THE introduction of new hourly train services between Belfast and Derry has resulted in passenger numbers for the route increasing by more than a third.
In the six months since the upgraded service was introduced, passenger numbers have gone up by 37 per cent, representing an increase of 60,000 train journeys.
The figures were released by the rail campaign group, Into the West, which said numbers were up across the entire Derry to Belfast route.
Into the West chairman, Eamon McCann said the figures – which have been confirmed by Translink – were down to new users from Derry.
Former People before Profit assembly member, Mr McCann said: "This remarkable increase confirms what we have long been saying ‘build it and they will come’.
"60,000 more rail journeys mean less congestion and pollution on our roads and more income for our publicly-owned rail service."
Mr McCann said his group was now demanding the final phase of the upgrade – the line from Derry to Coleraine – be completed as soon as possible. This would ensure trains could run from Derry every half hour. Trains would also be able to travel faster than before, ensuring further increases in passenger numbers.
"We are confident that if you give Derry a modern, frequent, fast and convenient rail service, people will use it in droves," he said.
The final phase of the upgrade is scheduled to take place in 2021. However, Mr McCann said the failure to secure funding for the project had create fears that it would not go ahead. He said the 37 per cent increase witnessed so far made it essential that the final phase was brought forward and fully funded.
Into the West secretary, Martin Melaugh said it was also vital that Derry’s purpose-built Waterside station be used as a proper railway terminus.
“We want to see trains back in the historic Waterside station again whereas Translink’s proposal is for carriages to merely pull alongside the old station. This will cut off access to and views of our magnificent river with the old station building used for offices and non-rail business instead,” Mr Melaugh said.
Translink’s plans for the new former railway station will be considered by Derry City and Strabane District Council’s planning committee next week.