The West on Track Community Campaigners have released a strongly worded statement highly criticising the Taoiseach and also those involved in an “anti-rail campaign”, the people behind a proposal to establish the Sligo-Mayo greenway.
A spokesperson for West on Track told the Observer “It is regrettable that the Taoiseach was so poorly briefed before making his recent comments about the performance of the Western Rail Corridor and the journey times on the route. He also appeared to be unaware that Mayo is now the largest producer of rail freight in Ireland, all of which is profitable. For the record, the facts are that numbers on the Galway-Limerick route are up two-thirds on last year since online booking and competitive fares were introduced in December 2013 and that trains lengths have had to be doubled on weekend services. The current average journey time from Galway to Limerick is 1hour 50-55mins not 3 hours.”
He continued “In its written submission to the current Draft Galway Co. Development Plan Iarnród Éireann has indicated its desire to continue with the development of the Western Rail Corridor as one of two important rail projects in the west subject to funding and appropriate business case.
“It is also regrettable that there has been a sustained campaign against the development of the Western Rail Corridor by the people behind the so-called Sligo-Mayo greenway campaign. They are in fact an anti-rail campaign.
“Galway and Mayo Co. Councils have steadfastly rejected any such notion in line with the Regional Planning Guidelines and we are confident that this will continue to be the case.”
The Western Rail Corridor, running from Collooney to Athenry, crosses many National Primary and Secondary main roads making it entirely unsuitable for the creation of a safe walking or cycling path for families or older people. In addition there is the difficulty of farmers’ crossings which even in the carefully planned and controlled case of the Great Western Greenway has recently caused difficulties. In looking at the current traffic flow statistics for main roads in the west of Ireland it is difficult to envisage people safely cycling or walking across the N17 which crosses the railway in at least 7 places between Collooney and Tuam, or the N5 which crosses near Swinford, not to mention a host of secondary road crossings, including the N60 main Claremorris-Castlebar road or the R332 Tuam-Ballinrobe road.
An alternative and highly scenic route for Mayo-Sligo, the Mayo-Sligo Ox Mountain Trail, has been mooted for both counties which would not interfere with the railway but which would serve a vast area in both counties and allow feeder routes from many nearby towns such as Charlestown, Swinford and Tubbercurry. With minimal planning or expense, this route could be linked directly into the Western Way in Mayo creating an integrated tourist trail. Fortuitously, part of the Sligo Way route is also beside the Wild Atlantic Way currently being developed by Fáilte Ireland along the whole western Atlantic coast so tourists will have the opportunity to divert effortlessly into the Sligo Way as part of their touring holiday. This new development will also link up with the existing Mayo greenway.
The campaign’s spokesperson has stated“There are currently 38 greenway proposals under consideration by Government. A shortlist of 10 was recently published. The list does NOT contain any proposal to establish a greenway on the Western Rail Corridor. This was clearly illustrated recently when Sligo and Leitrim Co. Councils jointly sought to develop a plan for a greenway along the route of the former rail line through Leitrim to Enniskillen but feasibility funding was refused by the Department of the Environment. This despite the fact that there was all-party agreement on the idea unlike in the case of the Western Rail Corridor.
“So while Sligo Co. Council, including some pro-rail members, recently acceded to a request that an enquiry be made as to whether there might be funding available for a feasibility study there is no guarantee that such a study will ever go ahead or, if it did, what it might conclude.
“The recent Study of Outdoor Recreation in the West by the BMW regional authority came out strongly against the notion of putting a greenway on or beside the railway and stated: “It is not the purpose of the Regional Planning Guidelines to see such routes provided at the expense of long-term strategic infrastructure so it is critical that the goals are not hampered even in the short term particularly when other more suitable greenway options could be explored taking account of environmental, social and economic considerations.”
“The fact remains therefore that this proposal has no real support and that there are many more suitable places where greenways can be developed without destroying a key piece of regional infrastructure.”
The statememt also outlined that at a meeting with the Chairman of the Western Development Commission in the Minister’s office on Wednesday 10th December, Minister Paschal Donohoe explicitly stated that the rail line from Claremorris to Athenry would be added to the Ten-T comprehensive maps and that there would be NO greenway allowed on the route of the Western Rail Corridor. The Chairman, Mr. Paddy McGuinness, has now written to the Minister requesting confirmation of these commitments given to him at their meeting.
“ Clearly, a great deal of clarification is required to establish firmly the truth of the matter and we continue to await this with interest,” the West on Track campaigners have added.