Converting the Western Rail Corridor around Athenry and north Galway into a greenway would not be as successful as the Mayo Greenway, because it has inferior landscape and scenery, a meeting in Athenry was told last Thursday night.
The meeting was addressed by Sinn Féin’s Matt Carthy MEP, Cllr Gerry Murray, Natasha Warde and Louis O’Hara, as well as Noel Doherty of Future Looking Athenry Group (FLAG ). Speaking during the meeting, Athenry Sinn Féin’s Louis O’Hara said it is crucial that the Western Rail Corridor is reopened to deliver balanced regional development.
Mr O’Hara said that some people have argued that the railway line should be used for a greenway, however he felt there are two main problems with this argument.
“Firstly, the greenway will not preserve the Western Rail Corridor into the future as many people have said.This is because once you create a recreational amenity for a community it is very difficult to take it back.
“Secondly, it has been argued that a greenway would transform Athenry and other local communities, and would have the same economic impact as the Great Western Greenway in Mayo.
“The Great Western Greenway has some of the most spectacular scenery in the country, and is based around Westport which is already a very popular tourist destination.
“By contrast, the Western Rail Corridor is in a low amenity region in terms of landscape, with none of the attributes that contributed to the success of the Westport greenway.” Yet it is being promoted as having the potential to deliver the same level of commercial activity. Anyhow, tourism is not a strong driver of economic growth, it constitutes only six per cent of GDP in Ireland, and tourism will certainly not save rural Ireland. We believe there is no substitute for investment and long-term sustainable employment, and that is exactly what the Western Rail Corridor will bring,” he said.
Mr O’Hara said that there is a need for vital economic infrastructure in the West of Ireland such as rail, roads, airports and broadband to drive economic growth so that we can compete with the rest of the country in attracting investment.
“There will be no economic growth without investment in critical economic infrastructure such as the Western Rail Corridor, and rural towns in the West such as Athenry will not have a sustainable future in terms of investment and employment.
“The Western Rail Corridor is a vital component in the concept of an Atlantic Economic Corridor, an economic corridor that is needed to drive regional development by creating sufficient scale along the West of Ireland to compete with other regions in attracting Irish and multi-national investment, growing jobs and supporting local communities,” he added.
The EU has recently classified the West of Ireland as a region in decline, which means that the West of Ireland is not progressing, it is being left behind, and that’s very obvious to anyone who lives here. Tourism, CAP, forestry, wind farms and greenways will not reverse this decline, we need major infrastructural investment to save rural Ireland.’Currently over 50% of all our goods are exported via the UK to Europe, however post Brexit exporters will need to access alternative routes.
He said that the Western Rail Corridor, when reopened, will be able to offer a tariff-free, low cost, low carbon route to the heart of the European market, making towns such as Athenry and Tuam very attractive locations for foreign and indigenous investment.
“At the moment rail freight from the North-West has to travel cross-country before it can go south, and consequently there is very little demand for rail freight. However, road freight is becoming more and more expensive as we try to fight climate change, and it will continue to do so in the future as the EU intends to apply the polluter pays principle to road freight.
“Road freight will be taxed off the roads and onto rail, giving communities located along rail routes such as Athenry the edge in attracting investment and employment. As a low carbon transport initiative, the Western Rail Corridor would also qualify for significant EU funding.”
Another benefit of reopening the Western Rail Corridor is the effect it would have on traffic and commuting times in Galway city. It’s very frustrating for people travelling from north and east Galway into the city in the morning and evening time, and with the populations of both Galway city and Tuam forecast to double in the next 20 years, this problem will only get worse.
Mr O’Hara said that the Western Rail Corridor will give people from north Galway and Mayo another option to commute quickly in and out of Galway city.
“Sinn Féin are also pushing for additional train stops and bus services on the east side of Galway city for the large number of people who work there, to further reduce traffic.’In terms of passenger traffic, the Western Rail Corridor will offer connectivity to all of the country’s major cities for people in the West and North-West.
The opening of phase one of the rail corridor from Ennis to Athenry, which gave connectivity to Limerick and Galway, is already a proven success, with 420,000 people forecast to use the line in 2019.
“This is a massive increase from the 185,000 people who used the line when it first opened in 2010. The growth is being experienced across the route, with city to city journeys surging in particular,” he concluded.