Belfast Telegraph

Lack of bus service from Hazelwood school 'puts Rathcoole kids' lives at risk'

By Brett Campbell

The concerned parents of children forced to walk for almost a mile along dangerous roads to get a bus home from their Co Antrim school have warned that someone could lose their life.

A campaign launched in September 2016 was successful in securing a designated bus service from Rathcoole to the gates of Hazelwood College in Newtownabbey - but Translink's refusal to provide a return service has baffled parents.

Parent Teacher Association chairperson Roberta Neely has accused it of putting profit before children's safety.

"All we want is a bus service to keep our children safe but all we get is feeble excuses," she said.

"We have had several meetings with Translink officials and all they keep saying is: 'No, no, no'.

"Parents are demanding answers but it appears that Translink is only thinking of the profit line. What other explanation can there be - does a child have to be killed before they will act?"

Around 50 pupils have no option but to walk a main arterial route that requires them to cross four lanes of traffic on Shore Road to reach their bus stop close to a slipway exit off the M2.

A morning service was put in place to transport children to the school gates after 11-year-old Jay Eppleston suffered several broken bones in a hit-and-run last March.

Speaking shortly after the incident, his father John said it was "an accident waiting to happen" and joined the campaign for a dedicated bus service to and from the school.

But Mrs Neely has warned that overcrowding on the afternoon public bus service is resulting in children being abandoned by the roadside.

"The buses are so full that not all the children can get on, they are being left stranded. When they do eventually get on, it is overcrowded, they find it very scary," she said.

"It's heartbreaking for the children, especially those with special needs because routine is so important to them and they find the whole thing very upsetting."

DUP councillor Thomas Hogg supports the campaign.

He said: "The distance which these children have to travel and the location of the bus stop is a serious problem. There is a health and safety issue at the heart of this and it needs to be resolved."

Translink said passenger safety was the company's main priority and it was satisfied with existing services.

"There are frequent service buses (approximately every 10 minutes) from Grays Lane after school time including the 2D and 2H, which provide double decker capacity. As with all requests for additional services, existing service provision, passenger safety and accessibility are taken into account," it added.

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