A campaign has been launched to bring historic Irish boat trains back to Stranraer, just weeks after Stena Line broke the historic link between the town’s railway station and ferries to Ireland by moving to its new port at Cairnryan.
Rail passengers for Belfast now have to leave their train at Ayr and are transferred by bus for a one hour, 10 minutes coach journey over the A77 road to Cairnryan to connect with the ferry to Ireland.
Before the changeover, rail passengers went all the way to Stranraer by boat train, affectionately known to passengers and rail staff alike as ‘the Paddy’ over its 175-year history, and walked across the pier at Stranraer Harbour Station to the ferry terminal.
Stena Line says that using a coach was not its first option, especially as Stranraer Station is just seven miles away from the new Cairnryan Port.
“We are keen to get the best possible deal for our rail passengers,” said a spokeswoman. “We will continue to work with ScotRail to see if a bus connection could be made into trains at Stranraer.”
But ScotRail, which also looked at bussing passengers from Girvan, just 14 miles from Cairnryan, says that facilities at Stranraer are not up to the job and that the current coach option is the best as it connects with fast, electric trains at Ayr. Luggage restrictions mean that cyclists can no longer be accommodated with their bicycles south of Ayr, although they can still stay on the train to Stranraer and cycle the seven miles north to the new ferry port.
Richard Carr, business manager of the Stranraer Ayr Line Support Association, which fears that the loss of 70,000 ferry passengers annually to the Stranraer railway could sound the death knell of the line, said: “It is ludicrous to bus passengers over 40 miles from Ayr when the train continues almost empty to Stranraer. All we need is a short bus link from Stranraer to the new port at Cairnryan and ‘the Paddy’ can make a comeback. There are also opportunities for through trains for Edinburgh as well as from other parts of the United Kingdom. Rail passengers to Ireland must not be sold short and we need to keep our railway in Stranraer for jobs, for local people and also because of its Irish links over the last 175 years.”
Until 1991, Stranraer had a through sleeper, rail service to and from London, while through boast trains to Newcastle were withdrawn in 2008.
Strantraer Councillor Willie Scobie says that the route has far more potential than is being used currently.
He said: “This railway has long associations with traffic to and from Ireland and we want to see passengers having the best, possible experience. The new ferry service is excellent, but it would be even better if ‘the Paddy’ boat train were to be restored with a coach connection from Stranraer.”
Stena Line says that it is continuing to talk to ScotRail, Network Rail, local transport body Swestrans and Transport Scotland to resolve the issue.
In the meantime it has placed a luxury coach on the route to ensure that rail passengers to and from Ireland enjoy as comfortable a journey as possible to and from its new ferries at Cairnryan.
By Hugh Dougherty