While the establishment of a cycleway in the Athlone-Mullingar rail corridor will not jeopardise any future plans to reopen the rail line, if the railway does reopen at any stage the cycleway will have to be moved.
It was this catch-22 that councillors faced as they debated whether to approve a variation to the County Development Plan which would allow the cycleway to be developed alongside the Athlone-Mullingar rail line.
The variation was approved by a majority of 13 to six, with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil supporting it and Labour councillors opposed.
However there was confusion over the future fate of the cycleway if the rail line does reopen at any stage.
Cllr Denis Leonard has consistently argued that the council should consider placing the cycle route alongside the N6.
“Our colleagues in Galway County Council shot down a proposal to use the Galway-Tuam line. We are the only county being asked to sacrifice a rail line. There is another option, along the N6,” said Cllr Leonard.
“I asked Irish Rail and they said the cycleway will have to be closed for the rail service to reopen. If we will have to move the cycleway in 20 years time we will have to put it somewhere - why not put it there now? I propose that a decision be postponed until a cost benefit analysis be completed.”
Cllr Leonard’s assertion caused some confusion, as councillors said they had been led to believe that the cycle lane could run side by side with the rail line should it be reopened in the future.
“I’m disappointed; I was led to believe trains could still run on the track, with a barrier between the cycle lane and the track. This is confusing to hear; I would like to see more discussion,” said Cllr Tom Allen, while Cllr Ken Glynn said his earlier concerns which had been appeased had now been “unappeased”.
The council’s director of services Hugh O’Reilly confirmed that the cycle lane would not be able to run alongside a live railway.
“If the rail reopens, the cycleway would have to move. The intention is to have the cycle lane there while the trains are not running,” he explained.