Translink ‘on brink of collapse’ with £29m deficit

Public transport in Northern Ireland is on the brink of “imminent and serious collapse”, it has emerged.

Wednesday, 19th February 2020, 8:44 pm
Passengers disembark from a train in Londonderry. The Department for Infrastructure has warned public tranport could ‘collapse’ without new cash

The crisis facing bus and rail services here was revealed during a routine committee meeting at Stormont today.

MLAs were warned that action is “essential if we are to avoid an imminent and serious collapse of our public transport network”.

It emerged that Translink is facing a budget shortfall of £29 million.

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John McGrath, a high-ranking official at the Department for Infrastructure, told MLAs that the scale of the budget crisis means “the continued viability of the public transport network is in jeopardy”.

UUP MLA Roy Beggs was one of those questioning Mr McGrath.

He asked what options would be available to balance the books without extra cash.

Mr McGrath said Translink has drained its reserves and is “running out of options”.

“If you ended up only running what was profitable you’re talking about bits of Metro, some of the Goldline routes or you could look at – it’s not in a scenario anywhere – but you’d just close down the railway,” he added.

After the exchange, Mr Beggs said: “The Northern Ireland Executive must ensure that essential public transport services continue to be provided.”

He continued: “My former colleague Danny Kennedy repeatedly warned of the dire situation facing Translink when he was the DRD (Department for Regional Development) minister, but those calls fell on deaf ears at previous Executives and Translink now finds itself in a very precarious position.”

Alliance MLA Andrew Muir urged the Infrastructure Minister, Nichola Mallon, to take action.

“We are being told we are on the verge of essentially closing down the majority of the public transport network,” he said.

“That is not good enough and is compounded by the department’s attitude.

“When asked what contingencies had been developed to resolve this situation, MLAs were told none.

“The minister needs to act immediately and give assurances where possible to Translink employees and management, and the general public, about the future of the public transport system in Northern Ireland.”

Translink has previously warned that people living in rural communities could be left without local bus services because they are not profitable.

At one stage the public transport provider was losing around £13 million every year running rural buses.

Translink is funded using fares and government money.

Its government subsidy has fallen by around a fifth since 2013/14.

Translink services like the Glider, which better connects different parts of Belfast, have proved popular.

It runs 12,500 services every day and operates a fleet of 1,400 buses, coaches and trains.

In a budget briefing to MLAs on the infrastructure committee at Stormont, the department said: “The recurrent shortfall is £29 million going into 2020/21.

“Should this not be remedied, the company will be unable to deliver the public transport network and its ability to trade at all will be in doubt.

“Action in this budget is essential if we are to avoid an imminent and serious collapse of our public transport.”

Derry City and Strabane councillor Eamon McCann, a vocal campaigner for better rail links between Londonderry and Belfast, said: “Derry people in particular are going to have to fight like tigers to have any hope of seeing the long-promised phase three of the rail upgrade completed.”

Mr McCann added: “Here we are in 2020 and a modern line between the two main cities in the North seems as far away as ever.”