Iarnród Éireann has confirmed it is in negotiations with Westmeath County Council over their controversial plan to turn the disused rail line between Mullingar and Athlone into a cycle track.
The company’s spokesman Barry Kenny said CIÉ Property and Iarnród Éireann are “facilitating Westmeath County Council as they explore the possibility of utilising the rail line between Athlone and Mullingar for a cycle path project”.
He confirmed that approval was reached in the past month to facilitate the council’s study.
The council has received €750,000 to complete design and route selection between Maynooth and Shannon West as part of the National Cycle Network, but some councillors have expressed concern about whether the needs of speed cyclists and recreational cyclists and families can be met on the one route.
David Hogan, director of services with responsibility for environment issues at the council, refused to confirm whether the council is considering other routes, but said the old N6 is not suitable.
“This is our preferred option at this time, but we’re still looking at route selection,” he said, and his colleague Barry Kehoe indicated at a recent Athlone Town Council meeting that the route will be selected by June with work commencing in 2014.
Ultimately councillors will make the final decision, but if funded, the council will have to take part in an approval process for the works to take place, Barry Kenny said.
“The Westmeath County Council study will examine whether the cycle path would be alongside or over the existing tracks,” he said, adding that tracks would have to be replaced in any event if the line is reopened in the future.
Because it is Westmeath County Council’s project, all funding will be a matter for the council.
Asked if there is a rent or lease payment to Iarnród Éireann or CIÉ, Mr Kenny said that issue would be addressed if the pathway plans go ahead.
If successful, the council will provide the cycle route under licence, and if the railway line were to be reopened, “the licence could be terminated at any time to facilitate the necessary works to take place to allow the line to operate”.
Mr Kenny said there are no plans in Transport 21 to reopen the line, “and as such, in any post-2016 investment programme it would not be likely to be considered”.
“It would be difficult to definitively say what the chances would be by 2030,” he said.
It comes as a blow to environmentalists, commuters, and some councillors, including Denis Leonard who has campaigned to have the route reopened.
Cllr Leonard says it’s a priority that the line is reopened for commuters between the towns, especially to support those attending AIT and Mullingar hospital.