Galway-Limerick rail link reopens


FIVE MINISTERS, about eight mayors, one Senator and several thousand local people turned out along the route for the reopening of rail passenger services between Limerick and Galway yesterday.

At each of the eight stations along the 60km section between Ennis and Athenry which last carried fare-paying passengers in April 1976, locals waved flags and cheered, oblivious to the driving rain, as the train bearing Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey and his retinue arrived. Some freight services had continued on the old line until 2001.

Marquees were set up at stations along the route to house the crowds and plaques commemorating the occasion were unveiled at each stop. Mr Dempsey said that the route, which was reopened at a cost of €106 million, was the State’s longest section of new track, and “the first of the State’s inter-city lines to be reopened”.

At Galway, Mr Dempsey went further and promised his “absolute commitment” to the reopening of phases two, three and four of the Western Rail Corridor: from Athenry to Tuam, Co Galway; to Claremorris, Co Mayo; and to Collooney, Co Sligo.

The commitment depended on getting the money at Cabinet, and he said the best way supporters of the reopening of the rail corridor could help was to use the service between Limerick and Galway.

At about two hours’ duration, the journey time from Limerick to Galway is longer than the one hour and 30 minutes for road journeys between the two cities, and the gap is likely to be considerably larger when a motorway is completed between Galway and Ennis.

However, Minister for Social Protection Éamon Ó Cuív, who was on board the first train yesterday, said that with varying traffic conditions, actual journey times from city centre to city centre could beat road times, particularly at rush hours.

At Ennis, Minister for Defence Tony Killeen came out to welcome the train, while at Sixmilebridge, the Shannon Airport Authority had a bus on hand to emphasise the 14-minute journey to the airport, a feature which it claimed makes the airport more accessible to the people of Galway.

In addition to existing stations at Limerick, Ennis, Athenry and Galway, new stations have been built at Sixmilebridge, Co Clare, and Gort, Ardrahan, and Craughwell in Co Galway.

At Crusheen in Co Clare and Oranmore in Co Galway, people smiled and waved as the train went through yesterday, scotching rumours of protests from locals disappointed at the lack of a station for them. But there was good news with CIÉ chairman Dr John Lynch revealing that opening stations at both Crusheen and Oranmore was “almost certain”, and would likely happen within a year.

The only note of caution sounded on the day was from new Green Party Minister of State with responsibility for sustainable transport, Ciarán Cuffe, who, while celebrating yesterday’s opening, said he would also be prepared to preside over the closure of some train services if they did not make economic sense.

Speaking largely in the context of the possible closure of the Waterford to Rosslare line, Mr Cuffe said the future of any line would depend on its usage and need.

The fifth Minister present was Peter Power, who was on hand to wave the train off from Limerick city.