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Address to Green Party conference by Colmán Ó Raghallaigh - West on Track

Galway March 12th 2004

West on Track welcomes the strong support of the Green Party for the WRC, particularly the commitment to making it a pre-requisite for going into government.

As many of you will be aware, the WRC is the largest and single most valuable unused piece of infrastructure in this country. It has been conservatively valued at over euro400m. Is it not a national scandal therefore, to have such a valuable piece of infrastructure lying unused as people sit in 2 hour traffic jams on their way into Galway? Or as freight trains of timber or Coke carry the equivalent of 18 articulated lorries from the West to Waterford, four or five times a week but are forced to go through the already overcrowded Dublin region because the WRC is closed?

The development of the WRC is in line with the National Spatial Strategy and links 3 gateways (Galway Limerick and Sligo) and 4 hubs but that much-vaunted document will continue to ring hollow while the grass grows on the railway in Tuam station. Some hub town! Some strategy!!!

The current underspend on public transport projects in the BMW region at the half-way stage of the National Development Plan would be sufficient to cover once and a half times the capital costs of the entire WRC.

The recently published West on Track report on the WRC shows that, if managed effectively, the WRC has the potential to generate substantial income, while the annual running costs of the WRC will be met by the income generated.

There is also significant population growth along the route of the WRC and in centres connected to the WRC by rail. There is a large potential customer market across the West and Mid-West, including daily commuters, day-trippers, students and health-related passengers.

The capital costs of the WRC compare extremely favourably with other national infrastructural projects currently mooted or in progress e.g. The entire WRC including stations, signalling, level-crossings, track and rolling stock will cost the equivalent of 2.5 miles of the Metro, 5 miles of the Luas, half of the proposed Red Cow Roundabout works or the equivalent of the Drogheda by-pass.

During the period of the first half of the National Development Plan (2000-02) only 51% of the projected public transport funding was actually spent in the BMW region. In the South and East region the spend was 174% of forecast. This represents a shortfall of euro322m in the BMW region.

The construction of massive infrastructural projects in the capital should be complemented by significant projects in other regions in line with Government policy of balanced regional development.

It is estimated that traffic congestion is costing the Galway economy alone euro300,000 per day or euro1.8m per week or euro93.6m per year.

The WRC and the manner in which it is handled over the next few weeks will serve to define the real attitude of central Government to infrastructural development in the West. For, make no mistake about it, the issue of opening the WRC goes way beyond the railway itself and extends to the heart of the culture of systematic under-prioritisation of western development, often characterised by the use of such catch-phrases such as "critical mass" and "business case" etc. No business cases will be by demanded for the expenditure of euro600m on the Red Cow roundabout or the Metro.

The concept of Balanced Regional Development must now be systematically put into practice in the West of Ireland. The scandal of a euro322m underspend on public transport in the BMW region must be addressed, not covered up or described as "a mistake" as some people in the Department of Transport and Iarnród Éireann have recently suggested.

What is needed now is a change of mind-set within the Department and Iarnród Éireann. Senior management in Iarnród Éireann must now take ownership of the WRC concept and bring forward positive proposals to Government for the immediate development of the WRC. Those charged with the development of national policy must come to the realisation that development in the West is not some tiresome waste of time and public money, but rather that an essential element of the development of Ireland's national infrastructure, which will benefit East and West alike. We are part of Ireland too and we are fed up waiting. It is now time to see the colour of the Government's money. In the words of the West on Track slogan the time has come to "relieve the East and revive the West."

Should the long-awaited but mysteriously delayed new working group on the WRC prove to be an attempt at stalling or avoiding Governmental responsibility for the west, the West on Track representatives would have no option but to leave and bring the truth to the attention of the people. We would like to think however that the working group will prove to be the engine that will deliver the WRC. That is our firm intention and our pledge to you and to the people of the West is that we will not rest until that perfectly reasonable demand has been delivered.

Go raibh maith agaibh.








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