Cyclist beats “embarrassing” train in race from Derry to Belfast

An SDLP press release issued today reveals the results of a “bicycle versus train” challenge on Sunday, travelling between Derry and Belfast.

John Madden and Peter Jack set off from Derry’s General Post Office at 9.15am.

John threw his leg over his bicycle and broke the Derry to Belfast record (held by Morris ‘Big Mo’ Foster) as he pedalled down to Belfast Albert Memorial Clock (avoiding motorways) in 2 hours 27 minutes.

Meanwhile Peter caught the 09:42 train from Londonderry railway station to Belfast Central and made it to the leaning clock two minutes after the sweating cyclist. [Ed – If they’d started at the railway station the results would have been very different … but what journey ever starts at a transport hub!?]

derry belfast cycle train 2


SDLP MLA Colum Eastwood described the journey time between Derry and Belfast as “embarrassing”.

Limavady solicitor and seasoned triathlete, Peter Jack suggested the challenge in order to highlight the inadequacies of the rail infrastructure between the two cities. The result, while massively impressive in terms of John Madden’s cycling performance, is nothing short of embarrassing for Northern Ireland’s railway system …

The fact that when Peter finally got there, John had been waiting for two minutes. That is a damning indictment of the rail speed between the North’s two main cities.

Calling on Minister Danny Kennedy to complete Phase 2 of the railway upgrade project sooner than expected, Colum Eastwood said:

While a fantastic achievement for John Madden, a man on a bike beating a £5m train between the two biggest cities in Northern Ireland proves how ludicrous the current rail journey time is.

If Peter had delayed the start time and caught the 10am bus he might just have reached the Albert Clock in time.

derry belfast bus cycle

But I wouldn’t fancy John’s chances going the other direction …

Update – Translink note that the Phase 2 work on the Londonderry-Coleraine line has reached the stage of signalling designers being appointed as well as civil designers appointed to progress the new passing loop at Bellarena.

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  • Ní Dhuibhir

    The journey times are terrible, but the whole system is bizarre. I’ve been getting the train between Belfast and Derry a lot over the last year with colleagues, and it’s become a running joke that we never seem to be charged the same fare twice in a row. It’s like they started putting together a modern, digital ticketing process and then stopped halfway. Some ticket sellers insist on giving you a new rechargeable card each time. Machines that look like they exist to recharge these cards do not. Buying tickets online means either getting them posted to your house (!) or standing in the same queue as all the people waiting to buy theirs from the same human at the station. And of course, the Derry station, with no ticket machines, shuts at 5pm. Tourists must be baffled. The ‘system’ is like a bathroom in a furniture shop that’s never actually been plumbed in.

  • Greenflag

    Percy French is alive and well and has moved from West Clare to Derry .

    Well done the bikers .

    Perhaps Phil Coulter can write an update on this ‘Train Classic ” in honour of above bikers 🙂 ?

  • Ah, but how long did Peter spend waiting for the train? If both had left five minutes later, Peter might still have made the train, but would have been ahead of John?

    Where John would definitely have won is if they had started from Foyle Street buscentre at 9.15, Peter getting the rail link bus for a 20 minute wait at the railway station…

  • Turgon

    Improving the line from Londonderry to Coleraine would be helpful but that is a very small step. Yesterday George Osbourne was proposing HS3 a high speed line in the north of England.

    The line from Belfast to Londonderry goes via an extremely circuitous route. If we were serious about a proper integrated transport network we would have a direct line from Belfast to Londonderry. A further line which would help would be one from Portadown to Omagh and then on to Londonderry, ideally with a spur out to Enniskillen. That sounds like a vast increase in provision and is indeed. However, it would also only bring Northern Ireland up to the sort of train service typical in most of mainland GB and would be nowhere near what we once had in terms of rail services.

    In addition properly linking the train service to the airports would be beneficial though I am far from convinced about the viability of City of Derry airport.

    Improving our public transport especially trains would have economic benefits and would also reduce our excessive car culture.

  • Charles_Gould

    Don’t agree with Turgon on a straight line to derry/Londonderry.

    The current line is 100 miles, so that an upgrade to 100 mph speeds could take 1 hr city to City. Hence I would upgrade existing line.

    I do agree that a new line to. Dungannon and omagh would be a good project.

    Finally we should recognise that train services have improved a lot over 10 years.

    Rail travel is now back up to the levels of 60 years ago.

  • Greenflag

    “Rail travel is now back up to the levels of 60 years ago.’

    Well lets hope NI politics doesn’t get to boast of a similar achievement 😉 ?

  • Turgon

    At a maximum speed of 100mph it would actually take rather more than an hour to go 100miles: remember trains accelerate and brake slowly and need to make stops. Hence, you would need a speed a fair bit faster than 100mph and could not stop at other stations. If it were a true express that might work but the stopping trains which are also needed for the in-between stations would have to be integrated into that service which would be difficult especially where there is only single track.

