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Rail Campaign Is Now Well On Track - Irish Times

10th July 2003

The biggest ever campaign to re-open a railway line in Ireland is now well on track. In the past three weeks, over 30,000 people have signed a petition calling for the currently disused "Western Rail Corridor" from Sligo to Limerick to be re-opened.

The West-on-Track campaign has really caught the imagination of people living along the route with local authorities, chambers of commerce, trade unions and development groups from over 20 towns all rowing in behind the initiative.

Since the campaign was launched last month, hundreds of signs have been erected along the N17 Sligo-Galway road with slogans like "Give us back our railway" and "Relieve the East - Revive the West." Over 5,000 posters have been distributed to retail outlets and businesses and 10,000 car stickers have been handed out while 15,000 postcards addressed to the Minister for Transport, calling for a restoration of services, have been printed.

While some 31 miles of the route - at the northern and southern ends - are part of already operational lines, some 114 miles in between currently have no rail traffic. The section from Coolloney in Co. Sligo to Claremorris, Co. Mayo, was shut in 1975 while the section from Claremorris to Athenry and on to Ennis last had a freight train in 2001. Much of the line is overgrown.

However, thanks largely to the efforts of Fr. Micheal MacGreil, who has tirelessly campaign for the line's re-opening, the track was not lifted and every mile is still in public ownership.

In the Strategic Rail Review (SRR), published earlier this year, the cost of renewing the Sligo-Limerick line, including tracks, stations, signalling and level crossings, was put at euro572million.

But this figure is disputed by Mr Frank Dawson, Galway Co. Council's Director of Services, who has carried out an extensive analysis of the line's potential. He maintains that it could be re-opened for euro215 million.

"The total capital cost of the Western Rail Corridor is overstated by euro327m (266%). An error of this magnitude simply cannot go unchecked," he maintains, adding that just 15 diesel railcar units on 60 mph track, rather than 72 locomotive hauled carriages on 80 mph track as the SRR budgeted for, would enable a comprehensive cross-radial service to be operated as well as commuter services for Limerick, Sligo and especially Galway which could have new suburban halts at Oranmore and Renmore.

He claims that the track could be upgraded at a cost of euro825,000 per mile rather than the euro2.4 million per mile quoted in the SRR.

"It seems illogical that here we have an asset which is not being utilised. It could be open in six months if the green light was given. People are bursting to get the train," notes Colman O'Raghallaigh, a member of the West-on-Track campaign steering group.

He stresses that changing lifestyles and demographic changes make the line far more viable now than when it lost its passenger services. The need for more balanced regional development and the provision of better public transport in rural Ireland has struck a chord with communities along the route.

Copyright Irish Times 2003








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