D-Day is approaching for
Western Rail Corridor
Western People - 26th
The proposed re-opening of the Western Rail Corridor has
been discussed ad nauseum during the past ten years. But
D-day is fast approaching, writes Christy Loftus.
The month of March is 'D' for decision time for the
proposed re-introduction of the Western Rail Corridor
connecting Sligo to Limerick and the south east.
In March it is expected that an expert working group
under Mr Pat McCann, the chairman of the Jurys Doyle Hotel
group, will deliver their findings relating to the
feasibility of re-opening the line.
A measure of success has already been achieved with the
re-introduction of rail services between Limerick and Ennis,
a service that is performing ahead of expectations.
Yesterday, Mr McCann confirmed that the government
appointed working group which includes representatives of
West on Track and the western inter-county rail committee is
on target to deliver their report to the Minister.
"We have a meeting scheduled for the end of February and
I expect report will be available in draft form. We will
have a final meeting to tidy up any loose ends before
completing our task,' he said.
Mr McCann, a native of Ballymote in Co Sligo, declined to
comment on the recommendations until such time as the
Minister has been given the report. However it is understood
that the report will be "positive" in relation to the
development of the line.
The campaign for the re-opening of the line to Limerick
is more than twenty years old and has been sustained, among
others, by veteran campaigner Fr Micheál
MacGréil. While the ultimate objective has not been
achieved there has been some success in the re-opening of
the Limerick/ Ennis stretch and a major achievement has been
to retain the line intact.
According to Fr MacGréil the line from Sligo to
Ennis has a value at least in the region of ¤500m. "It
is not worth that to sell it but, at a minimum, it is worth
that if one had to go out to buy the line,' he said. "With
the trend in Britain and Europe towards more rail, the state
and the people can be thankful that this asset has been
retained and is available to be used."
The line of the track from Sligo runs through Collooney,
Tubbercurry, Charlestown, Swinford, Kiltimagh, Claremorris,
Ballindine, Milltown, Tuam, Ballyglunin, Athenry,
Craughwell, Ardrahan, Gort and Ennis to Limerick which
connects with Waterford and the south east.
The Western Rail Corridor campaign committee is seeking a
government commitment to re-open the entire corridor from
Sligo to Limerick within a specified time frame for both
freight and passenger traffic; they want a commitment to
specify the incremental phases against a specific timeframe;
an instruction to Iarnród Eireann to programme the
work within the current National Development Plan (NDP), and
the establishment of a framework for local participation in
overseeing the operation of services on the Corridor.
According to Mr Frank Dawson, Director of Services,
Galway Community and Enterprise Unit, research has indicated
that there is sufficient population in the catchment area to
sustain the line on an economic basis.
The West on Track report of January, 2004, shows the
Corridor serving fourteen towns, including three Gateway and
Four Hub towns (as designated under the National Spatial
There is presently a population of 480,000 and this is
predicted to grow to 620,000 by 2016 and they claim that the
entire cost of re-establishing the line is ¤310 million
which compares with the cost of three miles of the Metro in
Dublin or five miles of the Luas.
Under the NDP a sum of ¤477m was set aside for
public transport in the BMW region while a sum of
¤2,574 was allocated for the East and South. The
underspend on transport infrastructure in the BMW stands at
almost sufficient to rebuild the line
When the social and environmental benefits are factored
into the equation, the case for the re-introduction of the
service is unanswerable.
Dawson argues that the funding of the railway need not
interfere with spending on the planned road development
under the NDP.
There is also an unanswerable case to the need to divert
traffic and freight off the roads and onto the railways.
The N-17 (Galway to Sligo road) has 25,000 car users a
day, making it the busiest single carriagway in the West of
Every year, from Mayo and Sligo 105,000 tonnes of pulp
wood is hauled by road to Waterford. A similar amount of
pulp wood is hauled by road from Galway and Clare. A one
person train operation could carry 780 tonnes, taking the
equivalent of 20 lorry loads a day off the roads.
Dawson points out that there is need for a joint
community/local authority/Iarnrod Eireann partnership to
manage any new service on the Western Corridor and sees the
need for innovative approaches in the management operation.
The Local Government Act (2001) allows for this type of
partnership approach under the County Development Board
process and can facilitate the integration of the rail
system into community based public transport solutions.
Recently a campaign has commenced to re-open the
Navan-Dublin railway line. The integrity of this line has
not been kept intact and would cost an enormous amount of
money to bring back into service. This is not a worry for Fr
MacGréil who claims that the Navan line should be
re-opened, along with the line from Mullingar through Moate
to Athlone. "These lines are needed to cater to the needs of
commuters and to protect out investment in the roads and the
"It is up to us, to the people and the public
representatives to ensure that the Western Corridor does not
lose its place in the queue to these other projects." Fr
MacGréil said the people who "spend the money" were
not giving sufficient share to the West and there was an
attitude among economists and civil servants that the West
should be "gentrified" rather than developed.
The economists always make the argument about the need
for "critical mass." Their view is that if the critical mass
does not exist then you can't have it (railway). "We look at
it differently. We look to development for the future. The
services should be provided before the 'critical mass'
becomes the problem, as happened in Dublin.
"We (railway campaigners) look to the future. We see a
growing population and we believe transport services should
be provided ahead of that population expansion. Rail is an
obvious way to cater for the future transport needs," he
He agreed that community involvement and commitment would
be an essential part of the development of the Corridor and
that the public and Chambers of Commerce would have to come
in behind and use the rail. He also argued that special
incentives should be put in place to attract new industry to
the catchment area along the corridor.
"Our roads are over-used now. The situation will get
worse but with a Western Rail Corridor crossing the existing
lines radiating from Dublin (Sligo-Dublin; Westport, Galway,
Limerick and Cork-Tralee the entire country will be opened
up to rail users. This is not a pipe dream, we are not
sentimentalists yearning for a return to steam engines."
"We are looking to a future where the railway will play a
key role, where we can look to railway holidays, to an
International Railway at Charlestown (commuting with Knock
Airport) and at Limerick (connecting to Shannon) and
visitors arriving in Waterford and Cork by boat having the
entire West of Ireland opened up to them by rail."
Fr MacGréil said he was confident the report of
the Expert Working Group would be positive and he understood
there was a commitment that the recommendations would be put
before the cabinet for early consideration. And he was
positive about the outcome of the cabinet discussions. "If
the cabinet response is not what we want, then the campaign
goes on. The Western Corridor may become an election issue,
but I hope it won't come to that.
"The campaign has been across Parties and I am confident
the report will be excellent and will command support. This
is the people's railway. Iarnród Eireann and the
government only hold it in trust. The local community and
the local authorities will have a role.
The day is coming when people will have no comfort
driving their cars unless there is a railway running side by
side with the road."
And he sounded a warning for any civil servants who might
incline to put the report in the MAD file.
"Mons James Horan alerted me to the MAD file," said Fr
MacGréil. "It is the Maximum Administrative Delay
"I want to see this Corridor opened before I die. And
while that is not the most important thing, I don't have the
time now to be dealing with MAD files."