FINE GAEL leader Enda Kenny has lent his support to plans for a walking and cycling “greenway” on part of the western rail corridor, implicitly ruling out its reinstatement as a railway.
“I favour this kind of development . . . which will have a considerable impact in respect of tourism,” Mr Kenny told Sligo-based greenway promoter Brendan Quinn, saying it should be subject to a feasibility study by Mayo and Sligo county councils.
The proposal is to create a greenway on the corridor between Claremorris, Co Mayo, and Collooney, Co Sligo, based on the success of the Great Western Greenway from Newport to Mulranny, Co Mayo, which is now being extended to Achill Island.
Last summer, the existing route attracted 300 walkers and cyclists on weekdays and up to 1,000 at weekends. It has been a “phenomenal success”, according to Mr Quinn. “Imagine what that is doing for these sleepy backwaters of Irish tourism,” he said.
Local politicians in Mayo and Sligo had woken up to the value of greenways as revenue-generators for local economies. Sligo County Council’s decision last week to include it as an objective was a huge breakthrough, he said.
Only one section of the western rail corridor, between Ennis and Athenry, has been reinstated for rail services. Plans to extend it further north to Tuam and Claremorris were included in the Government’s Transport 21 investment programme but are “on hold”.
Mr Quinn said Mayo County Council is investigating the opportunity to create a greenway on the rail alignment from Claremorris to Charlestown, rather than persist with the “rather forlorn idea” that the railway line would reopen.
Referring to the West on Track campaign, which is seeking to have the entire rail corridor reopened, he said this was unlikely to happen “any time soon, or at all” because the route did not have the population density to sustain a rail service.
“I don’t think the Ennis-Athenry line has set the world alight,” Mr Quinn said. “The X51 bus from Limerick to Galway does it in just over an hour now with the Gort bypass. The train takes almost two hours and is a lot less frequent.
“I am not anti-rail, but I do recognise that we have to be pragmatic and realistic. We ain’t going to get the line reinstated, so let’s use the track bed for something useful. The greenway idea will deliver something very cost-effectively and very quickly.”
He envisaged disused rail lines in Co Donegal could also be developed as greenways, creating a network of safe cycling and walking routes that would boost activity tourism in the west while also protecting the rail alignments.