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Rail campaign group call for reopening of North West Rail Corridor

A campaign has been launched calling for the reopening of a key railway that served the west of Northern Ireland until the 1960s.

Rail lobby group Into the West said it is almost 60 years since trains last ran on the Great Northern line between Derry and Portadown.

The route included stations at Strabane, Omagh and Dungannon – plus smaller stops along the way – before trains travelled directly on to Belfast and Dublin via Portadown.

The line was controversially closed in 1965 in a decision that ended a century of rail access for Tyrone and Donegal and stripped the west of Ulster of most of its infrastructure.

The closure also severed a vital link between the northwest of the island and Dublin and ushered in decades of car dependency.

Previously in 1953, the railway line between Letterkenny and Derry had also been closed, which greatly impacted the role of NI’s second city as a key transport hub and regional capital.

Since these closures, two whole generations have been raised in Tyrone and Donegal without access to a transport mode that much of the rest of the island takes for granted.

According to Into the West, that has had a negative impact upon the economic growth, population and tourist appeal of the western half of Northern Ireland as a whole.

The public’s desire to see rail return and expand across the North-West has remained strong ever since.

This was shown when the public consultation held as part of the cross-border ‘All-Island Rail Review Strategy’ received its highest number of contributions from the Fermanagh-Omagh and Derry-Strabane Districts – confirming the huge interest that exists across the west of NI for the return and expansion of rail.

Into The West has therefore launched a major campaign that seeks to turn that aspiration into a reality.

They are calling for the restoration of what they have christened ‘The North West Rail Corridor’ – which combines two former rail segments into a new corridor reconnecting most of the largest towns in west Ulster to the island’s rail network.

The North West Rail Corridor route would see trains start in Letterkenny and travel through Derry, Strabane/Lifford, Omagh and Dungannon to Portadown, from where they would continue onwards to either Dublin or Belfast via the existing rail network.

Indicative journey times would be 2hrs 45mins from Derry to Dublin, 1hr 25mins from Omagh to Belfast and 20mins from Dungannon to Portadown.

Chair of Into The West, Steve Bradley, said: “The North West Rail Corridor is an exciting proposal to reopen a much-missed spine of rail that previously connected the North-West of the island to Belfast and Dublin.

"It would mark the return of rail to two of Ireland’s largest counties – Tyrone and Donegal – and put key towns like Omagh, Dungannon, Strabane and Letterkenny back on the rail map.

“By linking these towns and counties directly to the island’s main economic and tourism hubs in Belfast and Dublin, the Corridor would enable employment, tourism and population growth in towns that currently feel neglected and left on the periphery.

“And it would also help bind the North West City Region of Derry, Strabane and Letterkenny much closer together. No other initiative would have as profound an impact across the West of NI as restoring its rail access would.

“And no other rail project on the island would connect such a large number of people across so many significant towns and counties.

“That’s why the North West Rail Corridor should be the top priority rail reopening for governments north and south, and the number one focus for cross-border funding. For too long the West of NI has been left disconnected, disadvantaged and disregarded. Committing to the North West Rail Corridor would enable the authorities north and south to finally prove they are serious about addressing that.”

Into The West has launched this campaign in advance of the release of the findings from the ‘All-Island Rail Review Strategy’, which is likely to be published in 2023.

Lobby group ‘Into The West’ campaigns for the improvement and expansion of rail across counties Derry, Tyrone, Fermanagh and Donegal.

The organisation was founded in 2004 when they successfully defeated a proposal by civil servants to shut the Derry-Belfast rail line west of Ballymena.

Since then they have also secured a major track upgrade of the Derry-Coleraine line and a new transport hub at Derry’s historic Duke Street station.

In recent years the organisation has broadened its focus on making the case for the restoration of key rail routes across the west of Ulster. And now they are campaigning for what they describe as “the number one rail-reopening priority on the island.”

Into The West highlight that the North West Rail Corridor would also serve as a foundation stone for further rail re-openings across the West of Ulster.

Mr Bradley continued: “Fermanagh has been left without rail for 70 years, and the UK Government’s 2021 ‘Union Connectivity Review’ identified Enniskillen’s lack of trains as a particular barrier to its tourism potential.

“The most likely way rail will ever return to Enniskillen would be via Omagh – so realistically the only way to get trains back to Fermanagh is by reopening the North West Rail Corridor. In addition – Mid-Ulster is the fastest growing part of NI and a significant industrial centre.

“Restoring the North West Rail Corridor to Dungannon could therefore enable future re-openings north from there to fast-growing towns like Cookstown and Magherafelt.” 

Rail travel is also more environmentally friendly, with railways producing 80% less greenhouse gas emissions per km than cars, supporting Northern Ireland's climate change targets. Additionally, rail lines can carry approximately 50,000 people per hour, while motorways and major roads can only move around 2,500, significantly reducing traffic build-up and journey times.

What the restored North West Rail Corridor would look like 

Above: What the restored North West Rail Corridor would look like

Support the Campaign

Into The West is calling on everyone who would like to see this vital transport corridor restored and rail returned to the west of Ulster to visit their website ( and sign their petition, which can be found on