A PUBLIC meeting aimed at gathering support for the preservation of services on the Larne railway line has been hailed as a success by the organisers of the event.
The “Use it or Lose It” campaign, set up by Larne Line Passenger Group (LLPG), hopes to get across the message that unless there is an increase in passenger numbers on Larne line, then Translink may be forced to cut back on less popular services between Larne and Whitehead.
And over 140 people packed into the McNeill Theatre at Larne Leisure Centre on the evening of Tuesday, March 6, demonstrating the strength of public feeling over the proposed cutbacks.
Among those in attendance at the meeting were several councillors from Larne, Carrickfergus and Newtownabbey Borough Councils, two local MLAs, and three senior managers from Translink.
Elected representatives spoke in favour of improving the Larne line and how to make this happen. Members of the public also had an opportunity to ask questions to the representatives from Translink and were also encouraged to sign a petition by LLPG for two additional express services to run between Larne Harbour to Great Victoria Street.
The pressure group has already collected 200 signatures and plans to gather 1000 in total before handing the petition to Translink.
Elena Aceves-Cully, LLPG’s secretary said: “We are urging everyone in East Antrim to support our petition. This can be done by accessing our website www.llpg.org.uk and entering our discussion forum, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org with the person’s full name and town they travel from or at our facebook page.”
Mrs Aceves-Cully added that the public meeting served as a platform to prove to Translink and the Department for Regional Development (DRD) that people in East Antrim and Larne in particular want the Larne line to stay open and be improved.
She added: “The aim of our Use It or Lose It Campaign is to improve the popularity of the Larne line as a definite alternative to the use of the car. We have been told by Translink that even though number of passengers on this line has been improving over the last 12 months, the patronage on the section between Whitehad and Larne is still very low. “We feel that if the prospect of cuts in service frequency between Whitehead and Larne materialise, that will have a devastating effect on the Larne as we think that over time passenger numbers will decrease even more, to a point that this section could be closed altogether.”
Mrs Aceves-Cully also said that LLPG had been given assurances from Mal McGreevy, general secretary of NI Railways, that any potential cuts would be delayed as long as possible, at least until the summer of 2013.
“We think that this will give Larne passengers a chance to see how much better the service is now that we have new CAF 4000 trains and should increase passenger numbers considerably. If DRD sees that passenger usage has then increased, they will surely be persuaded to provide the extra funding to keep the line running as at present,” she added.
Mr McGreevy said he welcomed the “very positive and constructive input” which LLPG has made in respect of future services on the Larne line, particularly between Whitehead and Larne.
“We are now operating virtually all Larne line services using new trains and service performance both reliability and punctuality is significantly better,” he added.
“In addition, with the rising cost of fuel, passengers are finding taking the train rather than the car to be more economically viable and many who have already made the switch to travelling by train have said that they are able to spend their travel time relaxing, reading or browsing the web with their phone.”
Councillor Mark McKinty also described the meeting as “a great success” and thanked Translink for its support.
He added: “Members of the public were able to hear of the vast improvements in the rail service to East Antrim in the past number of years.
“Speakers shared their experiences of the improved service, and I myself spoke of my own personal experience of regular delays and cancellations and how this is no longer a reality on the Larne line.
“I highlighted how the A8 and A2 schemes will mean people need to use the train, and also how future developments at the Gobbins and Magheramorne Quarry will require a dedicated rail service. The Larne line is the most scenic stretch of railway I have ever travelled on.”
However, the Ulster Unionist man said the public meeting was “only the beginning” of the campaign to secure services on the Larne line.
“As we heard at the meeting, people need to start using the train. We have new trains which are comfortable and efficient. The future of the Larne line depends on members of the public supporting the service.
“I reiterate my closing words from the meeting - regular train users need to spread the word on how effective the service is, occasional users should plan trains into their journey, and non-train users should try the train. I assure you that you will be impressed,” he concluded.