Ballycarry Halt is key to Larne rail survival

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A PARK ‘n’ ride facility for commuters at Ballycarry could be key to securing the continuation of rail services between Larne and Whitehead, the Larne Line Passenger Group (LLPG) has urged.

The lobby group claims that road safety issues – for both motorists and pedestrians – at Ballycarry Halt are off-putting to potential passengers.

LLPG has called for the formation of a working group of stakeholders including Translink, Roads Service, Larne Borough Council, the PSNI and Islandmagee Storage to address the issues.

Group secretary Elena Aceves-Cully cited lack of a footpath on the narrow causeway bridge and the absence of a drop-off or turning point at the halt among factors that need to be resolved, adding: “We are aware that the section of the Larne Line between Whitehead and Larne is currently under review and that Translink needs to see improved passenger numbers to justify keeping it open at current service levels. If the suggested improvements do not take place, it is likely that passenger numbers will not grow in sufficient numbers to justify keeping this halt open.”

LLPG pins part of the blame for an historic under-utilisation of the railway halt on disruption caused by the re-laying of the line in 2004-05, and the fact that inferior, older trains were used on the Larne Line well after the introduction of the first new Class 3000 trains.

With even newer Class 4000 rolling stock, passenger numbers all along the track have increased but, says LLPG, at a much slower rate at Ballycarry. Some locals use the park ‘n’ ride at Whitehead, where trains run more frequently. LLPG claims: “The disparity in frequency of services has been made more marked since the introduction of the new timetable in January, 2013 in which many services which before terminated/started at Carrickfergus station now do so at Whitehead.”

The group believes there is an opportunity to increase use of the halt if safe pedestrian access, a pick up/drop-off point, turning area and parking facilities are made available.

“I have discussed this issue with many residents and many are reluctant to use the station, or to let their children use it, due to the risk of being knocked down by vehicles whilst crossing over the road,” said Mrs Aceves-Cully, who points to Ballycarry’s growing population and rising car costs among reasons for taking action.

She believes land is available convenient to the station and proposed the project for a share of a £1.3 million trust fund to be established if Islandmagee Storage succeeds with its gas caverns proposal at Larne Lough.