'Orient Express could use railway in west'
Published 21/05/2016 | 02:30
Minister of State Seán Canney has said that the future of the Western Rail Corridor (WRC) needs "vision" and suggested that it could be used by the Orient Express.
The Galway East TD said he was "not fazed" by a report by transport officials saying there was "no exchequer funding" for reopening rail lines such as the WRC.
Independent Alliance member Mr Canney secured a commitment during government negotiations that the opening of the Athenry to Claremorris section would undergo an independent costing and review.
As well as its tourism potential, he says it would be used by commuters and as an important freight link to the Port of Foynes.
However, briefing papers prepared for his Independent Alliance colleague, Transport Minister Shane Ross, show officials warning that there is no funding for such projects.
The document also states that the first phase of the WRC - from Ennis to Atheny - is underused, quoting figures from 2014 showing just 50,000 passengers, far short of the 200,000 expected to use the service after five years.
The officials say they understand that the route "operates at a considerable loss to Iarnród Éireann" and that if funds later become available, they must be prioritised to areas with "a clear need".
Mr Canney last night pointed out that passenger numbers between Ennis and Athenry had increased significantly to 102,000 in 2015 and said this figure should have been included in the transport briefing.
He said he had "no problem" with officials saying any future funding should go to areas that had the most need. But he said many public transport routes nationwide in urban and rural areas were not profitable but that it was important to balance development around the country.
He mentioned the potential for freight services from Mayo to Foynes as well as tourism opportunities, saying: "We have a beautiful train station in Ballyglunin where 'The Quiet Man' film was made."
He pointed out that the famous Orient Express tour company was planning services in Ireland and suggested it could use the WRC.
"Look at Knock Airport, which is taking a million passengers this year. When Monsignor Horan started building that, he would have been told he was daft. But you have to have a bit of vision and see what you can do," Mr Canney added.