It was a rocky week for the West on Track campaigners who seemed to have taken a severe blow on Tuesday when the Minister for Transport, Tourism, and Sport Leo Varadkar was quoted in The Irish Times as saying that the line would not be extended from Athenry to Tuam.
The Minister has said he was misquoted, clarifying that within the current Capital Investment Programme to 2016, funds are not provided to extend the line further. However the Minister has confirmed that this will be reviewed again when the post 2016 Capital Investment Programme is being drawn up.
This clarification was welcomed by West on Track whose spokesperson Colman O Raghallaigh told the Mayo Advertiser: “Our position is we remain fully committed to the reopening of the entire Western Rail Corridor. We are confident that the railway from Athenry to Claremorris will be reopened in the medium term as part of the next capital programme.”
In relation to the line from Claremorris to Collooney it is the opinion of West on Track that it should be preserved intact and used for rail purposes only. “We are of the view that a Railway Order process should be done to establish the optimum route for any future rail development between Claremorris and Sligo. In the event it might be that part of the existing railway would no longer be required, it is only in that context that other uses could be found for the railway,” Mr O Raghallaigh concluded.
Meanwhile, the Sligo Mayo Greenway campaigners continue with their efforts for the disused railway from Claremorris to Collooney to be developed as a greenway similar to the hugely successful award-winning Great Western Greenway.
According to campaigner Brendan Quinn the development of a greenway on this route which could be connected to the Great Western Greenway at Kiltimagh, “would be one step closer to Minister of State Michael Ring’s objective to make Ireland the cycling capital of Europe”.
The group are adamant that the development of a greenway would bring untold benefits to towns and villages along the route while also providing safe cycling and walking facilities for people living in the area and not just tourists.
Swinford Fine Gael councillor Joe Mellett is hopeful however that the line could still be used as a railway and greenway, side by side. He said this model works all over the world, but a high speed train would not be suitable. It was his opinion that a steam train offering tourism potential could operate beside a greenway and he hopes that Mayo County Council can work with the West on Track group in the future to preserve the boundary of the line and close off access.
When contacted by the Mayo Advertiser Minister Ring said there was no application before him at this time and he had no further comment to make on the issue.
Mayo Deputy John O’Mahony reiterated what Minister Varadkar said in his correspondence to ministers, senators, and TDs when he said the West on Track project will be reviewed again for the Government’s post 2016 Capital Investment Programme.
And so the debate continues. One group wants a rail line from Athenry to Tuam and on to Colloney, others want a greenway and rail line to be developed side by side. Another wants just a greenway ,and another idea would be the development of a railway from Athenry to Claremorris and a greenway from Claremorris to Sligo.