Ballymena bus and train station needs “to move out of the 1980s and into the 21st century”, local SF MLA Daithi McKay has said.
He was speaking after introducing a motion in the Assembly about the state of the station and the need for a new capital build at the site.
Also speaking in Stormont last week in an adjournment debate, Assemblyman Jim Allister of the TUV argued strongly for a new combined bus and rail station and extension of the park & ride facilities.
Mr McKay said: “Ballymena station is still virtually the same as it was when I was at school in the town. Indeed, it may surprise some people to know that the there has been no major works here since 1981-82.
“You only need to look at Antrim on one side and Coleraine on the other to see what Ballymena should have for train and bus passengers alike. We clearly need a new dual station on site here with improved park and ride facilities the address the current spillover on to Princes Street as well as capacity for a cafe, wifi and an indoor waiting area.
“The Minister unfortunately has not given any assurances in regard to this capital work or that there is a proposal on the horizon. That is not good enough. He has agreed to consider coming to see the station for himself and that he must do. At the moment it is clear that Ballymena is the station that Translink has forgotten about,” said Mr McKay.
Mr Allister said a significant upsurge in demand for public transport passing through the station had led to a “regular problem of oversubscription”.
“The fundamental problem is that we have not seen an upgrade in facilities to match the upsurge in use and we are left with facilities that are way below par in meeting need,” he said.
“The park-and-ride facility is now beyond saturation point. It is generating other unwelcome local parking problems. I respectfully suggest that the answer lies closer than Cullybackey. There is a significant site on Princes Street that is presently in the form of a scrap yard. It is my understanding that, on commercial negotiation, it would be available to Translink. That would be an ideal means to extend the park-and-ride facility at Ballymena.
“There are other issues in the station. The Minister will recall that, some time ago, I vexed him with questions about why Translink was reducing staff there and why there was reduction at a time of growth. “
He continued: “The overcrowding is substantial...I was told by a conductor that, even this morning, on the 10am service, which is a non-peak service, over 30 people were standing all the way - and some were going to outpatient appointments at Belfast City Hospital.
“There are many things that could be done but we need a substantial upgrade and a new combined bus and train station. We need a significant increase in the park-and-ride capacity and we need to get to a point where, when we need extra carriages, we can provide them and man them and, therefore, continue to grow the service, ” Mr Allister said.
DUP MLA Paul Frew asked the Minister “to look seriously at making a major investment in Ballymena train and bus station which has been neglected over the years.”
UUP Assemblyman Robin Swann said: “Every Member from North Antrim would like to see further expenditure and improvement in the Ballymena station.
“I am aware that Ballymena has now moved into its top 10 busiest stations. It is only right and fair that that footfall and usage is complemented with a station upgrade.
“You can tart things up. You can paint a bit here and plant a shrub there but people are interested in serious infrastructural improvement to Ballymena station.” he said.