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West-on-Track and local politicians rubbish WRC finding

News

Long-delayed report deemed ‘flawed’ and ‘riddled with inaccuracies’

Anton McNulty

The long-delayed report into the Western Rail Corridor (WRC), which questions the value of reopening the abandoned railway line, has been slammed as ‘fundamentally flawed’ and ‘riddled with inaccuracies’.
A financial and economic appraisal of the WRC, commissioned by  Iarnród Éireann in 2019, was carried out by the accountancy firm, EY. It found that the WRC from Athenry to Claremorris would not provide value for money and would do little to counter traffic congestion.
An independent review of the EY report was carried out by the European Investment Bank’s Jaspers agency, which found that the project, as envisaged, presents ‘a very weak justification for investment’. The review found the need for the project had not been demonstrated and described the economic benefits as ‘unlikely to be significant’.

Report cost €500k
The 140-page report, believed to have cost €500,000, was ridiculed by West-on-Track. The lobby group claims the report seeks to ‘gold plate’ the costs of the project, adding that it is an example of how cost-benefit analysis can be manipulated at public expense.
“This EY report is riddled with inaccuracies, many of them schoolboy errors, and it seeks to gold-plate the costs of reopening the railway in a most extraordinary manner while understating the benefits in order to ensure that the resultant cost-benefit analysis will be negative. It is unthinkable that such a flawed report could ever be allowed to form the basis for an informed decision on the future of this key piece of infrastructure,” a spokesperson for West-on-Track said.
“Crucially, while the report projects initial passenger numbers of more than half a million, and admits it would have major economic benefits, the chapter on Financial Assessment opens with the extraordinary statement that: ‘This chapter does not consider any of the wider economic benefits which might also arise should the WRC be reactivated’, meaning that it does not consider the full benefits associated with the Western rail Corridor.
“The fact of the matter is that this report is a blatant example of how cost-benefit analysis can be manipulated at public expense. The capital costs are more than doubled and the benefits are understated by 60 percent. The accompanying Jaspers review reflects how unaware that EU institution is of the fact that the west of Ireland is in economic decline due to lack of transport connectivity.”

‘Unfair presentation’
Phase one of the Western Rail Corridor, from Athenry to Ennis, was reopened in 2010, but the next two phases to reopen the line to Tuam and onto Claremorris were abandoned due to the recession.
The EY report claimed the cost of reopening the track to Claremorris will be €263.8 million and that the revenues generated by reopening the WRC would not cover operating costs. West-on-Track disputed the reasoning and the figures used to come to these conclusions, and claimed the report overestimates the cost of delivering Phases 2 and 3 by €168.8 million.
In light of the report findings, Mayo TDs Dara Calleary and Rose Conway-Walsh both reiterated their commitment to the delivery of the project and backed West-on-Track’s ascertion that the EY report is ‘flawed’.  Deputy Calleary said he believed the costs assigned to the project were overly high, saying it is ‘frustrating’ that the report does not spend more time on the economic benefit of its construction. However, he said that while there is ‘systematic opposition’ to the WRC, he believes that Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan is not among those opposed.
“I think the presentation of it is unfair, but I will go through the report and prepare a detailed rebuttal of the report and present it to the Minister. The Minister is still committed to looking on the freight side of it particularly on the context of the All-Island rail review, and that is important.”

‘Whitewash’
Sinn Féin TD, Rose Conway-Walsh described the report as a ‘whitewash’ that lacked any vision for the economy of the region.
“There are a number of technical inaccuracies and [the report] is flawed in terms of cost and the fact it has left out the overall benefit to the region. The cost-benefit model used for the regions is wrong – and this is a perfect example of how it mitigates rural Ireland and the regions. It lacks visions and any awareness of the economic benefits of the Western Rail Corridor,” she told The Mayo News.