If the Government is serious about the west of Ireland, then they should give the go-ahead for the Western Rail Corridor ‘immediately’.
That’s the view of Westport-based Fr Micheál Mac Gréil who has been campaigning since 1979 for the reopening of the corridor from Limerick to Collooney in Sligo.
The corridor has thus far been reopened from Limerick to Athenry and tomorrow (Wednesday) is the closing date for submissions in the public consultation stage of a financial and economic appraisal of the Athenry to Tuam and Tuam to Claremorris lines.
Iarnród Éireann say the purpose of the appraisal is to establish if the proposed extension to Tuam and Claremorris ‘represents value for money to the Irish public’.
However, Fr Mac Gréil, a leading sociologist and long-time campaigner for the west of Ireland, argues that investment in projects like the Western Rail Corridor needs to be ‘front-loaded’.
“Until the Government accept that front loaded capital investment is a priority, the west of Ireland will die,” Fr Mac Gréil told The Mayo News. “All they seem to approve is post critical mass, not before it. My argument has always been that you cannot create critical mass without having the infrastructure in place before hand – the four pillars of development – road, rail, communications and power,” he added.
Fr Mac Gréil, who is the Joint-Secretary of the Western Inter County Railway Committee and Patron of West on Track, references many different turns in the road during 40 years of campaigning. He pays tribute to the late Séamus Brennan, Minister for Transport in 1992, for helping to ensure the tracks on the old lines were not ripped up.
He is confident of the potential of the railway if it is extended to Mayo and Sligo, citing that the Athenry to Limerick line is expected to have over 400,000 passengers in 2020. He describes that line as an ‘enormous success’, adding there was resistance to that section of the track being reopened as well.
“The advantages are enormous. It is important in the regional context for commuters, for education, for the hospital and for work. My dream for the west of Ireland is there will be a job and third-level education and hospital accommodation within commuter distance of everyone, that they don’t have emigrate.
“I would say to the Government ‘do it immediately’. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating,” he said.
He argues for the railway to be extended initially to Tuam and Claremorris but then onto Sligo and suggests bringing the line into the Marian village of Knock and stopping also at Knock airport.
He also argues that aside from helping the development of the west, railway, as a mode of transport, has to receive much greater investment due to the climate emergency.
“In light of the environmental aspect, the railway is the greenway. If we want to reduce our carbon count, the railway is the most effective way
“And we’re going to have huge bills coming from Europe, millions if not billions over how we are going to damage the environment and instead of doing that we should put the money into the railways and that will help us to reduce it,” he said. On the issue of the environment, Fr Mac Gréil cited work by Professor Frank Kelly, Professor of Environmental Health at King’s College, London, and chair of the UK’s advisory committee on the medical effects of air pollutants.
Professor Kelly’s work argues not for people to switch from petrol cars to electric cars but for fewer cars on the road full stop. His rationale is based on what is termed the Oslo Effect, following a study by Oslo University, which shows that wear and tear from car and truck tyres and brakes can be even more dangerous to our health than exhaust particles and argues for a much greater use of rail than is currently the case.
“Now we have a motorway from Tuam to Limerick but there is growing consensus that motorways are considered one of the great threats to the climate. Steel on steel never pollutes but tyre on tar does and electric cars do not reduce the problem. We need to use railways much more, not less,” he said.
To participate in the online survey to express your views on the Western Rail Corridor extension to Claremorris, see https://emea.focusvision.com/survey/selfserve/214c/190513#?