Time to tackle overcrowding on Derry-Belfast trains

Local rail campaigners are calling on Translink to implement the “obvious solution” to tackle the growing problem of overcrowding on the Derry to Belfast rail service.

Tuesday, 28th September 2021, 9:15 am
The Derry-Belfast train. Photo: Tony Monaghan.

Trains lobby group Into the West says that passenger numbers on the route are now higher than they were prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In fact, demand is so high that it is now a daily occurrence for Translink to use social media to alert users of the Derry-Belfast service that particular trains are “standing room only”.

Into The West says Translink could easily address this problem by using new carriages it took delivery of six months ago but have yet to put into public service.

It’s understood these carriages will be used to double the length of all trains operating on the Derry-Belfast route – from 3 carriages to 6 - which will provide an additional 230 extra seats per service.

Into The West says these new carriages need to be brought into use as a matter of urgency.

Spokesperson Steve Bradley added: “It’s fantastic to see demand for rail back at the level it was pre-Covid and we’re very grateful for the investment in new carriages on the Derry-Belfast route. However, it is unacceptable that Translink is issuing daily warnings about trains being full whilst it sits on brand new unused carriages. We appreciate that Translink need to run safety checks and tests on any new rolling stock before it can be brought into public use, but after six months the millions of pounds of new carriages they’ve received have yet to be introduced. Bringing these new carriages into service now is an obvious solution to tackle the over-crowding and meet the welcome demand for rail usage. It is, therefore, essential that the new carriages Translink have already received are introduced onto the Derry-Belfast route without any further delay”.

Mr Bradley says the growing demand for rail in Derry also shines a light on the “unacceptably poor frequency ofservices we have here.”

“Only one train from Derry reaches Belfast before 9am on weekdays - whereas Portrush has two and Coleraine has four,” he explained.

“Passengers from Derry who start work or studies by 9am in Belfast are, therefore, all forced onto the same 6:12am service. On weekdays, from 4pm-6pm, every station east of the Bann receives a half-hourly service from Belfast, whilst Derry has to make do with just one every hour. And the service from Derry on a Sunday is frankly pathetic with only one train every two hours and six in total across the day. Every station on the same line east of the Bann benefits from an hourly service on Sundays.

“The growing popularity of rail in Derry is a positive story but Translink must not kill that demand through crowded trains,” said Mr. Bradley.

In response, Translink says it is looking forward to being able to operate a new extended train passenger service between Derry and Belfast “soon”.

A spokesperson for the transport authority told the ‘Journal’: “Safety is our top priority.

“The three carriages delivered in March have been integrated with the fully refurbished existing Class 4000 donor train which has been undergoing a period of significant testing, commissioning and safety approvals before entering passenger service. “

The spokesperson continued: “We have also been completing a programme of staff training during this period.

“We are in the final stages of this testing programme and are looking forward to being able to operate the new extended train in passenger service soon.

“We continue to monitor all services and adjust capacity where required,” concluded the Translink statement.