Western Railway Corridor
The Western Railway Corridor (WRC), or Conair Iarnróid an Iarthair (CII), in Republic of Ireland is a recent term for a partly disused railway line running through the West of Ireland. Currently two sections of the line, from Limerick via Ennis to Galway (as of 17 August 2012) and Collooney to Sligo, see regular services, with other sections either closed or technically classed as open despite being physically disconnected from the remainder of the network.
- 1 Context
- 2 Route and services
- 3 Rail Freight Services
- 4 Debate on the need for the Corridor
- 5 Timeline for the reopening of the corridor
- 6 Progress of works
- 7 Patronage
- 8 Collooney Claremorris Section as a Greenway
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 External links
In 2005 an Expert Working Group reported on the prospects for reopening all or part of the corridor. In September 2006 the preservation and reclamation from encroachment of the northern section began and the Government then announced funding to begin Phase 1 (Ennis-Athenry) of the re-opening of the corridor. The reopening of these sections has been included in the Transport 21 infrastructural plan, and the National Development Plan 2007–2013 "Transforming Ireland – A Better Quality of Life for All".
Route and services
|Western Rail Corridor|
The Western Rail Corridor encompasses a series of railways built by various companies throughout the late 19th century, forming a south-north line from Limerick to Sligo. Towns along the WRC include Ennis, Gort, Athenry, Tuam and Claremorris. The route crosses the Dublin–Galway line at Athenry, the Dublin–Westport/Ballina line at Claremorris and joins the Dublin–Sligo line at Collooney. The route largely parallels the corridor served by the N17 and N18 roads.
Passenger services between Claremorris and Collooney ended in 1963, with the section being closed completely in 1975 (the track was left in situ but severed at Collooney). Passenger services between Limerick and Claremorris ceased in 1976, though freight services continued for some time afterwards.
In 1988, a new passenger service started between Limerick and Ennis operating on Tuesdays and Thursdays. This was expanded to Fridays and Saturdays in February 1993 and a six-day service in May 1994. In December 2003, a new seven train a day service started between Limerick and Ennis (connecting or continuing to/from Dublin or Limerick Junction). This has since been upgraded to up to 9 trains per day.
Rail Freight Services
Freight services ran regularly on the Limerick to Claremorris section until the mid-1990s. However with the closure of the Asahi factory near Ballina, regular freight services north of Athenry ceased in 1997. Fertiliser trains from Foynes continued to use the line as far as Athenry until 2000 and bulk cement trains from the Irish Cements Ltd Castlemungret factory near Limerick until 2001, when the line ceased to have any regular traffic. In 2002 the section from Athenry to Claremorris was severed at Athenry during re-signalling of the Galway line. Container freight from Mayo has returned to the railway since 2006. Coillte, together with Mayo Industries Group export several thousand container loads via Waterford port (Ireland's best rail-connected port).
Debate on the need for the Corridor
The reopening of the Western Rail Corridor has raised debate in Ireland, with opinion divided on the benefits of the scheme.
Arguments in favour of reopening the corridor:
Arguments in favour are generally advocating a balanced development of the regions vis à vis Dublin and the importance of infrastructure in so doing . The lobby group WestOnTrack is leading the campaign to reopen the corridor.
- The Western Rail Corridor has been supported by all the main political parties and by the local and regional authorities of the counties through which it passes.
- The case for its reopening has been articulated (Op-ed) in the Irish Times, in the Sunday Independent, by the Irish Hotels Federation, in the Irish Independent, in the Western People, and in the findings of a TG4 opinion poll.
- Environmental benefits from reduced car usage including lower air pollution and smaller carbon footprint
Arguments against reopening the Corridor
Arguments against the reopening are based on the cost of the restoration work and the annual subvention required post capital expenditure and some advocate using trackbed as a cycle path or Greenway instead.
- Questions have been raised about its viability in an editorial in the Irish Times, by an article in the Irish Independent, by the lobby group, Platform 11, and by the Strategic Rail Review, 2003.
- In 2009, the Bord Snip Nua report controversially recommending cancelling future sections of the project and closing the Ballina-Manulla rail line, the section carrying Ireland's most valuable rail freight exports.
