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'New phase' for western rail group as plans are laid for commuter link

Connacht Tribune 18th September 2003

by Bernard Mallee

Reopening the western rail corridor linking Sligo to Limerick is important for the development of the west of Ireland but it must be tackled on a phased basis, said Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Éamon Ó Cuív.

He added the renewal of the Tuam-Athenry-Oranmore-Galway rail line would be a "logical first step" in that process. Mr Ó Cuív said recent figures released by the National Roads Authority show that the Tuam to Galway road is now as busy as the notorious bottleneck on the Kinnegad to Enfield stretch approaching Dublin and a commuter rail service would relieve the congestion. But he added that while plans to reopen the western rail corridor would aid balanced regional development, it is important "not to insist on the end game because then you will never begin".

"If you can prove that rail works on one priority stretch like the N17, then you can make a strong case for reopening the rest of the line. The infrastructure is already in place - it is just a matter of renewing it," said Mr Ó Cuív. His comments follow a meeting between Transport Minister Séamus Brennan and the Border, Midlands and West Regional Assembly to discuss the regional imperative for reopening the entire stretch of rail line.

Chairman of the BMW Regional Assembly, Peter Kennedy, said Mr Brennan is "very much in favour" of the plans and has an "inherent interest in seeing the project realised because he is from Galway and understands the issues".

According to figures complied by West on Track, the group spearheading the campaign to open the western rail corridor, the population of Claremorris will have doubled by 2005, compared to 1996 levels, and every town along the rail corridor south of and including Kiltimagh in Co Mayo has increased its population by at least 10% in the last seven years.

Tuam is expected to have a population of 15,000 within five years, while the population of Oranmore is projected to rise to 16,000 in that period. A new town called Ardán, with a population of 12,000, is to be built near Oranmore and close to the western rail corridor.

"The Sligo to Collooney junction and the Ennis to Limerick lines are in good order and in everyday use. Upgrading the intervening 185 kms between Ennis and Collooney junction to include track, relaying, re-signalling, level crossing automation, station refurbishment and 15 diesel rail cars to provide commuter services into Sligo, Galway and Limerick, as well as inter-city services, will cost just euro230 million.

"This contrasts dramatically with the National Roads Authority figure of euro8 million per kilometre for roads and shows that the equivalent cost of 185kms of national primary road would be euro1,480 million," said West on Track's Colmán Ó Raghallaigh. He said the project is as much about a viable and cost-effective transport alternative for the west as it is about the movement of freight.

Mr Ó Raghallaigh pointed out that Sligo and Mayo export an average of seventy 40ft containers each weekday and the output of Ballina Beverages would fill a train every day.

"The western rail corridor offers these and other industries on the western seaboard a direct, fast and efficient route to move goods to the market place on the continent via the container port in Waterford," he said.

The West on Track campaign group, which has held a series of key meetings with top-level Government officials, insists that regional development cannot be predicated on existing infrastructure, but rather rail and roads must be put in place to attract industry and people.

"Rail infrastructure is integral to halting the demise of the west of Ireland. The so-called critical mass of population the Government claims is needed could well be critical in the next general election if this shamefully unused rail corridor is not reopened.

"The rail commuter service into Galway is very important, but it must be the first step towards reopening the entire western rail corridor. Anything short of that is simply not acceptable," said Mr Ó Raghallaigh.








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