Rail use groups continue to differ on future of disused rail lines

Extra freight trains are planned between Mayo and Waterford Port each week, bringing the annual total to in excess of 700. The news was broken by rail campaign group West-on-Track, which said the additional trains are for rising volumes of container traffic being shipped by multinationals based in Mayo. A further 730 freight trains currently operate between Mayo and Dublin Port.

The new services will bring to more than 1,400 the number of freight trains running in and out of Mayo each year. "That's an open-and-shut case for the immediate reopening of the Western Rail Corridor from Claremorris to Athenry, instead of shunting the 700 Mayo-Waterford trains through the more circuitous route in the Greater Dublin Area," said Colmán Ó Raghallaigh from West-on-Track. "Portarlington-Kildare is now so congested, it's the M50 of the railways," he added.

In 2015, more than 1,100 freight trains, 85 per cent of them inter-modal (container for rail, road and ship ), came in and out of Mayo, with raw materials and finished goods for global markets. Over 40 per cent, carrying 250,000 tonnes, went to and from Waterford Port. Rail is the preferred mode for Mayo industries, and for major logistics firms like DFDS and IWT.

Mayo is now the major rail freight hub in Ireland, with three out of every four freight trains starting or finishing in Ballina and Westport. Ó Raghallaigh went on to say, “Rail freight was resurrected in Mayo thanks to a community initiative 10 years ago aimed at justifying investment in the Western Rail Corridor south of Claremorris. These are today the only profit generating trains on Irish Railways and over the past 10 years have contributed over €20 million in carbon savings. We have proven the demand and we now demand the completion of the missing rail-link from Galway to Mayo, so that Waterford-bound traffic can take the shortest route and connections to our ports from Galway and Clare for rail freight traffic are upgraded to cater for increasing demand."

The Western Rail Trail Campaign— a group campaigning to preserve the alignment of the closed rail line from Athenry to Collooney by utilising the route for tourism and leisure as a greenway, until such time as a railway may be possible — said the most recent Government report from the National Transport Authority shows the likelihood of any new investment in heavy rail is even more unlikely and a greenway is now the only realistic option for the closed railway route.

Spokesman for the Western Rail Trail campaign Brendan Quinn said Minister Ross sent the greenway campaign an email earlier this month, which the group has now released. In that email received on October 17 Minister Ross said the following about the NTA report he had on his desk, the same report which was recently published: “I will have to examine this commitment in the context of the Rail Review which I have recently received from the NTA and Irish Rail. The review is a strategic look at the role of Irish Rail and the financial resources required to continue to provide services on a sustainable basis. Clearly, I cannot look at the Western Rail Corridor in isolation from the rest of the network. I expect to brief my cabinet colleagues on the Review shortly.”

The report from The National Transport Authority which will now go to cabinet is a stark reality check for any hopes of a railway being re-opened between Athenry to Tuam onwards towards Claremorris at any time in the near future, said Quinn. The time has now come for a decision. The option of placing a greenway on the route until such time as a railway may be possible in the future is the best way of protecting the route in public ownership and generating tourism related jobs along the route as part of the Atlantic economic corridor project.

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