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West=On=Track - News

The Railways Belong To The People

Mícheál Mac Greial, Secretary of Western Inter-County Railway Committee

Address to the Inaugural Meeting of West-on-Track held in the Dalton Inn, Claremorris on Wed May 22nd 2003 at 8pm

1. Réamhrá: A Chathaoirlith is a chairde, is céim mhór ar aghaidh ag feachtas forbartha Bhóithre Iarainn Iarthar na hÉireann í bunú na gluaiseachta poiblí seo chun brú a chur ar na h-údaráis ar son athbheochain an bhóthair iarainn ó Chlár Chlainne Mhriris go Sligeach. Go fad-tearmach tá sé ar intinn againn an line ó Shligeach go Luimneach a ath-fhorbairt mar chuid den gaóras ó bhóthar iarainn a Cheanglódh na príomhlínte ó Bhaile Atha cliath go Sligeach go Cathair na Mart/Béal an Átha go Gaillimh, go Liumneach, go Trálí go Corcaigh, go Portlaírge agus Róslár. Cuirfidh seo go mór le infra-struchtúr taistil na hÉireann sa todhchaí.

I welcome tonight's meeting, called to launch a sustained public campaign for the restoration of the cross-radial railway from Collooney to Claremorris and on south to Athenry and Limerick. The cross-radial continues from Limerick via Limerick Junction to Clonmel and Waterford and on to Rosslare. The revival of the cross-radial enhances the radial network as well as providing inter-community and inter-regional rail services both in the case of passengers and freight, The County councils of the West of Ireland through the work of the Western Inter-County Railway Committee have (practically) exhausted the official channels of communication with the Department of Transport and CIE/IE for more than twenty years in trying to persuade the Government(s) of the day of our project. So far, we have only achieved limited success. This success has come from Mr. Séamus Brennan T.D. in his role as Minister for Transport in the early 1990's and recently when he guaranteed that the line could not be lifted, thereby keeping this valuable thoroughfare intact. This is an enormous asset to us now and reduces the capital costs of restoration significantly.

Since the inter-county campaign commenced (up to 1987 as a joint RDO project) in 1979, attitudes to the place of rail transport have matured. Right across Europe the place of railways is being re-appraised upward. Road congestion and environmental pollution as well as energy conservation point to the wisdom of providing a greater role for railways in an integrated transport system. With regards to the West of Ireland, we are all aware of the need to upgrade our communications and transport infra structure if we are to restore viability to many of our communities. The socio-economic development of the West of Ireland, which has been grossly neglected for decades, is wholly dependent on good infra structure. The restoration of the cross-radial railway is a valuable aspect of such infra structure.

In the course of the public campaign it is very important to be systematic about our strategies and tactics. Winning united community support is very important. To do that there is a need to inform the people accurately of the value of the railway and raise a greater level of railway-awareness. Rhetoric alone will not deliver the case. Having won the argument it will then be essential to win the case.

It has become very clear to the members of the Western Inter-County Railway Committee that, at the end of the day, the restoration of the line is a political decision. In the current climate, with the gross imbalance between investment in rail infra structure of the state and of the EU between the East Coast of Ireland and that of the West, there is a moral right on our side. If the public campaign can generate public support and the State and Iarnród Éireann give us a favourable hearing it should be possible to have a workforce on the line before very long. As has been proven by the excellent work done on the main lines, we now have the expertise and talent to relay the tracks and restore the Collooney to Claremorris line to the best standards in a relatively short time. Now is the operative time.

The recently approved National Spatial Strategy has further strengthened the case for the restoration of the cross-radial rail links between the 'Gateways' and 'Hubs' in the West, i.e., Sligo-Tuam-Galway-Limerick etc. Think also of what such a rail link would do for Collooney, Tubbercurry, Curry, Charlestown, Swinford, Kiltimagh, Claremorris, Ballindine, Miltown, Tuam, Ballyglunin, Athenry, Craughwell, Ardrahen, Gort, Cusheen, Ennis etc. The best policy for overland transport infra structure is bi-modal in the case of the cross-radial railway we have the N17 so I would name our line the R17! A further point of integration is the possibility of sidings to Horan International Airport and to Shannon International Airport. The restored line could also be a good asset for tourism in the West of Ireland, enabling visitors to enjoy a Rail Holiday.

One of the most realistic uses of the line would be in the freight area. The transportation of trees to the major factory in Waterford from the many forests proximate to the line is an obvious use of the line which would relieve the roads form the large trailers and trucks which are not only clogging the routes but also remove a traffic hazard. The recent development of the lift-on, lift-off facilities at Waterford Port could be and ideal terminal for a linertrain of containers from Sligo South and Southeast. Cement, oil, fertiliser, and the other categories of bulk cargo could be transferred from our over-crowded roads to our under-used railways.

The suggestion being proposed by Minister Brennan T.D. that responsibility for the railroad be separated from the passenger and freight services makes sense. Local Government could take more responsibility for the maintenance for the railroad, while Iarnród Éireann could be responsible for the use of the line with the possibility of private hauliers sharing some of the services. Where Iarnród Éireann is not in a position to run a particular freight or passenger service, private hauliers should be able to tender and use the spare capacity of the track. It is a waste of resources to have railway idle while roads are over-crowded. The revival of the Western Corridor could well provide a lead to a new integrated rail-road-air & sea transport policy.

In conclusion, may I congratulate and thank Colmán Ó Raghallaigh and Martin Cunniffe for their initiative and energy in the launch of this campaign, West-On-Track. It deserves the fullest support form all over the West. The late John Healy said, "Nobody called Stop". The late Mgr.James Horan believed that we should unite and pursue the interests of the West together. Politically speaking, the Western Inter-County Railway committee has enjoyed all party support so far. I hope the campaign we launch tonight will get similar support as we push towards action.








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