THE Use It Or Lose It rail campaign will step up a gear at a public meeting to be held on Tuesday, March 6.
The Larne Line Passenger Group (LLPG) has warned that train services between Larne and Whitehead will be cut unless more people use them. They are also pressing for additional funding from the Department for Regional Development.
The lobby group, formed seven years ago to demand better services on the Larne Line, said that the meeting in the McNeill Theatre (7.30pm) will be the start of a year-long campaign.
LLPG hopes that the introduction of new Class 4000 trains on the Larne Line will encourage more people to use rail services. All nine of the new sets will be operational in a few weeks and LLPG and has asked Translink to delay proposed timetable cuts for a year to assess the public response. Translink has indicated, however, that the level of funding earmarked for rail by DRD means it must discontinue lesser-used and uneconomical services.
LLPG secretary Elena Aceves-Cully explained: “The new timetable proposed by Translink will be a mixed bag of, on the one hand, the very welcome change of most trains reaching Great Victoria Street Station and improved services between Whitehead and Belfast, with much higher frequency in this stretch of the line; but on the other hand, the number of journeys between Whitehead and Larne will be significantly reduced – and in particular off-peak – unless sufficient numbers of passengers use that stretch of the line.
“It is the group’s main aim to ensure that the services to Larne are not only maintained but enhanced, to attract additional users.”
LLPG, which has the backing of Larne Borough Council in its lobbying, has said the objective of the public meeting is to “send out a very clear message to the people of Larne”.
Ms Aceves-Cully added: “The question for Larne people is: Do you want to see a maintained and improved rail service in your area? Or would you be happy to see it go? It is as simple as that. If you are for the first option, come to our public meeting and show your support for the Larne Line.
“We are asking the people in Larne to say ‘Yes’ to rail, to better services, regular and reliable services which can serve effectively not only the commuter market but also the leisure and other off-peak travelling public.”
Alan McGookin, LLPG chairman, added: “We have asked Translink for the new trains to be given a chance on the Larne Line.
“We feel that a year on from the full introduction of the new trains in early 2012 is a reasonable length of time to let Larne passengers see how much the service has improved and entice them to use the new trains.
“So our campaign will concentrate on increasing passenger numbers for the next 12 months. We are hoping that this will have the desired effect on the Department of Regional Development of releasing the extra cash that is required to run the current level of services, plus the overall improvements Translink is planning to introduce.”
He appealed for media, local business, schools and churches to “help us to raise the profile of this issue”.
The lobbyists anticipate representation at the public meeting from the Larne, Carrickfergus and Newtownabbey councils, as well as members of the Translink management team.
f LLPG’s next committee meeting takes place next Tuesday (February 7) at Dobbins Inn Hotel, Carrickfergus, at 7.30pm. Everyone who is keen to support the Larne Line is encouraged to attend.