Translink's £12m rail upgrade won't improve journey times
A CROSS-border train upgrade project costing more than £12m has faced criticism as it won't have any impact on reducing passenger journey times.
Public transport provider Translink yesterday unveiled the first refurbished train for the Enterprise service between Belfast and Dublin.
The major upgrade includes new livery and interiors as well as an overhaul of the train's mechanical systems.
Translink described the refurbishment as a "major milestone" in the £12.2m upgrade scheme for the Enterprise fleet.
But it confirmed the project will not cut passengers' journey times despite its multi-million pound price tag.
The SDLP's John Dallat said further investment in rail travel is needed, adding that modern-day trains lack the "flexibility that steam trains did at the time of partition".
"The refurbishing of the Enterprise trains is welcome and long overdue but it does nothing to address the need for serious capital investment in new trains and rolling stock and a timetable that is fit for purpose," the East Derry MLA said.
"The current timetable does nothing for Belfast travellers going to Dublin for early morning meetings and the issue of overcrowding will continue.
"Both governments as part of their cross-border responsibilities must begin serious discussions on the need to provide a dedicated track south of the border to ensure that Enterprise services are much faster and aren't competing for time slots with Dart commuter trains."
Journey times on the Enterprise service from Belfast and Dublin range between two hours, and two hours and 20 minutes. The same journey takes around two hours and 25 minutes by bus, and less than two hours by car.
The refurbishment includes improved seating, new tables, power sockets for passenger use, and a redesigned catering car that now includes a 'sit-in' service.
Translink's Chris Conway praised the refurbished train's "striking modern new look" and "attractive seating".
"We're confident our customers will be very pleased with the stylish interiors and improved passenger features. Once all trains are completed we will also have our new electronic seat reservation displays operating," he said.
"The service has an important role to play in maintaining strong links between the two capital cities supporting trade and tourism while also providing convenient access to Lisburn, Portadown and Newry."
The train improvement scheme is a joint project with Irish Rail.
Three-quarters of the funding came from the European Union's Interreg IVA Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB), with the remainder from Stormont's Department for Regional Development and the south's Department of Transport.
Gina McIntyre from SEUPB said the project has improved a main infrastructure link that will "support economic and social development".
Refurbishment of the remaining Enterprise trains is due to be completed by the end of this year.
The Enterprise train service began in 1997. There are three Enterprise trains in operation, each with eight coaches, which travel at between 50 and 90mph.
There are eight Enterprise services in each direction from Monday to Saturday, and five each way on Sundays.
A Translink spokeswoman said: "Journey times will remain unchanged by the introduction of the refurbished Enterprise trains."