- Critics say that southern sections of the scheme are more viable than those closer to Sligo. The idea of a greenway on any parts of the route which may become surplus after a railway order process is undetraken for the Claremorris-Collooney Section was suggested by Minister Eamon O'Cuiv at a West on Track conference in May 2009 in response to lobbying for this idea from Enniscrone resident Brendan Quinn and his colleague John Mulligan.
Supporters of the project predict that passenger numbers will be high enough to meet operational costs.
Opponents of the project counter that the railway would have few passengers and require an annual subsidy similar to that paid to other railways in the state.
The presumed social benefits of restoring this rail service have been presented as an argument in favour of the project. The argument is that even if the line is not profitable, it will provide a vital social service for a poorly served region of the country.
Project opponents argue that social benefits will only be gained if the service is popular and return to their predictions of low passenger numbers (see above) and that the funding would be better used in other projects that would benefit more people. Some also argue with the assumption that the West is receiving less than its fair share of government capital spending. This argument has been accepted following the public transport underspend in the Western BMW Region under the 2000-2006 programme.
Report on transport budget underspend in the West of Ireland
A mid-term evaluation of the Irish government's National Development Plan by the consultants INDECON, is cited by some parties as a reason to build the Western Rail Corridor., 
The report stated that only half the forecast NDP transport investment in the BMW region for the period 2000–2006 was spent or committed to be spent by 2002, a shortfall of €364 million. As Transport projects have long lead times this report indicated that the relative shortfall in transport expenditure would be maintained over the course of the planning period to 2006.
Reliability of the McCann Expert Working Group report
Lobbyists for the project point to the recommendations of this report commissioned by the minister for transport as evidence that the project is justified.
The report stated that if the Mayo Rail Freight could be proven, it would add to the case for rebuilding Athenry-Claremorris as one section. Many commentators stated that Ireland is too small for rail freight, but contrary to what these commentators said, Mayo rail freight has been growing at such a fast pace, that it is considered viable to reopen the Athenry-Tuam-Claremorris section on that basis on its own.
Frank McDonald in an article in the Irish Times, based on information released under the Freedom of Information Act indicated that the report was rewritten to exclude any negative assessment of the viability of the project including a forecast that it would 'attract only 750 passengers per day and could require an annual subvention of up to €10 million'. Passenger numbers for the first section of the line between Ennis-Limerick were reported at 600 a day in March 2008.
Criticisms of the McCann Report have included the reliance on anecdotal testimony regarding freight demand and the absence of costings for rolling stock and operating expenses.
A cost-benefit analysis report prepared by Goodbody Economic Consultants for the Department of Transport in 2006 stated that passenger numbers on the soon to be opened Ennis-Athenry section of the WRC would be in the order of 200,000, requiring an annual subvention of €2.4m, with a negative Net Present Value of -€137m. The report concluded that even a doubling of patronage would not make the project viable on cost-benefit grounds, while the regional development benefits from the re-opening were viewed as 'unlikely to be significant'
The effect of freight
The McCann Report suggests that the Ennis Claremorris Section could divert and grow Mayo to Waterford freight traffic via the Western Rail Corridor. 
Opponents argue that rail freight volumes in the country have dropped near to zero in recent years and that indirect freight routes already exist from most large towns in the region. The fact that 16,000 lorry movements between Mayo and Waterford have diverted from road to rail along existing rail lines during the past year vindicates the stance that the WRC is not a prerequisite for facilitating railfreight flows in the west of Ireland. The Irish Exporters Association representative Mr Howard Knott announced at the Western Rail Corridor Conference on 1 May 2009 that two additional freight services from Mayo to North Wall in Dublin will become operational from County Mayo in the coming months. As of August 2013 5 trains serve this freight route in each direction each week 
These freight services do not use any opened or proposed future sections of the WRC.
Predicted results of the project
Supporters predict environmental and economic benefits will flow from increased tourism and industry following the line's successful restoration.
Opponents predict that, following a failure of the line to attract significant passenger numbers, future rail projects will have difficulty gaining funding in Ireland.
Infrastructure before development
Advocates of the project argue that key transport infrastructure should be built prior to development and may actually encourage development to take place. Land use and settlement strategies are in place in all of the counties along the route of the WRC as a result of direct initiatives by the County Development Boards and County Councils concerned. In addition the WRC is specified as a key infrastructural objective in the County Development Plans of Clare, Galway, Mayo and Sligo as well as the Regional Planning Guidelines of the West Regional Authority .
