The crucial railway line linking Northern Ireland’s two biggest cities will re-open next month, the Roads Minister confirmed tonight.
A £30 million upgrade on the stretch of track between Coleraine and Londonderry was not expected to finish until April but Danny Kennedy said train services would resume a month ahead of schedule on March 24.
For the past nine months passengers travelling between Belfast and Derry have had to use a bus service substitute for the final leg of their journey.
The Minister said: “The railway line was due to open in April but I was keen for the line to be open in time for the Easter holidays and, in particular, to provide transport for all those people attending the key events at the UK City of Culture in Londonderry.”
The rail line, hailed by Michael Palin as one of the most beautiful rail journeys in the world, had been earmarked for closure but campaigners launched a high profile fight to save the route.
Mr Kennedy said the redevelopment work, which is part of a major engineering scheme, secured the track’s long term future.
The first phase of the project involved the relaying of the end sections of the line, re-railing and renewing the centre section, completing essential bridge works and track safety improvements.
Translink will operate nine return journeys between Belfast and Londonderry a day including a train that ensures commuters can arrive in Londonderry before 9am.
The service is also expected to benefit visitors attending City of Culture events in Derry.
The second phase of works which will involve re-signalling works and a new passing loop is planned to start in 2015.
In total the work will cost around £50 million.
Meanwhile, the Trans European Transport Network (TEN-T) confirmed that it will be providing EU funding of 1.6 million euro towards the project.