NEW passenger figures show that rail policy in East Antrim over a 10-year period was a “disgrace”, Assemblyman Roy Beggs Jnr has claimed.
The East Antrim Ulster Unionist representative said that the recent upsurge in passenger journeys on the Larne Line to 2.4 million demonstrated that delaying the deployment of new train sets up to 2011 amounted to ”discrimination”.
Mr Beggs added: “Recent figures released in response to questions I have asked at Stormont are encouraging. Over the past year the Larne line has seen a bigger percentage increase in passenger numbers (12 per cent) than the three other major suburban rail routes in Northern Ireland.
“Undoubtedly that is related to the introduction last year of 20 brand new state-of-the-art trains on the service. It is still early days, but I would be confident that trend will continue this year and next. In fact I have been encouraging Translink to introduce more six-carriage train sets to cope with the increased demand on peak services.”
The Assemblyman has examined rail passenger trends on NIR/Translink, having received data in response on questions he has placed at the Assembly in recent years.
“It is instructive to note that passenger numbers on the Belfast suburban rail lines of Bangor, Portadown and Larne were very similar in the 1990s and in 2002/3 the Larne Line was marginally the most popular rail line in Northern Ireland,” he reflected.
Mr Beggs said: “Investment in new rolling stock was agreed by the Assembly, but at some point someone in Translink and the DRD decided to leave all the old trains on the Larne Line and only put the new Spanish Class 3000 trains on service on the Londonderry, Bangor and Portadown lines. The results as detailed in the figures are stark: Since the introduction of the new trains in 2005 passenger numbers on the Londonderry, Bangor and Portadown lines have, up to the recent end of the 2012/13 financial year, increased by 90, 78 and 81 per cent respectively.
“Meanwhile, under DUP and Sinn Fein control of the DRD - and therefore public transport policy - the Larne line was neglected and customer numbers flatlined, only increasing slowly. No wonder that service failures led to the rise of a passenger lobby group - the Larne Line Passenger Group - in the mid-noughties.”
He claimed: “Thankfully now, under Ulster Unionist DRD Minister Danny Kennedy, the Larne Line has finally seen new state-of-the-art train sets being introduced. The effect has been immediate: numbers are up and I am now receiving emails from people who are struggling to get sitting down on some peak-time services.
“Even on the Larne-Whitehead section of the line, the sustainability of which at times has been questioned, the numbers are up. The total number of passenger movements on the section between Larne and Whitehead was 262,392 in 2011/12. This number increased to 294,627 in 2012/13.”
Mr Beggs said: “This is good news, but what a shame we are having to play catch-up after years of neglect. I would again encourage anyone who has not used the train for a while to give it a try. You will be pleasantly surprised at the excellent new service.”