I have spent the past 12 months doing a daily commute from Derry to Lisburn. Due to the fuel costs and wear and tear both on my car and myself, I did the journey each day by public transport, either by train all the way to Lisburn or by the bus to Belfast and then by train onwards to Lisburn. I want to make the point that the train is not just a quaint resource for tourists; it is also an essential resource for long-distance daily commuters .
While the 212 Goldliner Service between Derry and Belfast is great, the travelling experience on the bus is very much of budget airline standard when compared with the experience offered by the train. On the train there is room to work; you can often get a seat with a table; there are litter bins to discard the wrappers of the sandwich or coffee you purchased at the station; your can get up and move around; and there are toilets on board. The new train sets being trialled on the rest of the NI network even offer wireless broadband access. Your travel time on the train is unaffected by traffic jams at Sandyknowles.
In contrast, at peak times the buses back home from Belfast are packed, meaning that you may not get onto the bus for which you have queued for 20 minutes. When you do get on a bus, you are packed in like cattle for a journey which can be in excess of two hours; with no access to toilets and having to sit amongst the litter of the previous batch of passengers.
To give confidence to regular commuters from the North-West to rely entirely on public transport, you need need to give them the options of both rail and bus. During the severe winter weather when the Glenshane was closed or when the buses were trapped in Derry due to bomb-scares, it was a relief on an evening in Belfast to find that the train was still running and that I could get home to Derry.
The other big-eye opener for me of the past 12 months of commuting is the regularity of the trains service and the quality of the train stations at other towns in Northern Ireland. Lisburn has a beautiful Victorian station with three platforms, two waiting rooms, and a cafe service. Bangor has a ultra modern station with lots of services for commuters. Our station looks like the arrival point for a minor town on a forgotten branch line. It stands in the shadow of the former Waterside Railway Station, now for sale, crying out to be restored and reused.
Commuters from Derry need to be given the same choice and quality of public transport service as commuters from Ballymena, Bangor and Lisburn. 2014 is too long to wait for equality for the North West travelling public.