The Western Rail Corridor and the National Press

De Facto
The Western Rail Corridor and the national press

Liamy MacNally

They’re at it again!  The doomsayers and futile word merchants coated in Dublin 4 speak are brushing down their poisoned pens to have a crack at the Western Rail Corridor.  For some strange reason the notion of re-opening the Western Rail Corridor from Sligo to Limerick rankles with some people.  It is now partly re-opened, from Limerick to Galway, with a few moves yet for it to complete its journey to Sligo.  Regardless of official figures released by Iarnród Éireann, unfortunately, some of the national organs of the fourth estate are most negative towards their ‘country cousins.’
Over 250,000 journeys have been made on the Limerick-Galway route, including the Limerick-Ennis and Athenry-Galway commuter services.  That section of the line officially re-opened on March 30, 2010.  Iarnród Éireann has expressed confidence that service changes now in place will continue to attract more customers to the route.  The company is also maintaining its introductory promotional fare of €10 each way because it is so successful.  Only last week the paper of record reported that the re-opened section of the line from Galway to Limerick is failing to meet its targets, claiming that passenger numbers are “well short” of the anticipated numbers.   It is not the first time the Irish Times has painted this picture.  It occurred also a few months ago with a similar report about passenger numbers.
Iarnród Éireann announced recently that the re-opening of the Galway-Limerick line has generated more than a quarter of a million passengers along that route in its first year.  Iarnród Éireann always states that Galway-Limerick is the actual route being served and it is so described in its official timetables.  Iarnród Éireann does not break up the line like some of the national media and concentrate on figures from Ennis to Athenry.  Imagine Iarnród Éireann stating that the Westport to Ballyhaunis passenger figures are not meeting expectations or Tullamore to Portalington figures are not standing up.  It does not make sense to think in those terms yet some media outlets persist in doing so.     
Colman Ó’Raghallaigh from the West-on-Track campaign, in response to the Irish Times report states: “There is in fact no designated ‘Ennis-Athenry service’ because the trains are Limerick-Galway services and these towns are merely stations along that route.  Nor was there was ever a campaign to open an Ennis-Athenry service.  The whole point about reconnecting the line between those towns was to provide a Galway-Limerick rail corridor and the figures released by Iarnród Éireann show that this has been a success… additional commuter services on the line (there were previously a number of Ennis-Limerick services in operation) and the construction of two new stations at Oranmore and Crusheen will certainly strengthen the performance of the line even further.  Oddly enough, these positive announcements by Iarnród Éireann were omitted from the (Irish Times) article.”
Mr Ó’Raghallaigh also takes issue with the ongoing misrepresentation and misunderstanding of passenger figures on the Galway to Limerick line.  “The measurement of passenger numbers on the Galway-Limerick route has consistently been a cause of ill-informed comment and misunderstanding.  The so-called business case was based on the provision of 7 trains in each direction per day.  However, the actual number provided was 5 in each direction, so the “targets” were actually in abeyance even before the line opened.  A fully operational station at Oranmore was also factored in but this station has not yet been built.”
There are other strange anomalies with the business plan figures also.  Some do not seem to matter while others are not counted, according to Mr Ó’Raghallaigh.  “Bizarrely, although the services provided run from Galway to Limerick those travelling outside of the newly-constructed Ennis-Limerick section are not counted as passengers.  For example, a passenger buying a ticket in Galway to travel to Athenry on a Galway-Limerick train is not counted as a passenger for the purposes of the “business plan.”  Similarly, a passenger boarding a Limerick-Galway train to travel to Ennis is not counted.  It is also the case that because stations between Ennis and Athenry are unmanned, Iarnród Éireann is currently unable to provide figures for the numbers of OAPs and other exempted passengers being carried on that section.”
Mr Ó’Raghallaigh praises Iarnród Éireann for attempting to convey in their recent announcement that the only sensible measure of the performance of the Galway-Limerick line is the numbers travelling along the entire route whether they be short-haul commuters or intercity passengers.
The latest red herring is for a greenway on the Claremorris to Colooney section!  Remember that €7,500 million has been set aside for rail projects in Dublin.  Phases 2 and 3 of the Western Rail Corridor can be completed for the cost of 100 metres of the Dublin underground Dart!  Dublin papers please copy!