Councillors vow to protect valuable Western Rail Corridor infrastructure

Councillors fear that converting the railway into a greenway like the Mayo one  (pictured above) will damage the long term plans to reopen the entire rail service from Limerick to Sligo.

Councillors fear that converting the railway into a greenway like the Mayo one (pictured above) will damage the long term plans to reopen the entire rail service from Limerick to Sligo.

The Tuam to Athenry section of the Western Rail Corridor is still very much a viable option and is a valuable piece of infrastructure for the west of the country that should be protected, that is according to county councillors who voted this week to remove it from the Galway County Walking and Cycling Strategy which had proposed it as a possible walking and cycling greenway.

The vote was taken at a meeting of the Galway County Council on Monday where the report was presented to councillors by senior engineer Liam Gavin, who informed them that all possible routes and percentage of usage were looked at for the walking and cycling strategy which will be used to seek funding for various projects. Following submissions made by the public a number of recommendations were drawn up which includes changes to the draft plan. Mr Gavin proposed removing all references to the old railway line, from Tuam to Athenry, being developed into a walking and cycling greenway. He also recommended updating the statistics on walking and cycling in the county and proposing a cycling route to the NRA whick is considering an alternative route to the Ballinasloe R446 to Galway.

“Would the railway be a reality at this stage?” asked Cllr Shaun Cunniffe, who told the chamber it was his belief that there was no real possibility of a railway from Tuam to Athenry. “It is taking precedence over the greenway. We shouldn’t let our hearts rule our heads. I’m calling for the greenway to be left in the plan.”

First to defend the Western Rail Corridor was Cllr Peter Feeney who said: “Cork, to Limerick, to Galway, and then Sligo is linked by railway. We’re now willing to throw away a piece of infrastructure for a walkway. There are plenty of roads in north Galway that can be designated a walkway. There is no reason to break the link. From 1860 it has been an important piece of infrastructure. People say it’s not being used. It is being used and CIE are looking at routes this week. There is no doubt there is movement on the use of the Western Rail Corridor. There is no sense in taking out a five mile stretch just on a whim. We have a responsibility to maintain whatever we can until it can be used and re-opened.” Cllr Feeney later told the chamber that the Galway to Limerick train is full every evening with a lot of passengers getting off at Athenry. “They wouldn’t be able to do that if it wasn’t for the Western Rail Corridor. The usage from Athenry to Ennis is not as high as I would like but it then goes on from Ennis to Limerick. There are 200,000 people per year using it and Iarnrod Eireann are very happy with it. When the full service is taken in its entirety it is very successful.”

Welcoming the report and supporting the Western Rail Corridor, Cllr Seán Canney said: “I propose that all parties meet, to come up with a solution. The last thing we want is to have a strategy that flies in the face of another. Both are neccessary for the county.” Cllr Canney said that the Western Inter-County Rail Committee, of which he is a member, had “campaigned long and hard on the Western Rail Corridor”. “It is time for the powers that be to make a decision on this. An independent report found that the Athenry to Tuam section was a viable option. I respect the desire for a greenway. Let’s work together, we’ve had enough division.”

Agreeing with these comments, Cllr Michael Connolly said that an alternative route should be found and called for this “valuable infrastructure” to be put back to work.

A vote was then taken to make the changes to the walking and cycling strategy including the removal of any reference to the Tuam to Athenry railway line with 22 councillors voting for, one against, and one abstention.

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