‘The strategy and constant push to use unused railways as greenways is flawed and represents a capitulation to the political failure of successive governments to balance development and opportunity on the island.’
Sligo News File.
In the words of the song, there are days when you feel like screaming which surely must have been the state of mind of many when a group announced that they planned to turn a potentially viable Sligo rail track into a footpath for cyclists and backpackers. What has come over the North West that people are seemingly willing to allow the track out of Collooney to be practically killed off? Not only that, but the government is being asked to dole out millions in scarce taxpayers money to bring the plan to fruition.
Imagine how the late, great founder of the nearby awe-inspiring Knock airport Monsignor James Horan would have reacted if it had been proposed that the airport site should be instead used as an outdoor activity facility. He pulled off a magnificent result for the West because he refused to accept second best for the area. And when government funding for the development fell short of what he needed to progress the works, he raised massive sums in private donation to launch what is now a fully fledged international airport towering proudly over the West.
Great credit is due to the people behind West=on=Track who have tirelessly fought to have the disused Collooney Claremorris track brought back into service as a fully functioning railway, people such as sociologist Fr. Micheal MacGreil, Colman O’Raghallaigh and, in Collooney, Peter Bowen Walsh. Detractors have pointed to costs, they have pointed to the community rebuilding role the revived service could play in linking the North West to the South and the dividend it would return both as passenger service and freight transportation operation linking towns and villages dying for want of essential transport infrastructure.
To be fair, the efforts of a body calling themselves Sligo Greenway Co-op are deserving of some praise; their initiative in proposing the laying of a greenway over the trackbed of the rail line from Collooney to Bellaghy has at least highlighted the existence of an important publicly owned resource which government and local public representatives have largely ignored over the years. Sligo Greenway must, however, appreciate that the provision of a recreational walkway at the expense of digging up the existing rail
infrastructure would be no substitute for the reinstatement of a working railway.
Peter Bowen Walsh explains, saying:
“The strategy and constant push to use unused railways as greenways is flawed and born out of an acceptance that the Atlantic regions are going to become places for people to visit, retire to, or make movies there.
“It represents a capitulation to the political failure of successive governments to balance development and opportunity on the island.
“A fully re-instated Western Rail Corridor from Limerick to Sligo would open up the far too long neglected West.
“As an essential infrastructural component of the Atlantic Economic Corridor, it would take a lot of freight and traffic off the roads, saving millions in wear and tear; it would have great ecological and environmental advantages; it would create and maintain employment by encouraging industrial development; it would encourage tourism; it would encourage a vibrant counterbalance to a far too rapidly expanding Greater Dublin Area; it would provide a large variety of commuting opportunities for workers and
students; it would facilitate travel for hospital patients and the partially abled.”
He said: “The advantages to tourism in the region, by attracting cyclists and walkers through the creation of greenways would be as nothing compared to the advantages to industry, tourism and the development of the west, which a high-speed Western Rail Corridor would provide.
“The cumulative strength of the WRC is greater than the sum of its parts. It is a regional asset, strengthened by the integrity of each link.”
All who are campaigning for the WRC, he said “are doing so in the best interests of this region, and for the country as a whole.”
Speaking in support of the West=on=Track campaign, secretary of the Sligo Farming Platform, John Gallagher said the retention and preservation of the rail track was essential for the “continuation of the Western Rail Corridor to serve the Western region and towns along the track.”
He said both national spatial policy and Western county councils’ development plans envisaged and supported a development policy to restore the railway infrastructure from Athenry to Collooney.
“National and European environmental strategy and policy advances the concept of carbon mitigation, and in future it will be a requirement to transfer both passenger and freight off roadways on to rail. This will reduce road congestion and extend road life.
“Sligo County Council Development Plan supports the concept of the Western Rail Corridor and that the railway be preserved and restored.”
Referring to the proposal to lay a greenway over the trackbed of Collooney Bellaghy track, he said a greenway could instead be constructed along the “existing land take adjacent to the railway track without having to interfere with the existing track or its infrastructure.”
Twenty-two applications have been received for the €53 million allocated by the government for the development of greenways over the years 2019 to 2021. National funding is usually supplemented by ‘match’ funding by councils promoting greenway developments, meaning, one way or another, Sligo will be saddled with the bill for any outstanding costs of the Collooney Bellaghy pathway and, too, maintenance and other overheads into the future.