Translink has been accused of “starting to abandon” the Larne line rail service during a Stormont debate on East Antrim rail services.
The comment was made by East Antrim Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson during an adjournment debate on October 13, when he accused the company of “salami-slicing services.”
Only two other MLAs attended the debate; UUP MLA Roy Beggs and Sinn Féin MLA Daithí McKay, who was standing in for Oliver McMullan. DUP DRD Minister Michelle McIlveen was absent from the debate.
Mr Dickson said the local rail service had been “downgraded” and the timetable changes were dissuading commuters from travelling by train.
“Indeed, it seems that, bit by bit, Translink is starting to abandon the Larne line by reducing services to Larne, Whitehead and even Carrickfergus,” he stated. The new timetable means that trains now run less frequently, fewer stations are serviced and, ultimately, it makes it downright awkward to use the train in East Antrim, driving commuters back to their cars.”
Mr Dickson said Translink’s consultation exercise was “wholly inadequate” and “has been described by many as nothing short of a farce.”
“What the people of East Antrim truly need is a good, efficient and frequent service to encourage people to leave the convenience and comfort of their car and use our new, quality trains,” he continued.
Mr Dickson called upon Translink to invest in the Larne Line by providing park and ride facilities at Ballycarry, reopening the Whitehouse Halt and examining the potential for connecting services with Larne Harbour.
Chair of Larne Line Passenger Group Elena Aceves-Cully, whose group has organised a petition to reinstate the former Larne line rail timetable, commented: “Stewart’s words echo ours 100 per cent, he is saying what our passengers are crying out. We have reached 2,000 signatures and our petition will be presented to the Assembly on November 2.”
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin MLA Daithí McKay called on Translink to show “common sense” and “ambition” over its plans for the Larne line timetable.
Speaking during the debate on East Antrim rail services, Mr McKay, who was standing in for East Antrim MLA Oliver McMullan, commented: “There should be greater investment in the Larne line and there should be more common sense when it comes to the timetables. If we want to improve the night-time economy in our towns and cities, we need to have a late-night train service.”
Hailing the success of park and ride initiatives, Mr McKay continued: “If you build the park-and-ride infrastructure around the train halts, increase the uptake of the service by increasing the number of halts and increase the electrification of the line in the longer term, you will have a better service with better choice and you will have more people using the railways.” Mr McKay called for DRD Minister Michelle McIlveen to increase the percentage of funding for public transport.
UUP MLA Roy Beggs also praised the success of park and ride facilities in Carrick, Whitehead, Whiteabbey and Greenisland, and said that the creation of additional park-and-ride opportunities needed to be examined.
“I note and support Mr Dickson’s view that Ballycarry should be considered as a park-and-ride facility, given that Whitehead is at full capacity and there are few other options in the area,” he continued.
Mr Beggs said there had previously been a “dearth of investment for many, many decades” in the Larne line. He criticised overcrowding, the withdrawal of the early morning and late evening services and the reduction of the frequency of weekend services to Belfast from two-hourly to hourly.
“Whilst many would wish the retention of the timetable, given the costs, I am fearful that that may not be easily achievable,” he continued.
“If not, I ask Translink to say what it will do, how it will build the numbers and work with Ulsterbus feeder services to build those numbers and provide a public transport service so that more people will be able to travel earlier and later and get to their work or place of entertainment.”
A Translink spokesperson stated: “There are no plans to reopen the former Whitehouse station in Whiteabbey. This station is located on a 70mph stretch of track and to re-open the station would add a minimum of three minutes into the Larne line services and would also result in a complete revision of all timetables on all other routes to accommodate departures from/to Belfast.
“There are plans to develop a number of park and ride facilities in the East Antrim area, however these do not currently include a facility at Ballycarry.”