East Antrim Ulster Unionist Party MLA Roy Beggs jr, has welcomed a recent adjournment debate about the Larne Line train services at the Northern Ireland Assembly. During the debate on East Antrim’s transport infrastructure, only two local MLAs out of 6 attended.
Mr Beggs said “It is healthy to have a debate about the Larne line, to highlight its successes and the improvements that there have been but also the difficulties that have arisen, particularly with the recent reduction in services.
It is disappointing only two of the six East Antrim MLAs are present to share their views on the subject. I welcome a third Member, Daithí McKay, who is with us.”
The Larne line has received significant investment over the past decade. We have had highly successful park-and-ride facilities and must not underestimate their success. Carrickfergus now has over 300 car parking places and, frequently, they are full. That is a great success and has eased traffic congestion. It has also eased the travelling costs of those who had to park in Belfast and the frustration of people who had to queue to go to Belfast and then, ultimately, to come back home. A successful park-and-ride facility at Whitehead is fully occupied, and there is another at Whiteabbey. There are also improved facilities at Greenisland. We need to look at where additional park-and-ride opportunities can be created. I recognise that there are difficulties in locating space close to stations. Nevertheless, that must be attempted.
I note and support Mr Dickson’s view that Ballycarry should be considered as a park-and-ride facility, given that Whitehead is at full capacity and there are few other options in the area. We have to recognise that the other success has been the complete relaying of the rail track and the welded rail. That, together with the new trains, has transformed the rail service from something of the 1960s to something of the modern era. On top of that, we now have Wi-Fi, which is very popular. You can see many of those who travel by rail using their smartphones, reading their books and partaking in other activities. The investment has supported the growth of the Larne line — a line in which there had been a dearth of investment for many, many decades. In fact, at one stage, it was clear that some officials wished to end the line at Whitehead. I am pleased that, even in recent times, that was not the case.
The Glynn river railway bridge has been renewed with further investment. I perceive that as an indication of continuing recognition that this service should continue, and rightly so. I appreciate the efforts of the Larne Line Passengers’ Group to improve the service; it has frequently highlighted difficulties and made suggestions for improvement. The sooner issues that are going wrong are addressed, the better it will be for the travelling public and, indeed, for Translink, which will be able to retain its travellers.
One of the issues highlighted recently is the lack of capacity on the 7.30 am train from Whitehead to Belfast. Frequently, passengers have had to force themselves onto trains, and occasionally the train has not even stopped at Whiteabbey station. I understand that that has largely occurred when a six-car set has not been dispatched. It is clear that, on that particular service, there is demand for a larger train. It is vital that Translink have the resources and the ability to ensure that it is dispatched reliably all the time, because you cannot provide a bad service and expect to retain passengers.
It is vital that there is a reliable service. If passengers turn up at the station and cannot get on a train and get to work, their jobs could be at risk. They cannot accept that. It is not acceptable. It is vital that it does not happen. I understand that it is no longer a problem. I hope that that is the case. It certainly should not have happened, but there are pressures nevertheless.”
At a recent Community Planning meeting of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, Roy Beggs MLA’s UUP colleagues Alderman Maureen Morrow and Cllr Andrew Wilson made their views known about a need for a public transport link between Larne and Whitehead station in the morning which would allow for commuters to get to Belfast Central for 7am.
Mr Beggs concluded, by stating, “With regard to the late-night service, similarly, if passengers want to return on the Larne line by train, they must depart from Belfast at 10.45 pm. Very few people who travel to Belfast for some form of entertainment would be able to get back to the station for 10.45 pm. Frequently, that is too early, and it is not a practical train. Again, there needs to be a rethink on that in order to boost our night time economy.”