Rail line featured on TV to reopen
One of Northern Ireland's most scenic railway lines is reopening ahead of schedule following a £30 million upgrade.
Safety and engineering work on the spectacular route along the Atlantic-facing North Coast from Coleraine to Londonderry - the UK City of Culture - halted train services for almost eight months.
The rails pass miles of almost empty beaches and rolling breakers. Broadcaster and travel writer Michael Palin and former Conservative cabinet minister Michael Portillo are among those who have experienced a 47-minute trip featured on the BBC's Great British Railway Journeys.
Mr Palin said: "I am delighted to hear about the reopening of the railway line between Coleraine and the city of Derry-Londonderry. Good sense has prevailed; I'm sure it will be of great benefit to local people and also tourists visiting this particularly beautiful part of Northern Ireland."
Lobbyists campaigned to save the service after government funding for the overhaul was in danger of delay. Stormont gave the go-ahead for the work in 2011.
Friday a special train departs Belfast to mark the inaugural passenger journey to Londonderry, picking up civic dignitaries and community representatives along the route between Northern Ireland's two largest cities.
Mr Portillo said: "It's great news that the Coleraine to Derry-Londonderry line has been improved. As I was able to see for myself it is one of the most beautiful rail journeys in these islands and now regular travellers and tourists can look forward to a smoother ride and better schedules. I wish I could be there to enjoy that lovely scenery again on the inaugural run."
The North Coast is renowned as a destination for surfers, golfers and holiday makers, drawn to beaches like the award-winning Downhill Strand at the end of 11km of sand, much of it adjacent to the train line. The area also features the World Heritage site of the Giant's Causeway, near Portrush and a short drive from the station in Coleraine.
Transport company Translink chief executive Catherine Mason said: "This project will secure the long-term future and sustainability of the Northern corridor rail link which provides vital connections to jobs, colleges, universities, shops, businesses and local attractions. Its revival will help strengthen the economic landscape in the North West and will also mean that the train is an attractive way to reach the UK City of Culture to join the celebrations planned for the months ahead."
New rail weighing 5,600 tonnes was laid and a bridge over the Bann River in Coleraine completely refurbished. Another span was replaced. The work is expected to secure the future of the route for more than 30 years. The normal day return adult fare from Coleraine to Londonderry is £13, with children half price, or £8.70 for those travelling off peak. Travel time has reduced to 42 minutes.