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Rail is back on track but still firmly in the slow lane

The initial delight surrounding the announcement of the reopening of the Western Rail Corridor from Athenry through Tuam and onto Claremorris has been tempered by the complete absence of any timeframe for its revival.

However, the publication of the long-awaited All Island Rail Review has at least provided campaigners with hopes that the disused railway line will eventually be brought back into service.

The track has been closed for passenger use since the last 1970s despite several campaigns over the years to have it reopened.

An upbeat Deputy Sean Canney described it as “a shovel-ready project” that does not require planning permission and that works could begin as soon as the Government give it the green light.

He said that he will now be putting pressure on the Department of Transport to provide funding for this important piece of infrastructure while expressing disappointment that no timeframe has been mentioned in the document.

Campaigners say that, once funding is committed, it could provide a complete rail link from Ballina to Castlebar onto Claremorris through Tuam and Athenry and eventually to Limerick and Foynes port.

There is obviously no mention of a greenway running alongside the railway as this would not form part of any Irish Rail strategy.

“This is a positive step on the reopening of the rail line will be of enormous benefit to Tuam and the entire region,” he said.

“I along with other like-minded Oireachtas members, the Intercounty Rail Committee and West on Track have campaigned to have this line reopened.

“Last year I convened a meeting of Oireachtas members and together we drafted a submission to Government in support of the Western Rail Corridor, demonstrating the political support for the project,” added Deputy Canney.

His Galway East colleague Deputy Ciaran Cannon said that he would welcome the reopening of the rail corridor but that the review fell short in a number of aspects.

“The absence of a timeframe is a major shortcoming in the report. We don’t know if it will be ten years, 20 years or 40 years before it is delivered,” he said.

“But the biggest fear is that a stone wall will be built around the railway track preventing anything from happening until the Department of Transport,” said Deputy Cannon who is a staunch greenway campaigner.

Last year, a €300,000 allocation was allocated to Galway County Council to carry out an assessment and appraisal of a greenway along the old railway track from Athenry to Claremorris. A feasibility report is being prepared.

But Deputy Canney fears that even if a greenway along the track is deemed a viable proposition, nothing can be done until there is a clear timeframe for a potential rail reopening.

“The worst possible scenario is a ‘do nothing’ situation for years to come as that will benefit nobody.

“Also, a clear indication in the report that states that the rail reopening would be for freight only will be of no benefit to the towns along the route,” he added.

Meanwhile, Colmán Ó Raghallaigh of the West on Track campaign is more optimistic and believes that the railway will reopen for freight initially and for passengers thereafter.

“Since taking office in 2020, Minister Ryan has been supportive of the Atlantic Rail Corridor concept and has had the vision to see that our railways can deliver significant carbon savings for Ireland at a time when transport emissions are continuing to rise.

“The reopening of the link from Athenry to Claremorris will now allow for the direct movement of freight to the southern ports of Waterford and Foynes for the first time in over 20 years,” he said.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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