    If one takes Bristol to London (100 miles) I think they still use Intercity 125s (max speed 125mph). The shortest journey time is 1 hour 40 minutes (with four stops).

    You can have truly direct trains but they often need a separate line to the other trains in order for the whole system to run efficiently.

    You could do without a direct line and have the current line upgraded but that would be a major engineering undertaking especially beyond Coleraine where you would need to make a new double track. Even with that since you need stopping trains I doubt you would get the journey time much below 1 hour 30 minutes.

    Clearly a line from Portadown to Dungannon, Omagh and then Londonderry would be good but that would take I guess 2 hours even for an Intercity 125 type of train. I very much doubt the expense of electrification and using the likes of the Intercity 225s the East Coast mainline has could ever be justified.

    Clearly there is an issue of how much one is willing to invest in rail transport especially since our population is small. However, the problem seems a bit cyclical in that whilst the train service is poor few will use it and then improvements cannot easily be justified.

    Currently the service from Bangor to Portadown through Belfast is pretty good but any other for general commuting is problematic.

  • Charles_Gould

    I had in mind an express service and double track most of the way

  • Turgon

    “I had in mind an express service and double track most of the way”

    Double track at places especially Downhill and Benone would require very major engineering. Also as I pointed out an Intercity 125 (diesel capable of 125mph – actually can often get closer to 130) going about 100 miles with 4 stops takes 1 hour 40 minutes. To get people to use trains one really needs them to get to the destination faster than by car so I agree you need a service which takes an hour Belfast to Londonderry. That is going to be extremely difficult on the current 100 mile long track unless you shave no stops. Even then you are probably talking about electrification and Intercity 225 typed trains. Londonderry is not big enough to justify no in between stops: there would be too few passengers.

    A no stop service run alongside the current service would be difficult even on a double track: you might need a separate track along with the serious electric trains. All of that becomes so expensive that a new direct line stopping in Magherafelt and maybe one other stop with fairly fast diesels might be cheaper and almost certainly more cost effective.

  • Charles_Gould


    An internet search shows that from Paddington to Bristol is 120 miles and they’re aiming to get it down to 1hr 20 mins.

    I would agree that 1 hour 20min is probably more realistic with a stop at Coleraine say. Current rolling stock and track are designed for up to 90mph (but not all stretches can go at that speed) and I think the immediate term prospect is to have longer stretches (most of the line) where that speed is attained. That would shave quite a lot of time off the schedule.

    I travel on this line a lot and the increase in patronage over the last 10 years is phenomenal. That shows that there is a big appetite to travel this way. Going by car isn’t actually that nice with the traffic for a lot of cases and people, and there is the fact you can’t work in the car. So time in train is better quality time with the free wifi.

    The train from on that line to Belfast is standing room only a lot of the time – when you get to Co. Antrim. A little investment in nicer trains and better track has made a large difference. So that’s why I think that a good bit more money on improving this existing line (double tracking massively increases capacity) would pay a lot of dividends and could offer a good service end to end.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Interesting stuff.

    How about a L’Derry – Belfast line via Magherafelt (might help to alleviate the awful bottleneck where the motorway ends at Randalstown/Derryhollagh) with an upgrade from Antrim to Coleraine?

    It means we could flog/surrender the north coast part of the track to a heritage group or such like for it is a beautiful stretch of the world but how can you really upgrade that stretch of line around Downhill?

    A line to Enniskillen would of course be good too (and might even encourage the Derry-Sligo line that has been mentioned now and again).

    Given the destruction of the building boom I think it’s fair to say that architectural ‘heritage’ and the environment won’t be the focal point for opposition, we’ve burnt that particular bridge (or thatched cottage to be more precise).

  • Delphin

    The train is a nice way to travel and railways and locomotives are a hobby(horse) to some. Railways excel at transporting large numbers of commuters and connecting big cities. The Belfast – Derry line does neither. In my view the money should be spent on the road.
    A fast direct Belfast – Derry rail connection would probably involve tunnelling through the Sperrins. This was not viable in Victorian times and I don’t think it is viable now.
    To my mind electrifying the Belfast – Dublin line with a connection to Dublin airport, would be the best large scale rail investment for the people of Ireland, both North and South.
    Oh, and well done to the cyclist!

  • Old Mortality

    Am G
    ‘Given the destruction of the building boom I think it’s fair to say that architectural ‘heritage’ and the environment won’t be the focal point for opposition, we’ve burnt that particular bridge (or thatched cottage to be more precise).’

    One bonus of any new line could be the compulsory obliteration of some tasteless rural dwellings, the more the merrier.

  • Am Ghobsmacht


    I’ll happily lend a hand a wield a sledgehammer in such a case…

  • Morpheus

    Maybe before we start talking about the rail network we should concentrate on the roads network and get a high speed ring-road from Belfast to Derry across the top and from Derry to Belfast across the bottom with offshoots to Enniskillen. It’s ridiculous that in 2014 a tractor can still hold so many people up on one of the busiest roads in Northern Ireland