It is "delusional" to believe the rail line from Athenry to Sligo will ever return according to Tuam area councillor Peter Roche, who made the statement after a public meeting took place in Athenry on Tuesday night to discuss proposals for a greenway.
The Sligo to Athenry rail line closed more than four decades ago and has been sitting unused ever since. Cllr Roche says the area does not have the requisite population numbers to sustain a train service.
"The line has be shut for more than 30 years. We do not have the population in the area to sustain a train service. If we believe this romantic notion of a train coming through on this line, then we are deluded. It is delusional. The train is a pipedream."
The Fine Gael councillor says there is a sense of growing frustration at the lack of movement on the greenway among councillors and the local community who support the campaign.
"There is a huge amount of interest and backing from the local community and businesses for this greenway. But a number in attendance were shocked to find out that we still need the support of five more county councillors at next month's council meeting to pass the motion for a feasibility study which was downvoted before.
"The local community cannot understand why it is taking so long to get things up and running and why some councillors at County Hall are vehemently opposed to this feasibility study. I find the opposition to this [the feasibility study] just shocking. There is €53 million ringfenced for projects like this one, so it will not cost the council anything. The campaign is asking for this feasibility study to be carried out and, if it turns out not to have the potential we believe it will, then we have no problem with burying the idea of the greenway.
"But we believe the greenway has value to deliver huge benefits to east Galway. It would mean so much for local businesses in the area and give people an opportunity to walk, cycle, and exercise in a clear, clean, and safe environment which is important as we try to combat child and adult obesity. East Galway is crying out for investment and getting a slice of this €53 million cake will no doubt help the east to start to prosper."
Huge support for petition
A petition supporting the call for a greenway on the closed Athenry to Sligo rail line has reached 20,000 signatures. Spokesman for the Western Rail Trail Campaign, Brendan Quinn, says he is delighted with the support for a greenway on the closed railway which runs from Sligo to Athenry. "It is not often you put a case into the public domain and you can say 20,000 people agree with you."
Mr Quinn started the petition last year on website change.org and says it has just been steady growth with 50 or 60 signatures a day. "The important thing is the signatures and support has come from people living in Galway, Mayo, and Sligo. The campaign in Galway is getting very active. The Galway section of the route is being branded The Quiet Man Greenway which is a great name.
"It is a great to see the Galway campaign really picking up and we hope that the Galway County Council will come on board and support The Quiet Man Greenway so that the council can apply for Greenway funding under the Department of Transport's new national Greenway Strategy. There is overwhelming support for this campaign from the public. This is such a great opportunity for Athenry, Tuam, and east Galway as well as Mayo and Sligo. Twenty thousand signatures asking for a Greenway from Sligo to Athenry is a lot of people, the public want to see this happen."
Mr Quinn highlighted the many benefits of a potential greenway in east Galway including the provision to rebuild a rail line beside the greenway. "The route is already in State ownership through Irish Rail so there are no issues of land ownership. The huge benefit of a greenway on the closed railway route is if the route is needed for a railway in future years, the route has been protected and a railway can still be re-built with a greenway alongside.
"The railway may not be re-opened for 20 or 30 years so why not create a public amenity with a 130km greenway from Sligo to Athenry which will be a massive tourist attraction and bring great amenity benefits to the communities it passes through in the meantime?"
Greenway to be operational in two years
Minister for the Diaspora and International Development, Ciaran Cannon, who chaired the meeting at Raheen Woods Hotel in Athenry on Tuesday night says the tangible results of greenways can be seen throughout the country and if a greenway along the Athenry to Sligo route was given the green light, it could be operational within two years.
"We only have to look at the extraordinary success of greenways in Waterford, Mayo and Westmeath to see the opportunity that presents to us right now in east Galway. It was particularly valuable for us to hear the perspective of Gerard Barron, who is based in the small town of Kilmacthomas in County Waterford. He told us that this small rural town has been utterly transformed as a result of the greenway that now runs through it.
"Our government has established a National Greenway development fund of €53m which we urgently need to tap into. The funding window opens in October and closes at the end of November. Cllr Shaun Cunniffe will table a motion at the meeting of the Galway County Council on September 24 directing that funds be sought for a feasibility study with a view to developing the greenway soon after. We the taxpayers already own this disused railway line which has lain idle for over 40 years and we could have a greenway operational along the route within two years."