Rail line becomes cycling track

Sat, Jul 30, 2011, 01:00

WHERE STEAM trains once puffed, cyclists and walkers now glide and stride relentlessly.

The old railway line, which once stretched between Westport and Achill Island, has been reincarnated as the Great Western Greenway.

The 42km (26-mile) purpose-built cycling and walking track was officially opened yesterday, with Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Michael Ring, Minister of State for Tourism and Sport, sharing the honours.

Mr Kenny, as is his wont, then hopped on a bicycle, leading other politicians on a merry jaunt through the countryside.

Some of those participating in the ceremony were suspiciously capable of keeping up with the well-toned Taoiseach. Perhaps they were making use of the electric motors fitted to some of the bikes.

Mr Kenny led invited guests along the Greenway from Westport House to Attireesh, Westport, where there was a plaque-unveiling ceremony.

The Greenway is the first of its kind in Ireland and, in its second year in operation, it is already proving a tourist magnet.

In high summer, an estimated 300 people a day cycle and trek the highly scenic route along the fringes of Clew Bay.

One coastal village to benefit has been Mulrany, which recently won the 2011 European Destinations of Excellence award for sustainable travel.

Constructed in 1894, the Westport to Achill line was a viable rail link until 1937.

The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and Fáilte Ireland co-funded the project, which has been developed by Mayo County Council for a modest €5 million outlay.

According to Mr Ring, more than 50,000 people used the route between March and June this year.

He said the route was not just about tourism, “it has also facilitated people in the area in making local journeys by foot or by bike”.