Every generation is afraid to lose what was gained before. And so it is with the trains. There is a great sentimentality about the fear of losing the rail services. When one thinks of what was lost when the Galway to Clifden service was discontinued, you have to cringe. Imagine the cultural and economic possibilities of that service were it there today. Imagine that train puffing its way through the valleys, past the lakes, over the rivers and arriving in that town in the foothills of Connemara.
Imagine how many tourists per day would travel on it in the peak season, how more vibrant places along that route would be. How much less traffic there would be if people could travel westwards without having to resort to single occupant cars.
I grew up in Ballinrobe, but a few years before I was born, the train service was discontinued. The improving road network and a variety of other facts meant that the steam train that could bring you all the way from Ballinrobe to anywhere, sending smoke through the rural countryside was a sight not to be seen again. In its heyday, people travelled on the trains from the west to the resorts like Kilkee in Clare, the sound of Percy French’s Are ya right there Michael, are ya right’, ringing in their ears. And that was all lost to progress.
In a past life, I worked on marketing the concept of Westrail in Tuam, with its drive of preserving the steam trains and the tracks that carried them, so the stations and platforms along the way are familiar to me. In recent times, there is a drive to use those railway lines to act as greenways to allow people to cycle, to walk, to run along them, to bring people into areas of the countryside they never have been. The one from Athlone to Mullingar is fantastic. It is safe, off-road, quiet and respectful to the still existing but dormant rail line that runs alongside.
As you cycle you are cognisant of the history of the route, and of the possibility that one day in the future, if it was ever deemed prudent to reopen it, that it could be done.
The same situation now exists with the proposed Quiet Man Greenway. Developing a route along it is not going to deter plans to ever re-open it, CIE has confirmed this week.
The towns and villages along Mayo’s greenway have earned millions from what it brings in. It rejuvenates communities, it creates new businesses. Bike hire, bike repair, cafes, restaurants, guesthouses, hotels, physiotherapists, adventure. And all from a clean, efficient, and respectful industry.
Galway’s county councillors will sit down to approve (or not ) a feasability study on the greenway next week. With the CIE letter, they now do so knowing that they are not shutting a door on history, but opening one on a project that will revitalise the rural points along this route. Last week, the Government announced a €53million pot to fund these greenways. Prevarication could cost us on this one, if we do not get our noses to that trough.
By promoting the physical health and wellbeing of our society, while being respectful of the past, these greenways can be a boon in so many ways.