Government to make no move to close western rail corridor

Galway TD says regional development means not just retention of line but its expansion

The public is to be consulted on the future of the State’s railways on foot of a review on  Iarnród Éireann, which warns of line closures if  significant additional State investment is not provided.  Photograph: Iarnród Éireann

The public is to be consulted on the future of the State’s railways on foot of a review on Iarnród Éireann, which warns of line closures if significant additional State investment is not provided. Photograph: Iarnród Éireann

 

The Government will make no moves to close the western rail corridor as part of any moves to ease the financial crisis facing Iarnród Éireann. A new review has pointed to rail closures being needed to help fund a €600 million gap in network investment. Among the possible closures it mentioned were the routes from Limerick to Ballybrophy and Limerick Junction to Waterford.

It also suggested the Ennis to Athenry line, which was only revived in 2010 at a cost of €100 million, might be a target for closure. However, members of the Independent Alliance have said the retention of the Ennis to Athenry line – and its future extension to Claremorris – remains a fundamental issue for them.

Minister of State for the OPW Seán Canney said the retention of the western rail corridor was included in the programme for government, including conditions safeguarding the existing route. Mr Canney said that contrary to the portrayal of the corridor as a white elephant, it had experienced a dramatic increase in passenger numbers.

“A survey by Cicero showed that the passenger numbers had increased by 50 per cent between 2014 and 2015 to over 102,000,” he said. “It also showed the service was not just servicing pensioners, the so-called silver brigade, but was being used by commuters and students.”

Mr Canney, a Galway East TD, said that if the notion of balanced regional development was to be meaningful, it meant not just the retention of the railway line but its expansion. He said it could be developed for freight as well as passengers, linking the big population centres along the west coast.

Other Independents supporting the Government such as Kevin Boxer Moran, Minister for Communications Denis Naughten and Clare TD Dr Michael Harty are also said to be against any significant diminution in the service.

As Independent Alliance member Shane Ross is Minister for Transport, his colleagues in the group say there is very likely not to be any moves to downgrade the corridor during the Government’s lifetime.

The public is to be consulted on the future of the State’s railways on foot of the review which warns of line closures if very significant additional State investment is not provided.

Mr Ross has said that he will be bringing details of the new rail review to Cabinet next week. The National Transport Authority (NTA) has signalled that there would be no rail line closures ahead of a full public consultation.

Separately, one of the main trade unions representing staff at Iarnród Éireann warned line closures would have industrial relations implications at the State-owned rail operator.