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The greenway that needs a red light

Comment & Opinion

WIN WIN Young Dillon Doherty leads Enda Kenny and other dignitaries into Mulranny, when the final section of the 42km Great Western Greenway linking Westport to Achill was officially opened. Unlike the proposed Tuam Greenway, this route has no negative infrastructural implications for the area in which it is located.  Pic: Michael McLaughlin

The Western Rail Corridor is vital for our economic future

The announcement some weeks back by Minister Michael Ring of approximately €2 million for an extension of the Great Western Greenway to Ballycastle is a welcome one. It has the potential to further continue the success story of the Great Western Greenway.
That route, along parts of the old Westport-to-Achill railway line that closed in 1936/37, is along one of the most scenic routes in the country and has brought millions to the area in tourism spend.
Constructed with the co-operation of landowners along the 42km route, it remains a tremendous example of what can be achieved when there is collaboration between all sides for the betterment of an area.
Extending it north to Ballycastle via Wild Nephin Ballycroy National Park is a smart move.
It might not be quite as busy as the Westport-to-Achill route due to stopping points Westport, Newport, Mulranny and Achill’s ability to cater for visiting cyclists, but it will still bring decent numbers. It will be especially popular among those looking for a different type of route, travelling as it does through the remote Ballycroy National Park. It also opens the possibility of people starting their day in Ballina, getting bussed to Ballycastle, cycling to Westport and staying there that night. It has huge potential.
Both routes are great amenities for locals, too. Greenways provide a safe haven for young cyclists and peace and quiet for walkers and runners.

The wrong track
A campaign for a greenway in Tuam, along the route of the currently unused Western Rail Corridor, is underway, with talk of running the amenity all the way to Claremorris.
Tourism benefits are being cited. It’s not being arrogant to say that tourists will be more drawn to coastal regions like Westport and Achill than inland areas. And wild, untouched inland areas like the route to Ballycastle ought to draw more interest from non-locals than greenways around places like Tuam, Claremorris and even Castlebar, where there are greenways.
But that’s not to diminish the argument for a greenway in Tuam. First and foremost it would be a fantastic local amenity. In Castlebar, both the route around Lough Lannagh and the greenway to Turlough Park are very popular among locals.
In Claremorris, the Clare Lake route has been a huge success. Such relatively short greenways are great amenities for communities.
However, unlike with the other greenways, the Tuam campaigners want it to run along the Western Rail Corridor. The result? They are at loggerheads with the campaign for the reopening of that rail network.
The extension of the Western Rail Corridor from Athenry to Claremorris is currently under review. We’ve argued in these pages before about what a valuable piece of infrastructure it would be for the region. Indeed, it ought to be one of the biggest infrastructural targets for this region under the current Government.  Whilst there is talk that using it for a Greenway would not preclude its use as a railway in the future, the reality is that placing a greenway over the tracks or ripping up the tracks would effectively end all chances of a vital piece of infrastructure for the west of Ireland.

Economic imperative
Greenways are a great amenity to have in an area, but nowhere near as critical as roads and railways. To use the Western Rail Corridor for a greenway would be a symbolic waving of the white flag for the west of Ireland, confirming it as a place more concerned with providing for tourists than its resident population.
The Great Western Greenway was built along large parts of the old Westport-to-Achill railway line. The land in question was not in public ownership, it had been given to local landowners. It took co-operation from all sides, and there was no threat to any future railway route. (Even the most passionate of Achill people would be hard pressed to argue the merits of reopening that line.)
But a line running from Limerick to Sligo, via Ennis, Galway, Tuam and Claremorris has a much greater economic imperative. And, if we are to grow the west and provide balanced regional development, such a line would represent a statement of intent.
The very opposite would be the case if a greenway went in there.

Another route  
Why are the two in direct competition? They need not be. If consent and co-operation of local landowners from Westport to Achill and from Castlebar to Turlough was possible, then why not in Tuam?
A greenway like the one at Clare Lake in Claremorris would be ideal for Tuam. By choosing a route other than the Western Rail Corridor, the town could still be in a position to be added to the national rail network and connect to Galway. Surely those are the outcomes everyone ought to be looking for?