Call for faster trains on the Dublin line and the re-opening of the Western rail corridor

Sligo County Council has agreed to make a submission to the All-Ireland Rail Review seeking a re-opening of the Western Rail Corridor and faster trains on the Dublin line

Sligo's MacDiarmada Station.

By Stephen HollandSligo Champion

The Sligo County Council’s submission to the All-Ireland Rail Review gives them the opportunity to voice the ways railways should be used and how they could be utilised in the future.

Councillor Thomas Healy said that the submission should specify the “need for faster train speed and the suggestion of a daily commuter from Longford to Sligo.”

The Sinn Féin councillor also called on the Council to write to local authorities in Longford, Leitrim, Roscommon, Galway, May and Donegal to make a joint submission to the review on the need to re-open the Western Rail Corridor for both freight and rail service.

The Western Rail Corridor is a partly disused railway line running through the West Ireland that has led to some consternation among councillors in previous meetings due to the view of some that it should be repurposed as a greenway to encourage tourism, while others feel the re-opening of the railway line should be prioritised.

Cllr. Healy said the submission should “emphasise the economic, environmental and social benefits to these counties in linking the Dublin rail line to the western seaboard” and stressed that local authorities throughout the northwest need to “band together and show a unity of purpose in order to get the rail service that we need for the northwest region.”

He stated that re-opening the Western Rail Corridor opens Sligo to huge amounts of tourism and that it is their job as local representatives “to try and grab this with both hands”, noting that the last review “was done back in 1906” and “we don’t want to wait that long again.”

“Sligo can’t be seen sitting back, we need to make sure we are getting heard,” he said.

Cllr. Dónal Gilroy claims that in the next stage of the process, after the submission, “a range of stakeholders will be consulted” and that a number of local authorities including Sligo County Council “are being excluded from that” and requested they look into coming together as a group of councils and request inclusion as stakeholders.

Chief Executive Martin Lydon said it was unlikely to get the other counties to agree to a joint submission as “their council meetings will run at different times” and the closing date for the submissions was fast approaching.

He suggested Cllr. Gilroy’s request to be included as a group of stakeholders in phase one of the review could “bring us into working with those local authorities” around these issues.

There have already been major losses in Sligo such as Sligo Airport, according to Cllr. Arthur Gibbons, and the Council should view rail as an opportunity to open the county, especially regarding freight services.

“Rail offers an environmentally healthier alternative. I’d love to see the Western Rail Corridor opened,” he said.

He also stressed how the rail service would be a vital service for those travelling between Sligo and Galway for cancer treatment and that it would open IT Sligo “to a bigger community.”

Cllr. Declan Bree said the Rail Review was clearly an important north-south initiative and he believed the council should acknowledge the work carried out to date on the strategy by Transport Minister Eamon Ryan, and the Northern Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon.

“The review is designed to consider how and where rail should be improved on the island to boost sustainable connectivity and address regional imbalance.

“The process has now reached the consultation stage, with organisations and individuals being asked to submit their views.

“I believe it is important that we let them know we need faster and more frequent trains on the Sligo-Dublin line.

“We need an early morning and evening commuter service linking Sligo with Longford. And of significant importance, we need to see the reopening of the Western Rail Corridor linking Sligo with Galway and Limerick - and hopefully at some stage a line linking us with Derry.

“The re-opening of the Sligo to Galway Western Rail Corridor is already included as a key objective in the North West Regional Spatial & Economic Strategy because it is clearly resognised as of significant importance for the entire West of Ireland.

It was an historic motion, according to Cllr. Michael Clarke, who stressed that his support does not interfere with his support for the Sligo/Galway railway to be used as a greenway in the near future stating that the Council can continue with its approved plans for the greenway and that “when the time comes to put the rail back we will support that.”

Cllr. Tom MacSharry said it is likely to be a long time before the money to re-open the railway is available and that in the meantime “we have to look at the tourism side of the greenways” that could be used by people on “cycling holidays” that will greatly benefit the local economy.

“I support the motion but wouldn’t like to see anything that would counteract the work of anyone involved in the greenway initiatives. The priority should be the greenway,” he said.

Previous discussions around the proposed greenway on the closed railway lines from Collooney to Claremorris has led to lengthy debates among councillors and Cathaoirleach Paul Taylor stressed it was important to focus on the motion at hand and not get drawn into a renewed discussion around greenways.

Cllr. Marie Casserly added that she is in support of faster trains and that investment needs to be put in with a new track and new carriages for the busy Sligo to Dublin train.

“It really doesn’t make sense that it’s almost as quick to drive, the train is too slow,” she said.

With one final word on the greenway she said that there should “be no confusion” and wished to “reiterate work is going ahead” on the Collooney to Claremorris greenway.

“There is huge support for it in the entire county but particularly the Collooney area. There is a fantastic campaign group with an average reach of 9,000 people and 65 businesses,” she said.

Another issue which should be included in the submission, according to Cllr. Thomas Walsh, is the security on the Sligo to Dublin train line which some use “to carry illicit substances” into the county.

While in support of the motion to reopen the disused rail line Cllr. Dara Mulvey said he has seen it “stranded” for the last 40 years and with previous estimations that it would cost “€250m” to re-open failing to take into account “steel prices have gone up in excess of 200%” so that figure could have “doubled or trebled” by now.

The closing date for submissions to the All-Ireland Rail Review was last Friday and councillors have agreed to write to other local authorities to propose the possibility of coming together as a group of interested stakeholders in the next phase of the process.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin has made what it calls is a strong submission to the Rail Review in support of re-opening the Western Rail Corridor.

Sinn Féin MEP Chris MacManus has called for the next phase of the Western Corridor to be reopened without delay.

MEP MacManus said:

“I welcome this review of rail services across the island. It is clear that rail has a major role to play in our island’s future for connecting communities and achieving green, sustainable transport. In regard to the West and North West there is a sizeable population and business to facilitate the extension of railway using existing population hubs and business centres.”

“We have made a strong submission to the review in support of reopening Phases 2 and 3 of the Western Rail Corridor, providing a rail link from Claremorris to Athenry. We have also called for a comprehensive study to be undertaken into reopening Phase 4, extending the rail line onto Collooney and providing a link with Sligo.”

“Improved connectivity will be vital to unlock the social and economic potential of the entire west coast. In the case of the Western Rail Corridor, it can play a crucial role in the development of Knock Airport as major transport and logistics hub by eventually offering rail connectivity to the Airport. It will be crucial in addressing regional imbalance and reinvigorating the economy in the west of Ireland in the coming years.”

“In our submission we have outlined these enormous economic benefits as well as the significant environmental benefits the rail corridor would bring. In order to deliver a net zero carbon society, it is imperative that we empower citizens to live their lives in a sustainable way. Extending rail to communities across the West and North-West does exactly that, and will play a vital role in future in living up to our climate obligations.”

“In terms of passenger traffic, the Western Rail Corridor will offer connectivity to all of the country’s major cities, cater for our region’s growing population as well as taking full advantage of the rapidly growing rail tourism sector. In the long-term a North-Western Rail Corridor through Donegal and on to Derry would provide all-island rail connectivity, as the final link in a rail loop of the country.”

“The opening of phase one of the Western Rail Corridor from Ennis to Athenry which gave connectivity to Limerick and Galway, is already a proven success with 531,000 passenger journeys recorded on the line in 2019, making it the fastest growing route in the country and highlighting the potential of the remaining phases once reopened.”

“The Western Rail Corridor is vital to the future of the West of Ireland. I am hopeful that the review will acknowledge this and recommend reopening of the rail line without delay.”