Ulster Unionist MLA Roy Beggs Jnr has said that the recent upsurge in passenger numbers on the East Antrim rail network (Larne Line) highlights that delaying the deployment of new train sets when Sinn Fein and the DUP were in charge of public transport in the Department for Regional Development up to 2011 was a disgrace.
Mr Beggs said:
“Recent figures released in response to questions I have asked at Stormont are encouraging. Over the past year the Larne line has seen a bigger percentage increase in passenger numbers 12%- than the 3 other major suburban rail routes in Northern Ireland. Undoubtedly that is related to the introduction last year of 20 brand new state of the art trains on the service. It is still early days but I would be confident that trend will continue this year and next. In fact I have been encouraging Translink to introduce more six carriage train sets to cope with the increased demand on peak services.”
The East Antrim MLA has looked into historic rail passenger numbers on NIR/Translink- based on questions he has placed at the Assembly over the years.
“It is instructive to note that passenger numbers on the Belfast suburban rail lines of Bangor, Portadown and Larne were very similar in the 1990s and in 2002/3 the Larne line was marginally the most popular rail line in Northern Ireland. Investment in new rolling stock was agreed by the Assembly but at some point someone in Translink and the DRD decided to leave all the old trains on the Larne Line and only put the new Spanish Class 3000 trains on service on the Londonderry, Bangor and Portadown lines. The results as detailed in the figures are stark: Since the introduction of the new trains in 2005 passenger numbers on the Londonderry, Bangor and Portadown lines have, up to the recent end of the 2012/13 financial year has increased by 90%, 78% and 81% respectively .
Meanwhile under DUP and Sinn Fein control of the DRD and therefore public transport policy, the Larne line was neglected and customer numbers flatlined- only increasing slowly. No wonder that service failures led to the rise of a Passenger Lobby Group- the Larne Line Passenger Group in the mid noughties. Thankfully now under Ulster Unionist DRD Minister Danny Kennedy the Larne line has finally seen new state of the art train sets being introduced. The effect has been immediate- numbers are up and I am now receiving e mails from people who are struggling to get sitting down on some peak time services.
Even on the Larne to Whitehead section of the line- the sustainability of which at times has been questioned- the numbers are up. The total number of passenger movements on the line section between Larne and Whitehead was 262,392 in 2011/12. This number increased to 294,627 in 2012/13.
This is good news, but what a shame we are having to play catch-up after years of neglect. I would again encourage anyone who has not used the train for a while to give it a try. You will be pleasantly surprised at the excellent new service.”
Note for editors: Attached is Passenger numbers in 1,000s for the main suburban routes in NI (excluding enterprize cross border and the Portrush line which was 518K in 06/7 and is 565K in 12/13)
Based on answers to questions AQW 3185/08, AQW 9344/11-15 and AQW21396/11-15
New trains were introduced in 2004/05 and since then passenger numbers on the L’Derry, Bangor and Portadown lines increased by 90%, 78% and 81% respectively to 2012/13
Larne line did not benefit from the new trains and service levels dropped as evidenced by emergence of Larne Line Rail Passenger Group in mid noughties. In 02/03 it was the most popular suburban route but in contrast to the lines where the new trains were introduced, numbers actually fell between 04/05 and 05/06 and have been rising slowly ever since. Increase in last year- Larne 12%, L’derry 3% Bangor 7% P’down 9%
Larne to Belfast Line- new trains introduced during 2012 Between 2011/12 and 2012/13 total passenger journeys increased from 2,153,000 to 2,406,000, an increase of 12%.
Belfast to Londonderry line – new trains were introduced between January and September 2005. Between 2004/05 and 2012/13 total passenger journeys increased from 850,000 to 1,615,000, an increase of 90%.
Belfast to Bangor line – new trains were introduced between February and April 2005. Between 2004/05 and 2012/13 total passenger journeys increased from 1,517,000 to 2,707,000, an increase of 78%.
Belfast to Portadown line – new trains were introduced between February and April 2005. Between 2004/05 and 2012/13 total passenger journeys increased from 1,941,000 to 3,507,000, an increase of 81%