'New phase' for western
rail group as plans are laid for commuter
Connacht Tribune 18th
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
"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
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
"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.