The ongoing saga of the Railway Field Road took a somewhat unwelcome turn this week, with news that talks regarding the acquisition of the Railway Field by the council appear to be at a standstill again.
Speaking as he updated councillors on the Athlone Town Development Plan on Monday (July 25 ), the council’s director of services Barry Kehoe said he was “disappointed” that progress had been slow on negotiations with CIE, who own the land.
The proposed Railway Field Road would link Coosan Road and the Crescent Junction, and is regarded as a key component in plans for the rejuvenation of Church Street. The council is currently awaiting a report from a consultancy firm they have hired to examine options for the town centre - including pedestrianisation and the introduction of a one-way system.
Cllr Aengus O’Rourke (FF ) said he was “flummoxed” by the “bombshell” that the outlook appeared to be pessimistic for the acquisition of the land.
“We as members understood that negotiations were progressing well. It seems now they haven’t gone well, which doesn’t augur well for the town. People will be horrified - a lot hinges on acquiring the land from CIE, including the regeneration of Church Street and the centre of the town.
“This throws all that into doubt - how can we progress with Church Street? I feel we have lost the last 12 years if things have now ground to a halt. CIE don’t seem to know how important the Railway Field is to Athlone,” he said.
Cllr O’Rourke said he had hoped that a recent commitment from Minister for Transport, Shane Ross, to intervene with CIE would make a difference.
While it is understood that Minister Ross did contact CIE, they appear to be awaiting the council’s report on the different options available.
Cllr Michael O’Brien (Ind ) said the three options for Church Street are a one-way system, two-way traffic, or pedestrianisation, and that the report, due to be completed by September, should bring some clarity to the Railway Field issue.
“Once a decision is made on the options in the report, that should bring a finality to it. If the land is required, we will need to press ahead with acquiring it, or else it won’t happen,” he said.
Director of services Barry Kehoe said he would arrange another meeting with CIE as soon as possible, well in advance of the September meeting at which a presentation will be given on the options for the enhancement of Church Street.
“We are still engaging with CIE to acquire the lands. We are not making great progress but will be meeting them again to see if it will happen. Progress is slower than intended and I am disappointed.”
However he said some of the delay was on the council’s side, as it had taken some time to compile a report on how the bus and train stations would operate in the event of the Railway Field Road being constructed.