I welcome the Minister and acknowledge his drive, ambition and interest in this area. I will confine my contribution to the western rail corridor.
I acknowledge the work of the West on Track campaign group which for a year has fought the fight for the western rail corridor. It was a difficult fight to maintain the line when alternative uses were being suggested for it. Part of that campaign on social media was quite nasty. In that vein, last week the Minister announced funding for the greenway between Tuam and Athenry. There is still confusion over whether that is a greenway on the railway line, which I do not believe is the intention but is certainly causing confusion in Galway. Some people in the west of Ireland seem to be of the view that we cannot have a rail line, a greenway and a motorway – that we could not have all three. Why should we not have all three in the west? I ask the Minister to confirm that the western rail corridor is to be protected for rail and that a greenway will be built alongside, in the vicinity or in a different area. I ask for that confirmation because there is confusion in the media in Galway on that.
The welcome figures for the increase in use of the rail corridor and the recovery post the Covid pandemic speak for themselves. We have seen a 56% increase from 2019 to 2022 on the Limerick-Ennis route and a 22% increase on the Ennis-Athenry route since 2019, which is all very welcome particularly as we have seen reductions by 26% in DART, 34% in commuter and 25% in intercity services in 2022. I hope those will continue to recover, but it puts into perspective the increase in use on the Galway to Limerick line, which is to be welcomed.
There are concerns about the journey times and I know Iarnród Éireann has a plan to rectify that by providing a passing loop at Sixmilebridge, and longer platforms at Craughwell and Ardrahan, all of which are necessary. There are ongoing problems at Ballycar and there is engagement between the local authority and the OPW. We need to get movement on that. Last week Jim Meade, the chief executive of Iarnród Éireann, informed Oireachtas Members that there is uncertainty over the lead authority on that and whether it is the OPW or the local authority. That needs to be resolved to improve the situation there. I welcome that URDF funding has been provided for a passing loop at Oranmore to improve commuter services, which is proceeding along with double-tracking from Athenry. All that is very positive.
I agree with the vision the Minister has expressed on the western rail corridor and interlinkages. I ask him to confirm that the line is for rail to ensure there is no ambiguity or uncertainty about that project.
Deputy Eamon Ryan
To answer Senator Kyne’s concern about services from Tuam to Athenry, nothing we do is going to get in the way of holding the line for rail development. Any other greenway development or ancillary works are not going to interfere with the potential for us to restore a railway service on that section between Claremorris and Athenry.