Donegal railway tourist attraction not on track this summer

 

Stricter safety regulations and the end of a FÁS-sponsored scheme have meant that one of Donegal's most popular tourist attractions is not operating this summer.

The scenic Fintown Railway, which operated along a 2¼ mile stretch of track, was first opened as a tourist attraction in June 1995 - appropriately marking the centenary of the first train journey along a spectacular 24-mile route from Stranorlar and Glenties.

However, like the old narrow- gauge line - which finally closed in 1952 - the restored railway has encountered difficulties. Railway regulations in Ireland now insist all trains must use continuous braking. Although the Fintown Railway's locomotive has brakes, the carriages do not.

That's an obstacle that can be overcome. But the ending of a FÁS scheme earlier this month represents a bigger problem. When the track was being relaid, up to 34 people were employed. In an area of high unemployment, the restoration project was a big boost.

The railway attracted around 12,000 visitors annually and as its honorary president, playwright Brian Friel put it: "What is on offer is a unique journey along the shores of a lake as grand as any in Switzerland or Minnesota."

Now, the board of Cumann Traenach na Gaeltacht Lar (CTGL), the company originally set up to drive the whole project, is being reconstituted with the participation of Údarás na Gaeltachta, Meitheal Forbatha na Gaeltachta, and the enterprise section of Donegal County Council.

Consultants have been contacted and hopes are high that additional funding can be secured to ensure that the train can become operational again next year.

"It would be a dreadful waste to see all the effort that has been put in over the years squandered," says CTGL director Oliver McDevitt, who points out that for "a modest level of expenditure" the whole project could not just be reactivated but expanded.

There are also plans to develop a heritage centre on the site of the old station in Fintown, incorporating a museum, restaurant, and children's play area. A boat for trips along the lake remains on shore, lying idle.

Given the seasonal employment that can be created, not to mention the spin-off from tourists stopping off, the hope is that a cash injection can be secured. And the more enthusiastic supporters of the railway still harbour dreams of extending the track all the way to Glenties.