Project opponents, however, argue that the local councils are not following land use policies that would create centres of population density around the railway stations along this route, but instead are continuing to permit isolated rural housing.
Timeline for the reopening of the corridor
Expert Working Group Report
An Expert Working Group, headed by Pat McCann, CEO of Jurys Doyle Hotels, reported to the Minister for Transport regarding the prospects for reopening some or all of the route. The group was set up by Minister Séamus Brennan at the urging of West-on-Track in June 2004 and delivered its report to Minister Martin Cullen in May 2005.
The report recommended the reopening of most of the Corridor in three phases and the deferral of the reopening of the northernmost section:
Phase 1: Ennis to Athenry
58 km / 36 miles (€74.7 million)
Phase 2: Athenry to Tuam
25 km / 15.5 miles (€34.7 million)
Phase 3: Tuam to Claremorris
(subject to study of rail freight demand or in conjunction with phase 2)
27 km / 17 miles (€58.9 million)
Phase 4: Collooney to Claremorris
(subject to further feasibility studies and possibly justifiable on the grounds of balanced regional development)
74.43 km / 46.25 miles (€197.4 million)
On 1 November 2005 the Transport 21 plan was launched committing government expenditure of €34 billion between 2006 and 2015 on road, rail and light rail projects. The Western Railway Corridor commitments under this plan are largely those recommended by the McCann Report. These are:
- 2009 – Opening of Ennis-Athenry section
- 2011 – Opening of Athenry-Tuam section
- 2014 – Opening of Tuam-Claremorris section
Minister for Transport Martin Cullen also announced the undertaking of a feasibility study into a rail link for Shannon International Airport in his speech at the launch. This study, undertaken by MVA Consultants, estimated the proposed link would cost €700m, while an Irish Rail manager stated that 'the costs of the construction of the rail link are out of proportion to the benefits to be gained'.
Transport 21 also states the section of line from Claremorris to Collooney, the northern section known as Section Four in the McCann Report should be subject to protection of the alignment. Transport 21 did not commit to rebuild this part of the line.
Transport 21 was the transport policy of the outgoing Fianna Fáil/Green Government which lost power in March 2011. The Manifesto of the main party of the incoming government Fine Gael made no further commitments to complete the Western Rail Corridor. The Fine Gael manifesto stated the Western Rail Corridor will be subject to a cost benefit analysis – the future of the Western Rail Corridor will be subject to a complete review of capital projects planned by the Government in Ireland which will be published later in 2011.
Progress of works
Following preliminary works in late 2005 and early 2006, official clearance work on the northern section of the line (Claremorris to Collooney) began on 18 September 2006. The purpose of the works was to re-establish the boundaries, prevent further deterioration of the line section and prevent any development that may otherwise impinge on the proposed detailed works required for the reopening of the line. Specifically, the works included fencing, hedge cutting, renewal of level crossing gates as well as the provision of some essential drainage, removal of ivy and overgrowth from bridges and the provision of mile posts.
On 26 September 2006, Minister for Transport Martin Cullen announced Government approval of funding for the reopening of the Ennis–Athenry section of the WRC, as well as the Athenry–Tuam section. Iarnród Éireann soon proceeded with detailed planning and design of the project, including consultation with land owners and local authorities, as well as design of bridges and level crossings.
Renewal of track commenced in 2007 on the line between Ennis and Athenry and was completed in 2009. After a gap of more than thirty years, train services between the cities of Galway and Limerick commenced on Tuesday the 30 March 2010, on budget at a cost of €106.5m. The service provides five trains per day between Galway and Limerick. It serves existing stations at Limerick, Ennis, Athenry and Galway, as well as new stations at Sixmilebridge, Gort, Ardrahan and Craughwell. The Limerick to Galway service also feeds into expanded intercity services between Limerick and Dublin and between Galway and Dublin. Irish Rail planned for both routes to gain hourly services at peak and two hourly off-peak, however recession has resulted in delay, with some services withdrawn.
The investment project to be delivered by Iarnród Éireann involves a renewal of 58 km (36 mi) of track, including all necessary fencing and drainage and the installation of points and crossings at Gort and Ennis. A single 90 metre platform with furniture, shelter, signage, car park, PA, customer information systems, help point and CCTV provision will be provided at Gort, Ardrahan and Craughwell. These stations will also be accessible to the mobility impaired.
