Letter to The Editor,
Irish Times June
The Irish Times,
10-16 D'Olier St.,
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
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
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
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.
Colmán Ó Raghallaigh MA
West on Track