‘Use it or lose it’ Larne Line railway lobbyists gain momentum at council

LARNE Council has been urged to get aboard the campaign to save the Larne Line by encouraging more local people to travel by train.

Elected representatives had a presentation on Monday from the Larne Line Passenger Group, which has been fighting for improved services for the past seven years.

Now that comfortable, reliable and modern CAF 4000 trains have been launched on the line, LLPG is urging people who were put off by the atrocious conditions endured in the past to give the railway a second chance. The group also wants people who have not tried the train to give it a go.

LLPG has warned that, unless more people use the trains, rail services between Larne and Whitehead will be cut. A public meeting is to be held and in the meantime the lobbyists are meeting with the local councils and NI Railways management in the bid to save local services.

Elena Aceves-Cully, LLPG secretary, told councillors in Larne that the local authorities in Carrickfergus and Newtownabbey had already signed up to the ongoing lobby for improved services. For now, though, the emphasis is on the Larne end of the line.

“We are planning to hold a public meeting in Larne towards the end of January to send a very clear message to the people of the borough: 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.”

The presentation welcomed the recent introduction of the new trains. To date, five of the 20 CAF 4000s have been fully commissioned.

LLPG describes Translink’s proposed timetable for 2012 as “a mixed bag”. Ms Aceves-Cully said: “On the one hand, all trains will reach Great Victoria Street Station (currently many of them end or start from Central Station) and improved services on the section between Whitehead and Belfast. On the other hand, the number of services between Ballycarry and Larne will be significantly reduced unless sufficient numbers of passengers use that stretch of the line. It is the group’s main aim to ensure that the services up to Larne are not only maintained but enhanced to attract additional users.”

The group is currently working closely with NIR management and hopes to involve Translink in the campaign.

Alan McGookin, LLPG chairman, explained: “We have asked Translink for the new trains to be given a chance on the Larne Line. We feel that a year, 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 required to run the current level of services plus the overall improvements Translink is planning to introduce.”

Larne Line Passenger Group’s next committee meeting is to be held on Tuesday, January 17 at Dobbin’s Inn Hotel, Carrickfergus, at 7:30pm. “Everyone who is keen to support the Larne Line is encouraged to attend,” the group urged.

Larne Ulster Unionist councillor Mark McKinty said he supports the call for a public meeting and he urged the public to get on the trains.

The Larne Lough representative added: “The name of this campaign says it all: Use it, or lose it. The stark reality of the situation is that trains between Whitehead and Larne stations are at risk of reduction. Translink can apply for funding to the Department of Regional Development, but they must have passenger numbers to support this application.

“There is a lot of work to do on the Larne Line in terms of timetabling and integrating the service with buses.

“I welcome the ongoing introduction of the new Class 4000 trains on the Larne Line, however I would appeal to Translink and strongly urge them to let these new trains have time to impress and attract passengers.

“Timetabling improvements, such as all trains originating and terminating at Great Victoria Street; Belfast parking charges; and the new trains should mean that passenger numbers increase back to the levels which we once saw on the Larne Line.”

Cllr McKinty proposed that the council should support LLPG’s aims through the council website; that the McNeill Theatre be made available for a public meeting early next year; and that other means of support be investigated.

“I also welcome Translink’s desire to communicate directly with Council regarding important issues, and hope to hold a meeting with Translink directors in the coming weeks to make the case for the Whitehead-Larne section of the line,” he added.