Archive for February, 2006

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The railway of the West awakes

Monday, February 6th, 2006

More rustlings on the rails of the West of Ireland. For those of you unfamiliar with the situation, there has been a lot of lobbying, political discussion and promises, and plans with regard to a railway line running north-south through Connaught. This line connects Sligo, Mayo, Galway, Clare and Limerick, with junctions on the Dublin-Sligo line, Dublin-Westport/Ballina line, Dublin-Galway line and the railway out of Limerick station. The recent term coined for this line is the Western Railway Corridor.

The only part of the line in use, is that from Limerick to Ennis, which for the last two years has boasted 8 trains a day both ways (with almost all connecting to Dublin services). The Ennis to Athenry section and Athenry to Claremorris sections were in use occasionally for freight and rolling stock transfers up until a couple years ago. The connections at Athenry were severed in 2003 with the upgrade of the Dublin-Galway line. The section north of Claremorris (known as the “Burma Road” after the infamous railway built by prisoners of war in the far east) is a wild, meandaring line with many road crossings (it’s the reason for something like three level crossings across the N17 in quick succession). It hasn’t seen traffic in decades, and although track was never lifted, had been reclaimed by the wild.

Now that the scene is set, you can understand why it is quite extraordinary that just this past week, vehicles technically travelled again on the rails of not only Athenry to Claremorris and Ennis, but also Claremorris to Sligo. These were of course, JCBs with the addition of conventional off-road tractor tires, but nevertheless, they have travelled the routes once again. Vegetation has been cleared, hedges hacked back, and a vast corridor reopened.

The intention for Claremorris to Athenry is simply to fence off the corridor to prevent it being “claimed” by farmers or local councils. This means it can be used in the future if necessary. (Reopening a railway line from Cork to Midleton has required a Railway Order despite it still technically being owned by Iarnr√≥d √Čireann/the State!) From Tuam to Claremorris is also likely just to be fenced off – south of this to Athenry will likely see work in the months ahead with a view to reopening.

Athenry to Ennis is to actually be relaid very shortly. Apparently the plans for Limerick-Galway railway services within two years are quite serious.

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I went to America, and all I got was High Fructose Corn Syrup (with lard)

Sunday, February 5th, 2006

What a trip. The healthiness or not of the large quantities of food aside, there was much on the trip that was well worth experiencing. One of the earlier sights was the Harvard area. It was pretty cold, but nothing too untoward for walking about in. The (science building?) at Harvard had an interesting section of an IBM “Mark I” early digital computer. Lots of switches and dials, and the photos of the machine in use showed the ultimate in cable spaghetti hell at the back of it.

MIT was very interesting to visit. The campus is enormous! Apparently there are about 10,000 students, 3,000 undergraduate. Now admittedly there are 10,000 staff, but I had expected there to be more students. The facilities and campus are wildly extensive for the number of inhabitants. We had a tour around some of the more central buildings, fairly basic, but it gave an idea of the environment for those studying/working at MIT. The particular item of attraction was the MIT museum, with a fascinating exhibit on robotics (with many of the actual definitive robots encased in the room!). There was a number of other items of particular interest at the museum, for example, a quite impressive display of large holograms with various effects. Various machines were displayed in another room, including the gearing system with a drill on the end that won’t turn for a couple trillion years or such despite the motor running (by the third cog, the system is geared down so much one can’t note the movement – and there are a half-dozen or so more cogs gearing it down further!)

We spent a lot of time too at the Science Museum in Boston. The interactive displays were a major attraction in the main exhibit. For all that some of the content was geared towards kids, nice practical exhibits demonstrated all sorts of principles (particularly in Physics). The 3d theatre featured a documentary on the Mars rovers, and showed off the 3D images the rovers captured to good effect. A Star Wars exhibit was also prominant at the museum, although it too featured experiments to link the theme-park aspect to an actual science exhibition. All in all, an interesting experience, not least in showing off a quite different way of showing off science to the general public.

And as a final note, I want “Barnes & Noble” and “Au Bon Pain” to set up shop in Ireland!