Customer Information Systems, PA, help-point and CCTV will be provided at Athenry and Ennis stations. Repair and improvement work will be undertaken on bridges on the route to allow rail services to operate. There will also be modernised signalling systems and improvement to level crossings.
The middle section of the western rail corridor, Athenry – Claremorris, has been programmed but not funded under Transport 21 while the Colooney – Claremorris northern section has not been programmed or funded bar some line clearance work in 2006.
In November 2009 Iarnród Éireann announced that the opening of the first phase of the Western Rail Corridor had been delayed as a result of severe flooding in the Kiltartan area. IR announced:
"Major infrastructure work on the Ennis to Athenry line has now been completed, and driver training and familiarisation began on the route last Monday 16 November. As a result, Iarnród Éireann had planned to commence services on 9 January 2010 following the completion of driver training. However, severe flooding in the wider area has since blocked the line.This, along with other flooding in recent days near Ennis and in Galway, has prevented such training from taking place since last Wednesday 18 November, and faced with the potential of an ongoing period of flooding, the opening date has been deferred. A revised date will be confirmed as soon as possible." http://www.irishrail.ie/projects/western_rail_corridor.asp
In January 2010, floodwaters having subsided, it was reported that services would commence in March 2010.
Iarnród Éireann announced on 9 February 2010 that rail services between Limerick and Galway are set to commence in March.
"The €106.5 million new route will be officially launched on 29 March 2010, following the completion of the rebuilding of the Ennis to Athenry line, and the receding of recent flooding between Limerick and Ennis, and full schedules will operate from 30 March."
In February 2010 Iarnród Éireann published an official timetable:
The service has five trains daily (four on Sundays) in each direction between Galway and Limerick. The best journey time between Galway and Limerick will be just under two hours.
On 27 May, the West on Track campaign announced that it is expecting the Government to announce whether it will be reopening Tuam-Athenry line. The decision is to be made in September 2010.
On 10 March 2011, the Irish Times reported that while the Phase One business case assumed 100,000 passengers per year or over 8,300 passengers monthly, patronage which would still require €2.4 million in operating subvention, the actual uptake was 4,800/month in the summer months falling to 4,300 in December. It has been suggested that patronage is low due to slow journey times, the same route can be completed twice as fast by road.
Figures for 2011 were later supplied to the Irish Times and reported on 27 January 2012. Passengers were under 3,000 a month on average in 2011 and the total carried between Athenry and Ennis was 34,461 with monthly patronage in the range 4,000 per month in summer peak season to 2,060 in November. Patronage on the older Ennis - Limerick section is twice as high at 66,000 
On the 8 July 2013 the Irish Examiner newspaper reported that patronage on the Ennis to Athenry sector had fallen further to 34,200 in 2-12 from the 34,461 reported in 2011. and that passengers on that sector in the first 5 months of 2013 were 11,900 which amounted to 520 passengers per week, 75 passengers a day and 7 passengers a train. However the Irish Examiner noted that passengers on the other two sectors of the line from Limerick to Galway being the Galway-Athenry sector and the Limerick-Ennis had grown in 2012 from 224,000 to 235,000.
However as of 25 August 2013 it remains impossible to book tickets for this service online. It is, on the other hand, possible to book a ticket to Dublin from the newly opened Oranmore railway station on the Galway Dublin railway line, 3 weeks after it opened on the 31 July 2013. Anomalously it is also possible to book the Limerick-Ennis sector in either direction but not the sector from Ennis to Athenry . The online booking system is at least 4 years old.
It has been contended that the lack of Online Booking for the section between directly contributes to low patronage on the line.
Collooney Claremorris Section as a Greenway
This idea has been advocated by the local campaign group Sligo-Mayo Greenway, who argue that the funding for a Greenway on this section would be minimal in infrastructural terms and would in no way hinder the eventual reinstatement of the Railway should the funding for that ever become available, unlike the closure of the Foyle Valley Railway by Derry City Council after the parallel installation of a cycleway. The campaign for the Greenway on this section of the track, point to the success of the recently opened Great Western Greenway.
