Belfast to Dublin 2hr 26mins Enterprise train is rail joke
The morning train journey between Belfast and Dublin is about to get even longer.
Northern Ireland faces becoming the laughing stock of Europe with its slow, overcrowded Enterprise service, according to Stormont regional development committee member John Dallat.
Under new proposals, the early morning train will set off from Belfast's Central Station more than half-an-hour earlier - at 6.15am - and will reach Dublin's Connolly Station at 8.41am.
That means it will take two hours and 26 minutes to make the morning commute from Belfast to Dublin - 11 minutes longer than the present journey time and also longer than the two hours and 25 minutes it takes by bus.
And there is little incentive to switch from road to rail so long as the journey takes almost an hour more than it does in the car.
According to routefinder Mapquest, it would take an hour and 41 minutes for a motorist to drive from Central Station to Connolly Station. Indeed, a train can make the journey from London to Birmingham - a longer distance than from Belfast to Dublin - in under two hours.
The proposals have been published on the Irish Rail website as part of a consultation with customers in the Republic, but have not been made public here in Northern Ireland.
A commuter who contacted the Belfast Telegraph said: "Irish Rail are proposing changing the times on the Belfast-Dublin train - it's on its website. It's nowhere on Translink, even though the Enterprise is a joint service.
"As part of the proposal, which would take effect in January, the 6.50am train from Belfast would leave at the eye-wateringly early time of 6.15am.
"But not only that, it won't arrive in Dublin until 8.41am. That's a journey time of two hours and 26 minutes - a full 11 minutes slower than the already slow time.
"It must be the slowest intercity train in Europe. It's a real issue because of all the business travel - and not only that, but the people in Northern Ireland don't seem to be able to give their views.
"As far as I can see, the public consultation is only on Irish Rail's website, despite the fact that Northern Irish taxpayers pay for it."
The commuter added he had suspicions that this could be a unilateral decision by Irish Rail to accommodate more Dart and commuter trains.
"There has been no consultation north of the border despite it having a detrimental impact on travellers on our flagship rail service - and it's jointly funded," he wrote. "This is, after all, money spent on refitting trains." The Enterprise Service is currently undergoing a £12.2 million upgrade, including a mechanical systems overhaul, new interiors, fresh livery, new CCTV and replacement of the passenger information system.
The consultation on schedule changes, which was posted on the Irish Rail website, is due to end on Tuesday.
Irish Rail has claimed the revised schedule will result in a more even interval between services, with some significant changes to departure times.
Last night a Translink spokesman told the Belfast Telegraph: "There are proposals for changes to the timetable in 2016, including the possible introduction of an early morning service to arrive in Dublin before 9am.
"We are due to begin briefing our passengers and other stakeholders on these changes from mid-December."
Mr Dallat said he had asked Regional Development Minister Michelle McIlveen numerous questions about the Enterprise service in recent weeks as there appears to be no immediate plans to cut journey times, deal with overcrowding and schedule trains at sensible times for businesspeople.
"This causes me a great deal of concern," he said. "We are led to believe that there is a genuine desire to improve the service, yet in semi-secret they are doing the opposite.
"We don't want to become the laughing stock of Europe because it is the slowest train, can't deal with over-capacity and doesn't provide a timetable that suits customers.
"The service is competing with commuter lines from Dundalk on the other side of the border. It should have a dedicated track from the border into Dublin."
Mr Dallat said that while the Cork to Dublin line had secured funding from Europe on the strength of its links to the cross-border service, the Enterprise could be missing out on EU trans-border transport funding.
He added: "We're hopelessly behind on addressing some issues. With the Assembly, one of the principles was to break down barriers. Here is a consultation that only takes into account people on one side of the border.
"That's a step back to the old partitionist attitude that seriously affected transport on both sides of the border."