Use it or lose it warning for west's new rail line
ALL aboard, or else. Commuters will have to make use of the new Limerick-to-Galway rail line if the plans to extend the Western Rail Corridor are to go ahead, Transport Minister Noel Dempsey warned yesterday.
The line re-opened yesterday for the first time in 34 years.
Despite promising his "absolute commitment" to the opening of the next phases of the Western Rail Corridor -- from Athenry to Tuam, Co Galway, and to Claremorris, Co Mayo -- Mr Dempsey said that commitment was dependent on getting the money at Cabinet.
And he said the best way supporters of the re-opening of the rail corridor could help was to use the new service between Limerick and Galway. The Tuam and Claremorris extensions are due to open in 2011 and 2014 respectively.
Mr Dempsey said: "I cannot overstate the critical importance of local support for phase one of the Western Rail Corridor in promoting the development of further phases."
Around €106m has been spent upgrading the Ennis-to-Athenry line, and Mr Dempsey was on hand to take some of the plaudits as the first service departed Limerick at 10.20am.
Speaking at Colbert station in the city, Mr Dempsey described it as "a truly historic day for the west of Ireland".
"It is the longest section of track to be re-opened in the entire country and it is also the first intercity line to be re-opened," he said.
But with estimates that as few as 320 people per day will use the five daily return services -- which will also serve Sixmilebridge, Gort, Ardrahan and Craughwell -- not everyone was as enthused.
Greg Rabbitte worked as an Iarnrod Eireann signalman for much of his life and worked on the Limerick-Sligo line for almost 20 years.
"I didn't think it would ever happen," the 82-year old said of the re-opening. I am delighted to see it but I still can't see it doing a lot of business. I'd say people on free travel passes would be very keen on it.
"The line went from Limerick to Sligo until it closed in April 1976, and it was a great service until the freight went off it."
Irish Rail has been criticised for failing to stop in populous areas such as Moyross in Limerick and Oranmore in Co Galway.
Labour TD for Limerick East Jan O'Sullivan pointed out that the track cut through the Moyross housing estate, yet it had no station. Meanwhile Fine Gael senator Fidelma Healy Eames made a similar case for her native Oranmore, saying it had a catchment area of 15,000 people yet they could not avail of the new service.
There will be five services each way along the new route starting at 6am from Limerick, with journey times varying from just under two hours to two-and-a-half hours.
It means passengers travelling between Limerick and Galway will no longer have to go through Portarlington.
An estimated 300,000 passengers a year are expected to use the service, but Iarnrod Eireann is predicting an operating loss of €2.4m. And the journey time is just under two hours -- 30 minutes longer than travelling by car. Day return fares will be €20.
But lobby group West on Track said the service would provide "exceptional value for money".
"It will be a radical success and the community will flock to it," spokesman Colman O'Raghallaigh said.
"I work in a school and it has never turned a profit, but it provides an essential service and that is what the Limerick-Galway rail line will be doing. It deserves to be supported by the Exchequer."
Retired Ennis stationmaster Patsy Doohan (67) told the Irish Independent that the service was discontinued in 1976 because of political pressure.
"It was a token service in the end," he said. "The trains ran at times which didn't really suit. A line in the west of Ireland is a lot more vulnerable than one on the east coast. Many lines on the east would have been in a similar way but they didn't come under the same scrutiny."
"It's going to take a while for it to get off the ground. More people are willing to use public transport and because it arrives in the centre of both cities it will make it attractive."