Local groups demand
Sunday Business Post 17th
By Ken Griffin
It has been almost 20 years since the last passenger
trains passed through Moate, Co Westmeath, but local
publican William Allen is confident they will soon return.
Allen is chairman of the Midland Railway Action Group, which
is campaigning for the re-opening of the
Mullingar-to-Athlone railway. He is hopeful about its
prospects for success after several meetings with the
Minister for Transport Martin Cullen, which were organised
by former minister and potential general election candidate
''At our most recent meeting, the minister was impressed
by our submission and agreed to examine it over the next
four to six months,'' Allen said. ''It's not part of
Transport 21 [the government's euro34 billion transport
plan] but, as the minister said to us: 'Everything's not
in and everything's not out.' He opened the door slightly
for us." http://www.adireland.com/adclick.php?n=aab33c66
Things look less positive for Meath On Track, which is
campaigning for the re-opening of that county's closed
railways. According to its public relations officer,
Proinsias Mac Fhearghusa, the group's only encounter with
Cullen was at a stormy public meeting in January.
''There was a slight altercation between the minister and
the public during which he told us: 'You can't just demand a
railway,'" said Mac Fhearghusa.
He said the difference in the minister's attitude towards
the Westmeath and the Meath campaigners could be explained
easily. ''It's down to the constituencies. The government is
confident of the return of two Fianna Fail TDs in Meath West
and Meath East so they don't feel threatened," he said.
As a result, the group hopes to make rail re-opening into
a major political issue in Meath in the run-up to the
general election. Its plans are mirrored by similar rail
campaign groups across the country. They hope that next
year's general election will be the first where rail
transport is a significant campaign issue as they seek to
highlight the role of politics in Irish rail transport. The
decision to open or close railway lines rests with Martin
The re-opening of a railway is thus perceived as a
political decision, something that was recognised as early
as the 1970s when councillors in the west of Ireland formed
the Western Intercounty Railway Committee to campaign for
the reopening of the Western Rail Corridor (WRC). That
campaign was seen as fitful and based on electoral
considerations and was also reluctant to criticise the
Since the last election, however, businessmen and
commuters have emerged as the driving forces behind the
railway re-opening campaigns. The latest WRC campaign, West
On Track, which was founded in 2003, plans to launch an
aggressive political campaign.
''We think it's unacceptable that there was no time-frame
given for the re-opening of the Sligo section of the railway
in Transport 21," said a spokesman for the group. In an bid
to counter such campaigns, the government has attempted to
win the support of local transport activists.
In July, a report from the Midland Railway Action Group
was received in person by Cullen. Cullen also has regular
meetings with South East On Track, a group headed by Fianna
Fail candidate Sean Connick.
It is campaigning for the re-opening of the New Ross
Meanwhile, construction work on the WRC looks set to
start this year.
In Meath, government candidates are expected to play up
Transport 21's promise to deliver the Navan to Clonsilla
railway line by 2015, despite increasing anger from local
''At this stage, it's wheeled out every election and then
it's delayed," said Mac Fhearghusa.
After the last election, the hopes of Meath's rail
campaigners were dashed when local TD and then minister for
the environment Noel Dempsey allowed Meath County Council to
lay a sewerage scheme along the Clonsilla line. Relocating
the sewer is now a major obstacle to the reopening of the
Meath On Track is also angry that the existing freight
railway between Navan and Drogheda has not been converted
for passenger use.
''This is the temporary solution to the commuting
problems of Meath," said Mac Fhearghusa. "At the moment, it
takes two-and-a-half hours to drive to Dublin in the
morning; you could do it in 65minutes on the Navan to
Drogheda line. It would have a huge benefit for people's
However, a spokesman for Irish Rail said it would be
unsustainable to spend euro70 mill ion to euro100 million on
upgrading the line as the Clonsilla line was contained in
Although Meath On Track claims that its campaigns have
been hindered by a lack of government support, West On Track
plays down claims that its success has been due to political
lobbying. It is particularly angry about media claims that
just 750 passengers a day would use the WRC.
''We have made our case successfully based on the facts
that the west is the second fastest growing area of the
country outside Dublin and that the line will link the third
and fourth largest cities in the country," said a spokesman.
The West On Track spokesman said the success of the Limerick
to Ennis line showed how well the WRC would do.
Closed in the 1970s, the Ennis line, which was reopened
in 1983, now carries 150,000 passengers a year. An Irish
Rail spokesman said the services on the WRC would be
operated by commuter railcars rather than Intercity trains.
In fact, the only line being campaigned for which could see
the use of Intercity carriages is the Athlone-to-Mullingar
line, which was once part of the main line to Galway.
While local campaigners have focused on the line's
potential as a commuter route, some believe it could cut
half an hour from rail journeys between Galway and Dublin.
Although the 2003 strategic rail review found that restoring
the line would cost euro154 million, this estimate has since
been cut to euro84million.
''It could be restored as a high-speed line. The track
has excellent foundations. It would bring speedier access to
the city," said Allen. The difficulty that all the groups
face is demonstrating that the lines will be viable.
The physical presence of a railway line is no guarantee
it will be used. For instance, the Limerick to Waterford
line was almost shut in 2002 due to low passenger numbers
and today just six services a day use the line.