Use it – or lose it

TRANSLINK will hold back on Larne-Whitehead rail service cuts to gauge public response to the introduction of new C4000 trains.

The watchdog Larne Line Passenger Group (LLPG) has urged local people to make greater use of the rail link now, or see services reduced next year.

The ‘use it, or lose it” plea to Larne people was issued as the tally of new trains reached five.

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LLPG’s annual general meeting was held last week with councillors from Larne (Drew Niblock), Carrickfergus (Sean Neeson and Isobel Day) and Newtownabbey (Ken Robinson) in attendance.

The group, which has been fighting for the rights of rail passengers for the past six years, welcomed the introduction of the new Class 4000 trains in September and noted that the fourth and fifth trains are to be introduced within the next two weeks.

Future timetable improvements were also commended, including the fact all Larne Line trains services will go to and from Great Victoria Street Station: currently many begin or end at Central Station.

A half-hourly service as far as Whitehead also pleased the campaigners, who met recently with NI Railways management. LLPG secretary Elena Aceves-Cully revealed: “NIR have made us fully aware of their position regarding what is required to improve the Larne Line. We are particularly concerned at the proposed cuts which NIR is considering to introduce on the timetable some time next year.

“At the heart of this issue lies the fact that the stretch of line between Whitehead and Larne is under-used. The current level of service, which carries on average 10 to 12 passengers on each train, is not sustainable at the current funding levels which are given to Translink by the Department of Regional Development to run it.

“For Translink to continue and improve on the current timetable, more revenue is needed. We need to encourage more passengers to use the trains.”

Elena added: “We have asked for the new trains to be given a chance on the Larne Line and we have been given an assurance that the new timetable, including the possible cuts, will be delayed as long as possible, not becoming effective until at least mid or late 2012.

“We think that is good news, considering that it was planned to be introduced from next March. We think that this will give Larne passengers a chance to see how much better the service is and should increase passenger numbers considerably. If DRD sees that passenger usage has then increased, they may be persuaded to provide the extra funding, which could be as much as an extra £500,000 to £750,000 per year.”

Last month, NIR general manager Mal McGreevy told Larne Borough Council the public had failed to respond in significant numbers to a revamp of the Larne Line in 2005-06 and the present level of service could not be sustained at current passenger levels.

However, Mr McGreevy said he recognised the need to retain the service to give more people time to travel on the new trains. He revealed he was in negotiations to secure additional funding to maintain the present service until an anticipated increase in passenger numbers was realised.

LLPG is to deliver a presentation to Larne Borough Council next Monday (December 5), when members will explain the serious situation facing the Larne Line and will seek Council support for a public campaign to protect and improve services.

LLPG chairman Alan McGookin said: “We are also planning to hold a public meeting in Larne at the end of January to encourage everyone to either use the trains, or lose them, This is the sad reality.”

LLPG, whose next meeting will be on Tuesday, January 16 at Dobbin’s Inn Hotel, Carrickfergus, at 7:30pm, expressed “regret” that rail services were to be lost during yesterday’s (Wednesday’s) national strike and advised passengers who hold weekly or monthly tickets that they can claim compensation for the inconvenience caused by completing a compensation form, available online or from train and bus stations.