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Oireachtas Committee Hears of Strong Case for Rail Reopening
The Joint Oireachtas Transport and Communications committee has heard that there is an increasingly strong case for the restoration of the West’s missing rail link between Athenry and Claremorris which was described as a crucial piece of transport infrastructure for the whole west region.
Representatives of Iarnród Éireann, West on Track and the Irish Exporters Association gave evidence at the Joint Oireachtas Transport and Communications committee meeting yesterday (Wednesday, March 4th).
In an accompanying written submission to the Committee Iarnród Éireann confirmed that it was interested in reopening the Claremorris-Athenry rail link for freight as it would add to its operational capacity.
Frank Dawson of West on Track stated that "the true potential of rail freight in Ireland is untapped" and noted that it would cost €25-30m to reinstate the railway line from Athenry to Claremorris, allowing the decongestion of the existing Inter-City route from Claremorris to Athlone.
Since 2005 approximately 10,000 chartered freight trains have operated since to/from Mayo and the Ports of Waterford and Dublin. In 2014 over 1000 chartered freight trains operated to and from Mayo and the Ports of Waterford and Dublin.
Mr. Dawson noted that the EU has reported in 2013 that Ireland’s Rail Access Charges are 4 -5 times higher than those in Germany, France or the UK. Using the current UK model, a small subvention by the state, as is the norm in other EU countries, would give a return to the state of 4.27 per Euro spent in terms of carbon and congestion savings. This would enable Iarnród Éireann to lower track-access charges and grow their freight business substantially.
Mr. Howard Knott, representing the Irish Exporters Association (IEA) stated that the IEA "strongly supports the Western Development Commission's recent initiative to commission a study of potential demand for rail freight serving the West."
"If you are trucking freight from the West to Dublin Port and you have to wait an hour an a half from the M50 to the Port Tunnel then you need an alternative", said Mr. Knott.
Replying to a question from Timmy Dooley TD (FF), Colmán Ó Raghallagh of West on Track confirmed that plans are now under way by private investors to establish a rail freight hub in Claremorris. He noted the recent Dáil statement by Transport Minister Mr. Donohue emphasising the importance of projects which would "add value" to existing infrastructure. The missing link from Claremorris to Athenry was a good example of such a project in that it would afford greater operational flexibility to Iarnród Éireann and reconnect the Ballina freight hub to its traditional source in Foynes as well as allow the redirection of current traffic to Waterford. He also noted that a number of new freight flows had been identified which would use the route.
Earlier the Committee heard that passenger numbers on the Galway-Limerick line for 2014 were in excess of 220,000 according to statistics published by Iarnród Éireann, including a 72.5% increase in passenger journeys through the Ennis- Athenry section of the line, the largest annual growth on the rail network. This compares very favourably with the Faber Maunsell passenger projections prepared for Iarnrod Eireann in 2005 which anticipated 169,000 annual trips on the Galway-Limerick Route.
Don Cunningham and Niall Grogan attended from Iarnród Éireann and stated that IÉ are keen to support West on Track’s proposals or any other proposal that utilises their rail network. Mr. Cunningham stated that Iarnród Éireann will soon be running a rail vehicle over the Athenry-Tuam-Claremorris line in order to protect ownership of the route.
Deputies Dooley, Michael Fitzmaurice TD (IND) and Michelle Mulherin (FG) were among those strongly supportive of the redevelopment of the rail link from Claremorris to Athenry which will allow a north-south freight route from Ballina to Waterford and to the soon to be developed Foynes Port.
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