The railway of the West awakes

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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