Protecting infrastructure such as the Tuam to Athenry railway line is one step in ensuring that future investment and development in the west is not put at risk, that is according to the majority of county councillors who fiercely disagreed with suggestions that hopes of one day reopening the line should be abandoned and a greenway put in its place.
The greenway versss railway debate came up at the monthly meeting of the Galway County Council this week where the manager’s report on the pre-draft public consultation stage of the Galway County Development plan 2015-2021 was presented. The consultation stage for the plan took place between May 2 and June 27 2013 and resulted in a total of 54 valid submissions being received. Of these eight submissions were from statutory bodies and 46 submissions were received from the general public and other persons/bodies.
One submission called for urban renewal schemes in towns along railway lines such as Tuam, Ballyglunin, Athenry, Ardrahan, and Gort, and expressed support for the reopening of the railway line from Collooney, Co Sligo, through Claremorris, Tuam, and Athenry. However there were also a number of other submissions that called for the reuse of railway infrastructure for amenity purposes such as walks and greenway.
The manager’s response and comments noted that the “mandatory objective of the plan shall be ‘the renewal and development of areas in need of regeneration’”. Regarding the railway lines it said: “Phase 1 of the Western Rail corridor between Ennis and Athenry is operational. Furthermore the 2030 Rail Network Strategy Review (October 2011 ) states in an appraisal that the Athenry-Tuam line has potential for reinstatement. It is considered that the overall strategic project of the Western Rail Corridor should not be compromised.” However it was also noted that consideration has and will be given to the reuse of railway infrastructure for amenity purposes, for example, The Connemara Greenway project proposes to utilise 40km of old rail line as part of the Clifden to Oughterard route which is approximately 52km in length. The Galway County Walking and Cycling Strategy Report (2012 ) states that a Tuam to Athenry cycle route may be deliverable by 2016 by utilising the R347 or a network of quieter local roads. An objective shall be contained in the new plan to support the implementation of the Galway County Walking and Cycling Strategy Report. It will also be in the plan to examine the possibility of identifying a route linking Ballindine, Milltown, and Tuam and its environs to the National Cycling Network and/or the Tuam/Athenry cycle route.
“There is potential of using the railway lines as a greenway,” said Cllr Shaun Cunniffe, who added: “There are some unavoidable facts that we have to consider. The 2030 Network Strategy Review is telling us that the Athenry to Tuam and the Tuam to Claregalway doesn’t have enough to recommend that they be retained. It’s telling us it’s not going to happen. The Athenry to Tuam railway line got 61 marks, once the new motorway opens is going to be 41 marks. We shouldn’t be relying on a report that doesn’t include the Gort to Tuam motorway. It will be an awful diservice to local jobs and footfall if we continue to dismiss the greenways.”
However Cllr Peter Feeney, as well as others, disagreed stating that this project is “the only one with the potential for reopening in the country”. Regarding investment in the west, he said: “It saddens me the amount of investment in the east. If we create a counter balance on the western seaboard with good infrastructure, then when we have the investment we have the potential for this. We’re going to have to change our whole attitude to transport, we’re going to have to talk about mass public transport. That corridor has been there since the 1860s, it was used for 100 years very successfully. It hasn’t been used for 30 years, it doesn’t mean it can’t be used again.”
“This debate we’re having, greenway or railway, is totally wrong,” said Cllr Seán Canney, who explained that Tuam needs a railway track to further promote and create employment. He added: “I support the idea of a greenway but not where there is infrastructure which is an asset. We should be sitting down and seeing how to develop the west properly and look at balanced regional development - broadband, infrastructure, greenways, we need all of that.”
Director of services Kevin Kelly told councillors that only the Athenry to Tuam railway line was seen as offering some potential and the plan would “maintain the support for the possibility of reopening the Athenry to Tuam railway line” and to find an alternative route for a Tuam to Athenry cycleway.