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Letter to The Editor, Irish Times

Irish Times June 2006

The Editor,
The Irish Times,
10-16 D'Olier St.,
Dublin 2.


May I, through the courtesy of your columns, briefly comment on the article by your Environment correspondent, Frank McDonald, (IT 7.6.2006) regarding the report of the Expert Working Group chaired by Mr. Pat McCann and the Government's decision to include the Western Rail Corridor as part of Transport 21.

In our view the Government is to be commended for taking a NATIONAL view of the development of infrastructure and looking to the future in terms of planning for the WHOLE country.

It is generally accepted that the Western region has lagged behind in terms of infrastructural investment. For years now, the IDA, Ireland West Tourism and many others have been pointing out that a lack of basic infrastructure is severely hampering the development of the whole western Region. Re-opening the WRC will make a significant contribution towards redressing this imbalance, but it can only achieve its full potential when the entire route is re-opened. The strength of this railway is that it is the sum of all its parts.

That is why, in terms of connectivity, linking Sligo and Galway by rail to Limerick and Cork makes perfect sense, especially since the basic infrastructure is already in place and the property already in state ownership. In the light of rising oil prices and motoring costs, it also seems extraordinary that anyone could doubt that the linking of Galway and Limerick, the 3rd and 4th largest cities of the state by rail would not deliver value for money. It is, after all, the busiest bus route in the state.

Talk of "low critical mass" and "low population densities" will bring wry smiles to the faces of those making the 30,000 car journeys per day on the N17 between Tuam and Galway (NRA statistics).

Just how much critical mass do the cities and towns of the west require before they can be deemed worthy of the level of infrastructure made available to them in the 19th Century by a foreign government?

The figures showing "very modest demand", quoted by Mr. McDonald, were roundly rejected by practically every member of the Working Group, and the report in question was not made available to the Group's members for analysis. West on Track subsequently had them evaluated privately by another firm of transport consultants and were told that they seriously understated the potential passenger traffic on the WRC.

A more instructive example for potential passenger use might be the re-opened Ennis-Limerick section which is actually part of the WRC, and which has carried huge numbers of passengers since 2003. In its first year of operation it carried more than 140,000 passengers. Crucially there are seven trains each day and modern rolling stock, an essential element for any successful service.

While Mr. McCann felt the demand was weaker on the section north of Claremorris, he explicitly stated in his report that this section could be re-opened on the grounds of Balanced Regional Development.

As far as subsidies are concerned, no one would sensibly suggest that the Dart, though heavily subsidised, is a waste of money. Rather it is an essential piece of national infrastructure. It is a fact that all modes of transport require subsidy. What parameters are used to measure the value for money delivered by roads?

As for the cost of the project as a whole, it should be remembered that the construction of one mile of railway is significantly less expensive than that of one mile of road.

In Transport 21 the Government of Ireland has chosen to develop rail transport in a way not seen since before the foundation of the state. The entire Western Rail Corridor project comprises a tiny fraction of that whole plan.

Balanced regional development and the implementation of the National Spatial strategy are the cornerstones of Government policy and the logical basis for the re-opening of the Western Rail Corridor. I respectfully suggest that it was in that context that Mr. McCann recommended the phased re-opening of the WRC.

Yours etc.,

Colmán Ó Raghallaigh MA
West on Track
Co. Mayo.








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