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West=On=Track - News

Sunday Tribune report on Claremorris and the WRC

Sunday Tribune - Sunday Aug 22nd 2004


by David Boland

Once the forgotten man of Mayo, Claremorris has over recent years blossomed into the jewel of the West, with a renewal programme for the town which has seen formerly derelict buildings being reborn as an attractive, modern town centre. The town is helped by its pivotal location at the crossroads of Connaught, but the rebuilding of the fortunes of Claremorris has taken the sort of concerted effort not seen in these parts since Monsignor Horan spearheaded the campaign to develop Knock International Airport in the early 1980s.

Still, while the creation of the Airport solved one access issue for the area in the last century, another pressing issue is coming under scrutiny in the new millennium. This is the issue of a rail link. Claremorris is served by the East/West train running from Dublin to Connaught, but since the 1970s, there has been no passenger service on the Northern part of the Western Rail Corridor, which runs from Sligo in the north through Galway, and eventually on to Cork in the south. Freight trains had run on the line to South Claremorris as recently as three years ago (although no passenger service was carried on the line), but even these have dried up in recent times.

All this has to be viewed in the context of the regeneration of the West, and in particular of Claremorris. In an area where it would have been rare to find 50 houses built in a single year, the town has seen a marked reversal of the depopulation trend over recent times, and the last five years have seen more than 500 new properties developed (not necessarily remarkable, except for the fact that there are currently an additional 500 houses being built at the moment, with a further 500 at planning stage).

Colman Ó Raghallaigh has been among those at the forefront of a campaign to restore the Western Rail Corridor, thereby opening access further to Claremorris and the rest of the west. Along with community representatives from across the region, he set up an organisation called West on Track, which has been very successful in bringing the issue to national significance - indeed, thus far more than 100,000 signatures have been collected, and a working group has been set up by the Minister for Transport to examine the feasibility issues regarding the rail link.

"Reopening the corridor would be extremely significant in terms of infrastructure in the region," said Ó Raghallaigh. "The current population of the West stands at about 700,000 people, and reopening the line would facilitate the extraordinary growth currently being experienced in Claremorris at present."

A measure of the growth within Claremorris is the enthusiasm evident for the proposed move of the OPW to the town under the decentralisation programme, which has seen an unprecedented 127 applications for a move out of a possible 142 places available (and the project is yet to be fully greenlighted).

"Claremorris is growing at a rapid pace," said Ó Raghallaigh. "We have some of the most attractive facilities in the west with a world class equestrian centre, a superb golf course, an all-weather athletic track, a swimming pool which is soon to be upgraded to championship standard, and many other sports and leisure facilities. Housing is affordable here, with a typical four bedroom house costing just euro190,000, and we have access to excellent educational and healthcare facilities."

Given that Claremorris is a gateway to the west, the rail link is seen as critical from an access perspective, especially since it would allow for a direct link between the town and Knock Airport. The Airport has seen significant growth over recent years, with 150,000 travellers through it in 2001, 250,000 in 2003 and 450,000 predicted for this year. It is expected that within five years, more than one million passengers will pass through the airport per annum.

"Knock International Airport serves a huge and growing catchment area," said Ó Raghallaigh. "It is yet another argument for putting the Western Rail link back in place. It is a question of looking forward, and putting the infrastructure in place before the people arrive. Our slogan is "Relieve the East, Revive the West," because the days of the old sod of turf are gone."

With this sort of enthusiasm, it can't be long before the West will rise again.








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