In August 2011 this proposal was ruled out by the Western Regional Authority but the proposal continues to be discussed and led to an open split at a meeting of Mayo County Council,as reported in the Connaught Telegraph of 22 October 2013. Supporters of the greenway point to the fact that use of a greenway will protect the trackbed from adverse possession claims and will not preclude reinstatement of the disused sections of line as a working railway in the future.
- Iarnród Éireann
- Rail transport in Ireland
- History of rail transport in Ireland
- Platform 11
- Sligo Mayo Greenway
- Johnson, S. (1997). Johnson's Atlas & Gazetteer of the Railways of Ireland, Midland Publishing Ltd. ISBN 1-85780-044-3.
- Current timetables http://www.irishrail.ie/media/02-DublinLimerickEnnis2807131.pdf from Iarnród Éireann website
- Report to the Minister for Transport from the Chairman of the Expert Working Group on the Western Rail Corridor (WRC), May 2005 from The Department of Transport
- Image of Disconnected Athenry - Tuam line in Athenry, image acquired by Bing May 2012
- Image of Disconnected Claremorris - Collooney line in Claremorris, image acquired by Bing May 2012
- Image of Disconnected Claremorris - Athenry line in Claremorris, image acquired by Bing May 2012
- Image of Disconnected Claremorris - Collooney line in Claremorris, image acquired by Bing May 2012
- Restored Western Rail Corridor will reinvigorate west Irish Times, 21 May 2005
- Let's put the west back on track Irish Times, 12 June 2006
- Decentralisation, the WRC and Regional Development Irish Times 19 June 2006
- 'Lack of road and rail links' killing tourism in west Sunday Independent, 14 August 2005
- Plans for Increased Regional Access Vital for Tourism Spread throughout Ireland IHF Galway branch press release, 13 Feb 2006
- Gridlock in Galway City Irish Independent (Letters), 14 August 2006
- Students call for Western Rail Corridor to re-open Western People, 6 Sep 2006
- Opinion Poll Findings show Significant Passenger Demand for Western Rail Corridor MRBI/TG4 Press Release, 31 October 2006
- Editorial in the Irish Times 9 June 2006 (subscription required)
- 'Ladybird' WRC report a one-track journey into madness Irish Independent, 16 May 2005
- Platform 11's Position on the Western Rail Corridor
- An Bord Snip Nua Report 2009
- The Merits of a Cycleway Not A Railway Western People Letters Quoting Minister O Cuiv speech , 20 May 2009
- West=On=Track estimates of running costs and ticket revenues
- Government Ignored Doubts over Western Rail Corridor
- "RTÉ Report On Closure of Ennis Limerick Railway Line March 2008". RTÉ News. 12 March 2008. Retrieved 13 July 2009.
- "Transparency essential for PPPs". Retrieved 24 May 2006.[dead link]
- "Goodbody Economic Consultants: Audit of the Business Case for the Reintroduction of Passenger Rail Services between Ennis and Athenry". Retrieved 14 May 2009.
- "Trinity College Student Economic Review 2006: An Economic Analysis of the Western Rail Corridor". (PDF)
- Presentation by Mr Howard Knott to the Western Rail Conference 1 May 2009
- Iannrod Eireann Freight Services August 2013
- McCann, Pat. "Report to the Minister for Transport from the Chairman of the Expert Working Group on the Western Rail Corridor" (PDF). Retrieved 24 May 2006.
- "Limerick Rail Link to Airport ruled out in Study". The Irish Times. 10 October 2007.
- Cullen gives Iarnród Éireann go ahead to begin work on Western Rail Corridor – Department of Transport.
- West On Track 'expecting' decision on Tuam rail link
- Deegan, Gordon (10 March 2011). "Rail route numbers low". The Irish Times.
- Deegan, Gordon (27 january 2012). "Crusheen rail station delayed amid talks with developer". The Irish Times.
- "Varadkar derails €2m stop for village of 864". Irish Examiner. 8 July 2013. Retrieved 25 August 2013.
- Fintan Walsh (15 July 2013). "‘No incentive’ for Limerick to Galway train commuters "Lobby group West On Track and Limerick Chamber of Commerce have criticised the railway service for not operating properly and being inefficient for commuters"". The Limerick Leader. Retrieved 25 August 2013.
- Cross-party consensus rules out greenway for western rail corridor