Minister spending €70k to design new bridge for a disused railway
Transport Minister Shane Ross has signed off on the design and planning of a bridge over a disused railway line at a potential cost of €70,000.
Mr Ross has authorised Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) to commission plans for a replacement for the Ballyglunin railway bridge on the Athenry to Claremorris railway line, even though it has been closed for 20 years and there are no plans to re-open it.
The original bridge was removed in July to facilitate an access road to the new M17 motorway.
In an email seen by the Sunday Independent, the minister indicated he had approved the design project to keep a government commitment to Independent Alliance minister and Galway TD Sean Canney.
"On foot of the provision in the Programme for Government that no measures will be taken to prevent the future reactivation of the Athenry to Claremorris corridor for rail use, I have approved Transport Infrastructure Ireland undertaking planning and design work this year in relation to a replacement bridge at this location."
Engineering sources told the Sunday Independent the cost of designing a bridge of this scale is around €70,000, with further costs involved in planning permissions and procurement. TII will only build the actual bridge if Irish Rail requests it to do so.
The minister's decision to spend public funds on a disused railway line comes as Irish Rail warned of potential closures of four rail routes because of its "perilous financial state".
The routes include the Ennis to Athenry section of the railway to save €2.8m, even though passenger numbers on the line are forecast to increase this year to 116,000.
The future of the Athenry to Claremorris line has bitterly divided local opinion. West On Track, backed by Mr Canney, is campaigning for the rail line to reactivated for freight and passengers. Other business groups believe it would serve better as a greenway for cyclists and walkers.
Brendan Quinn, spokesperson for greenway campaigners Western Rail Trail, wrote to Finance Minister Pascal Donohoe to complain about the "outragous waste" of public funds.
Fianna Fail funded the first phase of the Western Rail Corridor, from Ennis to Athenry. Fine Gael transport ministers, including Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Mr Donohoe, have already refused to extend the line to Claremorris on cost grounds.
Sean Canney and the Independent Alliance secured a commitment from Fine Gael to commission a feasibility study last year but that process has not been completed.
A department spokesman noted the "considerable debate as to whether the WRC should be reopened as a rail link or redeveloped as a greenway."