Larne rail users looking forward to the introduction of new trains will be shocked to learn that there may be fewer of them than they imagined.
The Larne Times learned this week that, despite the £118 million Government investment in 20 modern CAF trains to operate on the Larne-Belfast line, Translink has told railway staff in the town that local services may be cut.
A whistleblower warned of “drastic changes” and urged MLAs and councillors to act now to force a turnaround.
The caller, who did not want to be named, said proposals outlined to employees included reducing the number of early-morning trains out of Larne. At present, six trains depart between 6-8.10am, carrying commuters and school children, but the draft timetable presented to staff last week featured only two, at 6.45 and 7.45.
In addition, said the whistleblower, it is proposed to halve afternoon departures between Larne and Whitehead, resulting in a two-hourly service.
Staff are also said to be concerned about a plan to transfer one of the train sets based at Larne Harbour to Belfast, to service the line as far as Whitehead only.
“Larne will be out of the loop,” he claimed. “There were plans not that long ago to shut the line between Whitehead and Larne and this is a step in that direction.
“People are talking about the new trains coming, but I think they should be made aware that if these cuts are allowed to go ahead the timetable will be cut drastically.”
Translink this week confirmed it is consulting with employees on proposals for “the poorest performing parts of our bus and train network”, adding that it intends to go out to public consultation on draft timetables for 2012.
A spokesperson said: “To address the reduction in public funding available over the next years, we are planning changes to some of our routes and services while continuing to provide integrated travel solutions that are attractive sustainable and good value.
“To make the best use of the resources we have available, we are currently examining the poorest performing parts of our bus and train network and where appropriate enhancing other parts which are performing well or have the potential to sustain and grow passenger numbers.”
She added: “Changes to the Larne line are currently being considered. In the first instance we have had discussions with employees and once that phase is completed we can prepare a draft timetable for consultation, at which point we would be pleased to discuss the detail.
“We remain committed to the Larne line and are looking forward to the introduction of the new trains, the first of which are scheduled to be introduced on this line in the autumn.”
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When CAF C3K trains were delivered to Northern Ireland in 2004, none was allocated permanently to the Larne Line and passengers have been travelling in on much older rolling stock, which was previously in use on other parts of the rail network. Rail users complained they were being treated as second-class citizens in carriages that often lacked heating, let in rain and were in generally poor condition.
Finance Minister and East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson, and Rpoy Beggs Jnr, MLA, both welcomed the arrival of the first Class 4000 sets in June, when Translink began testing them on the Larne Line. Together with platform extensions, including at Larne Town and Larne Harbour, as well as expansion of park-and-ride facilities, the hope was that the investment would encourage more people to travel by rail.
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