Both Ballina and Claremorris saw their hopes for improved rail connectivity dashed this week following revelations that long sought after new train links are no longer a priority. Ballina’s hopes for an early bird Dublin train service are no longer in the running after Irish Rail confirmed this week there are no plans to connect the north Mayo town with the early bird train service that currently runs from Westport each day at 5.15am, arriving in Dublin just before 9am.
“At the moment there are no plans to extend the current service to Ballina as we don’t see that there is the demand to run it at present,” Barry Kenny, Communications Manager with Irish Rail, told the Mayo Advertiser. “This is evident from looking at trends on current services. We’re not saying never, but as it stands we’re not looking to push forward with this type of plan and are more in a period of consolidating and improving the current network.”
The issue of an early bird service was raised at the July meeting of Ballina Town Council by a number of councillors last week, with Fianna Fáil councillor Johnny O’Malley stressing the importance of an early morning service to Ballina.
“From speaking to Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey I understand the Chamber of Commerce in Westport made a very strong case for the service,” he said. “I thought that Ballina Chamber would be doing the same thing. The service is of vital significance for business people who do business in Dublin, if you have to go up for the day on business and arrive in Dublin at 11am, half the morning is gone. You need to arrive there around 9am.”
Cllr O’Malley added that Ballina is a hub town serving the whole of the northern half of the county even as far as south Sligo. “There’s between 10,000 and 12,000 people who could use this service. As a hub town connectivity is essential for Ballina to grow and prosper. Castlebar got the service by virtue of them being on the Westport to Dublin line. We need to have the same connectivity.”
The news follows on from the revelation earlier in the week that the long awaited Western Rail Corridor link between Athenry and Claremorris was omitted from the Government’s capital investment programme. There has been a longstanding campaign in the county by the West on Track committee to get the Western Rail Corridor fully operational again for business. The first phase of the corridor from Ennis to Athenry has been opened since earlier this year, the new service which now connects Limerick to Galway has been performing above expectations, and the second phase linking Athenry and Tuam is expected to open in 2011.
Fianna Fáil Minister of State Dara Calleary assured the Mayo Advertiser this week that the Government is still fully committed to the project and that its commitment to the rail corridor still stands. The Government had come in for some sharp criticism locally from opposition politicians over the absence of the Western Rail Corridor from the capital investment program, while major Dublin based projects such as the Metro North remained as priorities on the list