A proposal to conduct a feasibility study pertaining to the introduction of a light rail system on the old railway line from Moate to Athlone to include Mullingar at a later date was afforded diligent thought during the monthly meeting of Athlone Moate Municipal District.
Raising the motion, Cllr. Tom Farrell, who had conducted in-depth research with regard to the issue, highlighted the many benefits which would be realised should the old railway line eventually reopen for public use.
Using what remains of the old railway line, the proposed transport mechanism would run parallel to the Old Rail Trail with stops at Moate railway station, Mount Temple, Glynwood, Garrycastle, Retreat/Lissywoollen, to culminate at the site of the former St. Mel’s Terrace.
“The proposed transport would operate as a one rail system, shuttling between Athlone and Moate with a park and ride system in operation to ferry commuters at relevant locations,” the Fine Gael Councillor remarked.
Referencing the positive impact the introduction of such a light rail system would have on traffic congestion, Cllr. Farrell noted the considerable delays experienced by daily commuters most notably during rush hour and also on prime shopping weekends.
“The Garrycastle area is a particular bottleneck with large numbers travelling to work in Ericsson, Blyry Industrial Estate and Athlone IT. In this regard, a stop at Garrycastle would leave commuters within walking distance of their place of work.
“Terminating the line at the site of the old St. Mel’s Terrace would benefit those regularly commuting to the centre of Athlone as these people would now be within a short walk of their workplace. This terminus would also be useful for those journeying to the town centre for retail purposes,” Cllr. Farrell commented.
Climate change was foremost in the Fine Gael Councillor’s thoughts regarding the proposal as with the introduction of a light rail system, less motor vehicles would be in operation reducing the levels of pollution in the environment.
“This would be a ‘greener’ way of living for commuters. As rural dwellers are considered the population most dependent on cars for transport, the proposed line, given its route, would allow many people the opportunity to avail of this new form of transport,” Cllr. Farrell noted.
Should a light rail system come to fruition, the economic benefits to accrue would be plentiful.
“Employment opportunities would develop with jobs provided in the construction, operation and maintenance of the light rail transport, while there would be an increase in business for any stores located close to the proposed route stops as footfall would be on the rise.
“With mooted developments in the pipeline for the old shopping centre and Loughaniskin area, the light rail system would dovetail suitably with these plans in bringing more people to this location of town,” Cllr. Farrell added.
Alluding to the cost of the proposed project, Cllr. Farrell reiterated that the light rail system route would be on and currently owned by the local authority.
“Noting that the old railway track is still there, the greenway section of the Old Rail Trail would be mostly unaffected. For safety purposes, a form of fencing would be required. While traffic lighting would be required for public road crossings, there are currently only two crossings from Moate to Athlone,” Cllr. Farrell continued.
Commending and supporting Cllr. Farrell’s motion, Green Party Councillor, Louise Heavin, stated that a feasibility study could allow the Council use the relevant information garnered to the benefit of the District.
“There is no regular public transport connection between Athlone and Mullingar. You have many people from Athlone travelling over to Mullingar Hospital for example, to work and visit patients and in this regard, I believe that the development of a strong and purposeful transport link is necessary,” Cllr. Heavin affirmed.
Stating that the lack of public transport between the county’s two main towns needed to be addressed, Town Mayor, Cllr. Frankie Keena noted that while use of the old railway line for this purpose would be a major initiative, the safety of those who utilise the Old Rail Trail was paramount.
“The greenway is a major tourist asset and I would not wish to see any negative impact should a light rail system come in to operation alongside the Old Rail Trail. However, I would welcome a feasibility study in this instance,” Cllr. Keena concurred.
In response, Director of Services, Barry Kehoe, noted that it was a long term policy for the local authority to reopen the line between Athlone and Mullingar, but having previously spoken with Irish Rail and the National Transport Authority, the cost factor was a mitigating factor in progressing with the idea.
“While, yes, it maybe feasible, to reopen the line, there is a substantial cost factor involved with a sum in excess of €100m originally suggested to carry out the necessary works.
“As a Council, we can invite representatives from both the National Transport Authority and Irish Rail to address the members and obtain their views on this matter, prior to proceeding with a feasibility study,” Mr. Kehoe concluded.