Rail Services: East Antrim

The Adjournment Debate on Tuesday 13th October 2015 was regarding Rail Services in East Antrim.

From the Official Report:

Stewart Dickson MLA “Thank you, Mr Speaker, for the opportunity to bring forward this Adjournment debate today. This issue has been greatly exercising my constituents in my local offices in Carrickfergus and Larne. I take this opportunity to thank the Larne Line Passenger Group for its work in holding Translink to account and seeking to develop and encourage the use of the line for the future. The Larne Line Passenger Group’s commitment stands in stark contrast to the commitment shown by Translink and the Regional Development Ministers. Clearly, the Minister, by her absence, does not see it as a priority today. With the exception of Mr Beggs, that applies also to other Members from East Antrim.

In September, Translink downgraded — there is no other description for it — its service to the people of east Antrim.

The new timetable means that trains now run less frequently, fewer stations are serviced and, ultimately, it makes it downright awkward to use the train in East Antrim, driving commuters back to their cars.

The timetable changes were brought in following a so-called consultation exercise that was wholly inadequate. In fact, it has been described by many as nothing short of a farce. Section 75 obligations were not met as required by the Northern Ireland Act 1998, no indication of the scale of cuts was given, and the surveys that were conducted were inappropriate and questionable in their methodology. In response to correspondence that I had received on the matter, Translink said that passenger surveys showed that passengers preferred a less frequent service to a complete cut of service. I find that an inane and ridiculous point: of course someone would prefer a reduced service to no service at all. What the people of East Antrim truly need is a good, efficient and frequent service to encourage people to leave the convenience and comfort of their car and use our new, quality trains.

I have been informed that the passenger figures that Translink used to justify the cuts may have been taken from a week that included a bank holiday and when schools were off. That is hardly a representative sample of passengers using the line. That only adds to the overcrowding on trains during the morning and evening rush hours, with passengers, including schoolchildren and commuters, being forced on to fewer services with less hope of getting a seat on their journey home. All of that has happened in the context of higher fares.

In recent weeks, in an attempt to assess the scale of the impact of the cuts on the Larne line on my constituents, I have run a survey on my Assembly website. The results make for sobering reading. Of those who responded, 71% said that the changes had impacted on them negatively and made journeys less convenient. Of those, 64% said that they had had to seek alternative means of transport. Unsurprisingly, the chief alternative means is the car. Therefore, we have a ludicrous situation in which Translink is pushing more traffic onto the roads, clogging our motorways and Belfast city centre in the morning and evening rush hours. Ultimately, travel by car is, by most people’s perception, faster, cheaper and more convenient.

It is far from surprising, therefore, that, in my survey, only 16% rated the service as good. Further to that, a massive 75% believe that the service is getting worse. As may be expected, 80% identified frequency as an issue; 45% said crowding; and 42% said cost, with others expressing concern about punctuality, station amenities and park-and-ride… ”

You can read the full transcript on our website: http://nia1.me/2s9