A Stormont debate will take place on rail services in East Antrim after an MLA said local commuters are being treated as “second class citizens.”
East Antrim MLA Stewart Dickson made the comments after securing an adjournment debate to tackle passenger dissatisfaction with the local route.
The move came as passenger lobby group Larne Line Passenger Group (LLPG)’s petition to reinstate the former Larne line rail timetable reached over 1,000 signatures.
Since August 30, the local rail timetable has been altered as part of Translink’s plan to address its £13 million government funding cuts.
The first train to leave Larne from Monday to Friday departs later, while the last train servicing the Larne line from Belfast has been brought forward.
Some services now terminate at Carrick rather than Whitehead, and the Saturday service from Larne to Belfast has also been reduced from hourly to two-hourly. Passengers have also complained of overcrowding on three-car carriages.
Mr Dickson told the Times: “At the adjournment debate on October 13 I will be calling for a resolution of the timetable issues, extra capacity with six car trains, and assurances in respect of the future of the Larne line right through from Larne Harbour to Central Station.
“At the moment the timetable doesn’t match up with the Enterprise service to Dublin or Translink services to Bangor.
“I think that the decision to cut services on the Larne line was logistical, not a funding decision. I think there is a mindset that looks to Bangor before Larne as there are higher numbers on the Bangor line, but if they put more funding to encourage people onto the Larne line there would be more passengers there.
“I believe Translink view the Larne line as the poor relation. Bangor get new trains and signalling improvements and we are always second in the queue.”
Mr Dickson said that with the current political situation at Stormont, where DUP ministers are nominated and resign on a weekly basis, he would judge the importance placed on East Antrim by new DRD Minister Michelle McIlveen on whether she chose to attend the debate.
“I’m calling on the revolving door DRD Minister to be there for a full debate,” he continued.
“I see it as important, it will be a sign of how importantly the DUP values the East Antrim community. Translink will be listening to this debate, DRD officers will be listening to the debate,” he concluded.
Michelle McIlveen did not respond to a request from the Larne Times for comment.
Increasing the amount of freight which is carried by train and electrifying the railway track will ensure the Larne line’s future, according to MLA Stewart Dickson.
“We could take the freight off the roads and onto the rails,” said Mr Dickson.
“It could connect with boats in Larne Harbour, taking freight from Larne to Dublin. Electrification would mean trains would be faster, we could run a busier timetable and electric trains would be substantially more efficient.”
Mr Dickson is also calling for dualling of the track over Dargan Bridge to improve access to Central Station.
Chair of Larne Line Passenger Group (LLPG) Elena Aceves-Cully has revealed that the petition to restore the former Larne line rail timetable has now gathered over 1,200 signatures.
In addition to the online petition at change.org, Elena has taken paper copies of the petition onto trains, where she says it has been well supported. The LLPG representative says she and other members of the group will travel to Stormont on October 13 to listen to the debate. The group is searching for volunteers to take the petition on board trains. Contact LLPG through Facebook or email firstname.lastname@example.org