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Re-opening the Western Rail Corridor

Western People Editorial - 16th February 2005


In a matter of weeks the West on Track lobby group will know if their campaign to re-open the Sligo-Limerick rail line has been a success. The Minister for Transport, Mr Martin Cullen, is due to present a ten-year plan to his Cabinet colleagues, in which he will identify projects that are worthy of State funding. Everyone in Connacht will hope that the re-opening of the Sligo-Limerick rail-link is one of those projects. It would be unthinkable if this line was to remain closed when the transport needs of the region have never been greater.

There may have been an argument ten years ago that the re-opening of the Western Rail Corridor represented a risk too far in a region that lacked development. But that hypothesis has long been made redundant. The West of Ireland may not have benefited as handsomely from the Celtic Tiger as the East but there has been progress nonetheless. Nowhere is this more evident than in Galway where traffic gridlock has reached almost crisis point.

One has only to travel from Tuam to Galway in rush-hour any weekday to realise the importance of the Western Rail Corridor to the future of the West of Ireland. The opening of the rail-line from Sligo to Galway and Limerick should not be viewed as a political act of charity; it is an essential piece of infrastructure that cannot be left redun-dant any longer.

The closure of the Western Rail Corridor was arguably one of the most regressive, short-sighted political deci-sions of the twentieth century. Fifty years ago Ireland had a comprehensive rail network that serviced almost every county in the country. The Western Rail Corridor was par-ticularly valuable as it offered a rail service to three counties - Sligo, Mayo and Galway. Some will argue that it was closed because of a lack of customers but that was never the case. The reality is that Ireland's rail service never realised its full potential because it was virtually ignored by successive Governments who believed that the future of Ireland's transport needs lay in roads infrastructure. These policies are now being wholly reversed with trams returning to the streets of Dublin - in the form of the Luas - and the Government doing everything in its power to convince the public that there is a viable alternative to the car.

The opening of the Western Rail Corridor can be the catalyst for a new vibrant era in the West of Ireland. A regular train service between Sligo, Mayo and Galway will open up a whole host of new opportunities while also rid-ding our roads of a huge amount of traffic, particularly heavy goods vehicles. If the Government has any foresight or vision it will realise that rail transport is essential to the future industrial development of the West of Ireland. With car ownership increasing by the day we can no longer expect heavy goods vehicles to service our industries. Companies are losing vast sums of money because of delays in road transport. The development of a low-cost efficient rail service is the obvious answer to the transport problems of post-Celtic Tiger Ireland.

If there was no existing rail network between Sligo and Galway one could understand the reluctance to re-open the Western Rail Corridor. But the rail network is in place. It may need a little upgrading but the network is more or less intact.

If the Government approves the re-opening of the Western Rail Corridor next month it will mean the powers that be have finally begun to right the wrongs of the last fifty years. However, failure to sanction such a vital infrastructural project will be the ultimate insult to the people of Mayo, Sligo and Galway.

From a purely political point of view it is in the interests of the Government to give the green light for the Western Rail Corridor. But this issue should not just be about politics. The people of the West are entitled to fair play. If hundreds of millions of Euro can be spent on reviving a tram system in Dublin surely a few million can be expended on a badly-needed rail-link west of the Shannon. Or is there one system of equality for the East and another for the West? The next few weeks will provide the answer to that particular riddle.








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