One hundred and fifty years after the first passenger ferry sailed between Larne and Stranraer, a Scottish community-led partnership has urged much greater liaison on either side of the North Channel to save protect and promote rail services.
In October, 1862 the paddle steamer SS Briton, operated by the Glasgow-Belfast Steam Packet Company, made the crossing and on Monday this week, members of SAYLSA - the Stranraer-Ayr Line Support Association - made the return journey, albeit from Cairnryan, given that the final ferry link with Stranraer link was cut last year.
On their arrival in Larne, SAYLSA trustees Richard Carr and Susan Cartlidge took the train to Belfast, 150 years to the day after the Larne-Carrickfergus line opened, making it possible to travel by train and boat between all the way betweenLondon and Belfast.
Richard said: “SAYLSA was set up in 2007 to promote the rail link to and from the towns of Maybole, Girvan and Stranraer and the surrounding districts of Carrick and Wigtownshire in south west Scotland. The railway was built precisely because of the emergence of ferry services at the shortest crossing point between the British mainland and Ireland.
“We were very concerned at Stena’s plans to close the ferry terminal at Stranraer and move to Cairnryan.”
Richard explained: “SAYLSA acts as a community rail partnership, having been formed by people from the local community keen to play a part in promoting the line, its facilities and its train services to ensure its future when Stena relocated their ferry services to Loch Ryan Port on Monday November 21 2011, by-passing Stranraer and the rail terminus there altogether.
“SAYLSA believes there are freight and other opportunities beyond simply serving existing ferry passengers, especially tourism. Like the famous Settle to Carlisle Railway in northern England, the Stranraer to Ayr line runs through equally spectacular scenery, some of the most beautiful, yet relatively undiscovered, in Scotland.”
SAYLSA is keen to network with the Larne Line Passenger Group which campaigns for better rail services locally, as well as the district councils, MLAs and anyone else with an interest in maintaining the transport links between Northern Ireland and Scotland.
“We would also like to get involved with schools in the area to promote the rail and ferry services, as well as working with the ferry operators to further develop these links,” said Richard, who urged anyone interested to ring him on 07977 139 447, visit SAYLSA at www.saylsa.org.uk, or by emailing saylsa@tiscali. co.uk