast-Derry rail line near Bellarena. Translink confirmed the time of the incident and that it involved the 19:10 Belfast to Derry train.
Translink Group chief executive Chris Conway said "the train driver reacted quickly and thankfully brought the train to a stop safely, short of where the car was burning. The train crew ensured all safety procedures were followed with the incident swiftly reported and emergency services attended the scene. The train returned to Coleraine Station, where six passengers got off safely for onward connections by road. It is very fortunate that no-one has been injured in this incident". He also said Translink would be working with the PSNI to investigate.
Minister for Infrastructure Nichola Mallon condemned the incident, saying it left her "deeply concerned and troubled". She also said " am so relieved to hear that passengers and crew are all safe" and “It is unimaginable to think what could have happened this evening had it not been for the prompt action of the driver and crew”. She also said “I want to express my gratitude to them and to the emergency services. I would urge anyone with any information about this incident to contact the PSNI."
PSNI Chief Inspector McIldowney said the incident was "reckless endangerment to life" and praised the "heroics of our colleagues in the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service". He also said "Our investigation is currently underway to establish the circumstances into this incident. We are appealing for any witnesses to contact police on quoting serial number 1945 of the 12/04/21. The railway line currently remains closed at this time."
Railway engineering featureEdit
Coleraine has a bascule bridge for the railway over the navigable River Bann. Just after Castlerock station there are two tunnels created during an event known as the Great Blast in October 1845. Castlerock tunnel is 668 yards (611 m) long and is the longest operational railway tunnel in Northern Ireland. After passing through a short opening trains pass through the shorter Downhill tunnel which is 301 yards (275 m) in length.
Signalling on the line from Great Victoria Street to Slaught level crossing (just south of Ballymena station) is controlled by the Belfast Central control terminal. From Kellswater South, the signalling and level crossings are controlled by the Coleraine signal cabin. Following the signalling upgrade in 2016, the line north of Coleraine is no longer controlled by electric token, instead being centralised in the Coleraine signal box. The signal boxes at Castlerock and Waterside, which previously controlled the token system, have now been closed. The whole of the Belfast to Derry line is now controlled by colour light signals, the last semaphore signals at Castlerock station being removed after the 2016 signalling upgrade. The signal box at Coleraine will be moved to Lanyon Place upon completion of the Belfast Hub project.
- "Derry rail line exceeds 3 million passengers for first time ever". Derry Journal. 15 May 2019.
- "RAIL TIMETABLE Derry~Londonderry Line" (PDF). Translink. Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 December 2012. Retrieved 3 January 2013.
- "Kennedy calls for more money for Londonderry rail link". BBC News. 25 August 2011.
- "Translink start new hourly train service to Londonderry". BBC News. 3 July 2017.
- O’Connor, Niall (13 April 2021). "Burning car left on train track between Belfast and Derry". TheJournal.ie. Press Agency. Retrieved 19 April 2021.
- "Coleraine Bridge - River Bann". Movable Bridges in the British Isles.
- "2020 Anniversaries". The Railway and Canal Historical Society. Retrieved 14 December 2020.
1845 Oct – Londonderry & Coleraine Rly “Great Blast” of rocks near Downhill.
- Caskey, Harry. "History of the Railway". CoastLine Castlerock.org. Archived from the original on 11 March 2012. Retrieved 29 March 2013.
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