Dispute over future of disused Western Rail Corridor

Advocates of greenway insist it would not signal end of Western Rail Corridor

Mayo County Council is under pressure from rival lobby groups over the future of a large section of the disused railway line between Galway and Sligo, known as the Western Rail Corridor (WRC).

The Sligo Mayo Greenway Campaign wants it turned into a walking and cycling route – modelled on the Great Western Greenway between Westport and Achill – while West on Track favours preserving the railway reservation.

Nearly 300 submissions supporting the greenway scheme have been sent to the council, according to the campaign's co-ordinator, Brendan Quinn, who is based in Enniscrone, Co Sligo. Many of them point to the runaway success of the Great Western Greenway.

The campaign, which wants to see a greenway installed between Claremorris, Co Mayo, and Collooney, Co Sligo, has also welcomed a survey of 1,300 people in the town of Swinford – a key town on the route – which showed "overwhelming" support for the greenway proposal.


But as the council began finalising a new county development plan, West on Track made a detailed submission opposing “an attempt being orchestrated from outside the county to change the status of the WRC”, according to its co-ordinator, Colmán Ó Raghallaigh.

“Comparing the Claremorris-Collooney rail line to the Great Western Greenway is entirely disingenuous in that the latter is built along the route of a railway that was . . . taken up in 1937 and runs through some of the most magnificent scenery in Co Mayo.

"As things stand we do not believe that the is a suitable route for a greenway," he told The Irish Times. "The only viable way of establishing a greenway on that route would be to lift the railway" – and West on Track vehemently opposes any such move.

No railway for 10 years
However, the Sligo Mayo Greenway Campaign has been told by Minister of State for Public Transport Alan Kelly that plans to reopen the WRC would not be considered for 10 years.

“The railway is not going to happen and there is money available for greenways,” Mr Quinn said.

If Mayo decides to include the greenway objective in its plan and Sligo County Council also passes a motion backing the proposal, Mr Quinn said it would then have met one of the principal criteria set out for Government funding – support from the relevant local authorities.

“Despite scaremongering to the contrary, a greenway would not ‘signal the end of the Western Rail Corridor’, but it would actually preserve the route for posterity, in case a railway ever becomes a realistic option.”

Protecting the route
This view is supported by Iarnród Éireann. Asked about greenways by George Hook on Newstalk radio earlier this month, company spokesman Barry Kenny said: "Greenways actually protect the alignment in case we ever want to use them as railways again."

Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar also made it clear last month that the Government had "no plans to extend the Western Rail Corridor nor any other heavy rail line in the State. We do not have the funds. Our priority is to keep the existing lines open".

Mayo county manager Peter Hynes is due to report to councillors on submissions made on the draft county plan, including the greenway proposal for the Western Rail Corridor, and his report is expected to be be considered by the council in September.

Frank McDonald

Frank McDonald

Frank McDonald, a contributor to The Irish Times, is the newspaper's former environment editor