Newly obtained figures show that 2018-19 was a record-breaking year for the Derry to Belfast train service.
Over the past 12 months, the line carried more than three million passengers for the first time in its history.
The statistics were secured from Translink by local rail lobby ‘Into the West’ via Freedom of Information requests.
They show that, in the period from April 2018 to March 2019, 3,018,600 people used the railway line that links Derry’s Waterside Station to Belfast’s Great Victoria Street. That represents a nine per cent growth in passenger numbers compared to the previous year and a 17 per cent rise over the last two years.
The figures also reveal that Derry continues to be the star performer on the Northern Irish rail network with the city driving a large portion of the growing demand for rail usage across the entire route. Total passenger numbers from Derry increased by 23 per cent across 2018-19, with the combined rise over the last two years locally a very impressive 61 per cent.
The latest passenger numbers show that demand is now six times higher on the line than it was in 2001 - and is continuing to grow.
Into the West spokesperson, Steve Bradley, said: “More and more people are flocking to rail here every year. To have three million passengers on the Derry to Belfast line over a 12 months period is phenomenal. And for Derry to be the fastest growing part of that line is even more impressive. It wasn’t until Summer 2017 that Derry finally got an hourly train service to Belfast. Prior to that, we only had one train every two hours, whilst all stations East of the Bann had services every hour or more frequently.
“When Derry finally got an hourly service, passenger numbers here leapt by 40 per cent - and they’ve continued to rise ever since. This confirms what we’ve always said - that people in Derry want to use rail and all that is needed to release that untapped demand is for the service to be continually improved.”
Steve Bradley added that Derry, despite being Northern Ireland’s second city, still has a “significantly lower quality” of rail service than all towns east of the River Bann on the same line enjoy.
He explained: “For example, only one train from Derry will get you to Belfast before 9am in the morning whereas there are four from Coleraine and two from Portrush. And, on a Sunday, we still have only one train every two hours here whilst stations East of the Bann have services every hour. It is unacceptable that Translink should treat Derry as if it is just an unimportant branch line off of their main Belfast to Portrush route.”
Meanwhile, work to create a new railway station and transport hub for Derry at the restored Victorian terminus on Duke Street continues apace and is set for completion in the Autumn. Into the West led the successful campaign to secure a new station but the group is concerned that people’s expectations are not being managed for when it finally opens.
Steve Bradley went on: “Into the West campaigned for years for a new railway station in Derry and it will be great for our city when that facility opens. But people will quickly realise that nothing else has changed with our railway service. It will still be slow, infrequent and of a much lower quality than Coleraine gets. That’s why we’re calling for the long-delayed upgrade of the Derry-Coleraine railway track to be finished as soon as possible. This would enable faster and more frequent trains from Derry and attract even more users to our railway.
“We’re also calling on Translink to introduce some improvements to Derry’s existing rail services when the new station opens in the Autumn. As an absolute minimum that should mean providing a train service every hour on a Sunday, rather than just every two hours as currently. We can’t just have the same old inadequate service operating out of a brand new £24million station.”