The location of a passing loop is yet to be decided. Options are being considered, and Ballykelly is one such option.
It is hoped that sufficient information will be available by November 2008 to allow a preferred option to be selected. It is intended that the passing loop will be constructed during the Derry/Coleraine track relay.
The Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company has registered an interest with the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and Land and Property Services to purchase land on behalf of Translink. Based on discussions with the relevant parties, it is my understanding that it will be the new year before any firm decisions are made on possible disposal.
I thank the Minister for his answer. When examining location options, will the determination be made on the availability of land or on engineering logistics? When does the Minister expect to know the preferred location for the passing loop?
OFMDFM is progressing the issue of how the land at Ballykelly may be transferred or sold. It is not part of Translink’s consideration, as it is examining the project solely on engineering grounds. That issue could have an impact when it comes to acquisitions, but at present Translink is considering only engineering solutions.
We want to ensure that the MOD is aware of the interest, as the site may be chosen for the passing loop. We should know by next month when the preferred option is selected. Should Ballykelly be selected, discussions should be entered into in early 2009. We have registered an interest with the MOD to ensure that nothing happens to the land that would make a solution more difficult.
That issue has been raised several times, as have rail halts at both Belfast airports. There are criteria for the number of passengers who might use such a service; Aldergrove may be moving towards that target, but the City of Derry Airport is a long way from it.
We want to ensure that we improve and upgrade the line between Derry and Coleraine after the upgrade from Ballymena to Coleraine to ensure that a decent rail service is provided between Belfast and Derry. A rail halt at the City of Derry Airport will not be considered as part of that project. I am happy to keep the matter under review; however, given the criteria used to consider the International Airport, the City of Derry Airport is a long way from meeting those criteria.
The Member will have heard other questions and debates about the Belfast to Derry line. An example of my commitment to that line is the fact that I lifted the investment ban between Coleraine and Derry when I came into office. That allowed the investment for the passing loop at Ballykelly and the improvement in the track relay between Derry and Coleraine. Furthermore, it has allowed commuter traffic into Derry before 9 am for the first time. It has allowed for additional trains on the Belfast to Derry line and has improved the service between Belfast and Derry. Those are examples of my commitment to rail travel.
Rail travel is a very expensive option in relation to infrastructure, but I am committed to it. If that leads us to examine the Knockmore line and the connections between Antrim, Lisburn and Belfast, so be it. We have secured investment for the Belfast to Derry line. There are ongoing improvement works between Belfast and Ballymena and Ballymena and Coleraine. We want to secure and continue the work from Coleraine to Derry until 2011, thus improving the service on the Belfast to Derry line.