‘Into the West’ group alarmed at financial crisis facing Translink

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Translink has pledged it will not be reducing services on the Derry to Belfast rail line after the rail lobby, Into The West (ITW), expressed “alarm” about what it said were mounting financial problems facing the firm.

The group claimed one option being considered by Translink was the reduction of the hourly service from Derry to Belfast to a two hourly service despite the Derry line having the best passenger growth figures on any northern rail line.

The latest figures produced by ITW showed that, just a year after the hourly service was introduced, the Derry line was carrying almost 2.5 million passengers annually, compared with 800,000 on the Belfast to Dublin service.

ITW spokesman, Eamonn McCann, insisted that job losses would be inevitable if the service was reduced.

“We have been told by usually reliable sources that a package offering early retirement is currently being drafted,” he claimed.

But a Translink spokesperson said: “We introduced hourly services on the Derry~Londonderry to Belfast railway line in July.

“We are pleased to report strong growth on the route and we have no plans to reduce the services.

“There is a significant growth programme for the North West region, with infrastructural and fleet investment underway.

“In addition to hourly train services, we are announcing new coaches and timetables on the 212 Derry~Londonderry to Belfast Express services – we operate more than 50 return services between Derry~Londonderry and Belfast every day on our buses and trains. Enhance Ulsterbus Foyle Metro services were launched in the Autumn.

“We are firmly committed to the new North West region and to the development of the North-West Multi-Modal Transport Hub.”

Jim McBride of ITW also made claims of an “increasing level of secrecy” over how decisions are made by Translink’s parent company, the NI Transport Holding Company.

“We are concerned that no minutes of the monthly meetings of NITHC have been published since last March, not to mention that public transport in Northern Ireland remains chronically underfunded compared with Scotland, for example.

“There, over 60 percent of the transport budget goes to rail, compared with 16 percent here.

“The Chief Executive Officer of Translink has already warned that the loss of reserves places Translink in unsustainable financial position.”

Moreover, added Mr. McBride, “This is the only region within the British Isles where the public transport operator – ie, Translink - does not receive a fuel duty rebate: this was worth about £14 million in 2013/14 before it was withdrawn by the N. Ireland Assembly as a cost saving measure.

“The annual Public Service Obligation subsidy of about £22 m. to Translink has been reduced over the last five years despite overall rail passenger numbers more than doubling.”

But the Translink spokesperson said: “We will be publishing further NITHC minutes on the Translink website in due course.”