‘RELIEVE THE EAST, REVIVE THE WEST’ Campaigner Colmán Ó Raghallaigh.
If the Government is serious about balanced regional development, then the Western Rail Corridor extension from Athenry to Claremorris must go ahead.
That’s the view of Colmán Ó Raghallaigh, a leading campaigner to reopen the idle railway line.
Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Shane Ross, has recently announced that he will carry out a fresh financial and economic appraisal of the merits of the Western Rail Corridor.
Mr Ó Raghallaigh said if the arguments are assessed fairly, the long-awaited project will go ahead.
“Money can be spent like confetti at a wedding in Dublin but at the same time our own project is treated as if it is the most difficult problem to solve since Einstein proved the theory of relativity,” he told The Mayo News.
“As we hear of millions being spent on studies and buying up gardens in the capital for transport corridors we also need to be ambitious for the regions. It is time to reimagine how our country operates.
“The Mayo-Galway rail link can be completed for less than the cost of the study into the Dublin Metro. If we cannot develop the infrastructure we already have then promises about investing in the west cannot be taken seriously. Really the time for studies by Dublin-based ‘gurus’ is over, the west needs to see concrete action. This will also benefit Dublin by taking some of the pressure off the capital, a simple case of ‘relieve the east, revive the west’,” he added.
He is fearful though of what he says is a Dublin-centric approach in decision making. Mr Ó Raghallaigh is a founder member of West-on-Track which is lobbying for the provision of the railway. Research was carried out for the group in 2016 examining all the boards under the control of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. The results were stark.
Of 155 people on the various boards, 118 were from Dublin, their research revealed. Three, by comparison, were from Mayo and some counties had no representatives at all.
“It is hard therefore to talk to people in the Department of Transport about commuters from Claremorris to Galway because they probably think it’s on an ass and cart that we’re commuting. That’s why the review needs to be treated with caution,” he said.
“If you keep putting major investment in this country into one small area, the capital, then you are creating problems. Planning needs to be predicated on looking at the future of the west, not the present. It is so patently obvious that if you build the infrastructure, towns will thrive,” he added.
“If this was Dublin, would we be having this discussion? Money can be spent in Dublin without any questions on a whim. We’re asking for something to be spent in this region that will be a serious and logical investment in the future of the region,” he argued.
“The Atlantic Economic Corridor is currently being progressed by a special working group under the control of Minister Michael Ring’s Department and if the Government’s rhetoric about the Atlantic Economic Corridor is to mean anything, projects like the Western Rail Corridor will have to be delivered,” he added.
The Western Rail Corridor has been reopened from Limerick as far as Athenry but plans to extend the Western Rail Corridor from Athenry to Claremorris have been unsuccessful to date.
Such a connection would mean many towns in Mayo could connect more easily with Galway, Ennis and Limerick.
“How can anyone say it does not make sense for Ballina, Castlebar, Westport and Claremorris to be linked by rail to Galway when the railway actually exists? The Claremorris to Athenry railway is the missing link in terms of tourism, freight and commuters,” he said.
He added that practising rail infrastructure engineers who have looked at the line estimate the railway from Athenry to Claremorris can be reopened for under €100 million.
While TEN-T European funding could have been availed of if the Western Arc still remained on the Core network (it was removed by then Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar in 2011), Ó Raghallaigh argues the investment needed is well within the capacity of the Irish Government.
“It shouldn’t need TEN-T for this to happen. It doesn’t need TEN-T for the government to spend €170 million merely looking at options for the Metro in Dublin so it shouldn’t take TEN-T to recommend and finalise the rail link between Galway and Mayo that will cost half of that,” he said.
There is no stated timeframe on the review from Minister Ross. The old Western Rail Corridor closed in 1976 and the State still owns all of the property on the dormant line.
The Ennis to Limerick part of the line reopened in 1988 with the Ennis to Athenry line re-opening in 2010.