THE first of Translink’s 20 new trains to enter passenger service left Larne last week, with Northern Ireland Transport Minister Danny Kennedy on board.
Mr Kennedy, who was in the town on Thursday to meet local councillors and Larne Traders’ Forum, caught the train back to Central Station, Belfast, where he officially launched the £150 million New Trains Programme, which includes the CAF 4000 units and a new train maintenance facility at Adelaide, as well as the extension of some platforms to accommodate the new trains.
It was a big day for Larne Line rail users, who have put up with ageing, leaky and draughty rolling stock while passengers elsewhere on the network had the relative luxury of CAF 3000 trains since they were introduced in 2005.
Mr Kennedy promised: “When all 20 new trains are introduced into service railway passengers will experience a step-change in service reliability and improved accessibility. Importantly, these new trains will replace all the old fleet currently operating on the network, delivering an overall improved quality of railway services.”
Wilson welcomes progress on Larne line trains
East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson, who was at Central Station for the launch, said he had “constantly made the case” for improvements to the Larne line, including better trains, better stations and more facilities such as park and ride.
“It is very satisfying to see the launch of the new trains today and the real improvements that have taken place over the last number of years,” added the Finance Minister.
“I know that passengers on the Larne line have had to put up with a lot and I know that these new, more reliable trains will be welcomed by all who use the line, and I hope that it encourages more people to take the train. Passengers will be glad to know that all the trains on the line will be replaced by new ones by January,” said Mr Wilson.
“This has been a long awaited project; however there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that we have a first class train service in East Antrim. As an elected representative I will continue to lobby Translink and the Department of Regional Development to ensure that the service continues to improve,” he added.
John Trethowan, chairman of Translink, commented: “Modernisation of Northern Ireland rail services, including the introduction of the first C3k train fleet supported by a programme of service enhancements, has resulted in over 60 per cent growth in passenger numbers in the last 10 years, culminating in a record 10.4m journeys last year - the highest since the 1960s. As the new fleet is rolled out we hope that even greater numbers of people choose the train.”
To date, three of the new Class 4000 trains have completed the extensive testing programme that is required under European regulations and are now available for passenger service, with a further two trains approaching final testing. Translink expects that all 20 will be fully commissioned and in service during 2012.
The Class 4000 trains boast enhanced facilities including new on-board multipurpose areas to better accommodate parents with buggies, increased seating capacity which has risen to 212 and additional room for bicycles, with a maximum of eight now possible to be carried on-board. Facilities contained within the current C3k fleet, such as state-of-the-art visual and audible passenger information systems, digital CCTV and toilet and baby changing are also available on the new trains.
The new trains are also said to be “highly eco-friendly” - more fuel efficient with reduced carbon emissions and have an eco driving meter to assist drivers in managing fuel consumption”.
While the upgrade will be welcomed, passengers and staff alike on the Larne Line have expressed concerns about future rail provision.
As reported by the Larne Times, staff have been consulted on proposals to cut the number of early-morning trains to Belfast from Larne on a daily basis, along with a reduction in the Larne-Whitehead service.
Cllr John Mathews told Larne Borough Council recently that Translink’s rail network general manager Mal McGreavey would like to meet with them soon to discuss service provision.