Larne rail services to Belfast and Whitehead will be reduced as part of Translink’s plan to address its £13million government funding cuts.
The changes will take effect from August 30.
The Times understands drivers have been told that the three trains on the Larne line will be reduced to two, with two drivers moving to Belfast.
A source contacted us to say the timetable will be altered so that the first train to leave Larne from Monday to Friday will depart later, at 6.50am rather than 5.48am. Meanwhile, the last train servicing the Larne line from Belfast will be brought forward from 11.15pm to 10.55pm.
The source said staff had been told the moves were due to “DRD budget cuts”.
“We have been told there won’t be any jobs cuts but they are looking at voluntary redundancies and cutting the number of managers.”
The source said there was a feeling among local staff that the Larne to Whitehead line was viewed as the “soft option” for cuts.
“We are being told that there aren’t enough people travelling but we are seeing more people on the trains than ever, we can’t understand it.
Chair of Larne Line Passenger Group (LLPG) Elena Aceves-Cully condemned the cuts, which she described as “significant.”
She also claimed Translink had not involved the group in its consultation and called Translink’s failure to publish the revised timetable online “quite misleading”.
Referring to a meeting on the Larne Line between LLPG and NI Railway’s senior management on July 28, she stated: “That meeting was the first occasion the Group was aware of proposed cuts, since previous correspondence from Translink’s General Manager in April stated they were ‘not proposing any service adjustments during the day between Whitehead and Larne, ie hourly frequency will be retained for virtually all of the day.’
“This had been interpreted by the Group as ‘no changes to the timetable,’” she continued.
“At the July meeting Translink explained that cuts focus on the earliest and latest trains and that Saturday services would be reduced from hourly to two hourly.
“Translink advised that the effect of the cuts would be on one to two per cent of all users on the Larne Line.
“The group feels that given the small proportion of Larne Line passengers coming from the Whitehead-Larne section, they will be significantly more affected.”
Mrs Aceves-Cully said that the reduction in the Saturday service from Larne to Belfast would be “difficult and inconvenient” for passengers and would “act as a deterrent to those visitors to the Gobbins and Islandmagee area from using Ballycarry Station, given the half-hourly frequency at Whitehead.”
The LLPG Chair said that the start date for the cuts on August 30 would coincide with the beginning of work to improve Ballycarry Bridge, which she said would affect the station’s opportunity to attract more passengers once the improvements are completed.
“On a very positive note, passenger numbers on the Larne Line continue to rise and it has already taken over the Bangor Line in number of passengers, being only second to the Portadown Line,” she continued
“Other factors like The Gobbins Cliffs opening next week will increase the popularity of this station and we want all relevant public bodies to get involved to actively promote the Larne Line.
“We know the pressure Translink is under and that pressure is coming from the budget and the Assembly, they are not being given sufficient budget to run adequate services so the blame is the Assembly’s rather than Translink’s,” she concluded.
A Translink spokesperson confirmed that the Saturday service from Larne to Belfast is being reduced from an hourly service to one train every two hours,
She stated: “There have been retimings of some service resulting from the consultation exercise with passengers earlier this year. Some services have been combined or retimed; it is very important that passengers check the timetable before they travel to see how changes may affect their normal travel plans.
“The first train to Belfast will depart Larne at 06.50am. The final train from Belfast Central to Larne will depart at 22.55pm.
“An hourly frequency will operate during the off peak between Whitehead and Larne Monday through Friday with a two-hourly frequency on Saturdays. However the frequency between Whitehead and Belfast will remain broadly unchanged. Changes will come into effect on August 30.”
The spokesperson said that Translink will hold public information sessions in Larne Train Station on Tuesday August 18, from 4pm–6pm, and Larne Bus Station on Tuesday August 25 from 10am-12pm, to assist passengers with planning their journeys.
Translink staff will also travel on board local rail services to engage with passengers from August 17.