Western Corridor debate could ‘unify’ UK and Ireland
Irish politicians have joined in the debate over completing a gap in the network which supporters say would radically alter the appeal of rail freight in Ireland. Completing the ‘Western Corridor’ would, they say, allow businesses from a wide part of Ireland direct rail access to southern ports – principally Cork and Europort Rosslare, for onward export to European and worldwide markets. Now, representative at the Irish parliament Alan Dillon, has said he welcomes news that the Irish transport minister is planning an all-Ireland strategic rail review.
An Ireland-wide strategic review of rail provision is to be undertaken by transport minister Eamon Ryan. The review comes on the back of a vociferous campaign to see a 60km gap in the network closed, allowing complete restoration of the ‘Western Corridor’, which would give businesses on the Atlantic provinces the option of rail freight transportation without costly deviation across the country and adding to congestion around Dublin.
A step in the right direction
Alan Dillon, who represents the community of Mayo, at the north end of the gap, says he has welcomed the prospect of the transport minister’s planned strategic rail review, which will be undertaken on an all-island basis in cooperation with the Northern Ireland Executive. The collaboration between the Republic, which is still a member of the EU, and the UK administration in Northern Ireland, has been of note in the media.
Dillon was confident this was a step in the right direction. “I feel such a review will be a positive development for the Western Rail Corridor”, he told Irish media. “The all-island dimension will paint a comprehensive picture of rail short-comings for the entire island and review projects in their entirety. The limited scope of recently published reports on the Western Rail Corridor which failed to appraise the full piece of infrastructure.”
The last link
An Irish government statement says the review will consider all relevant issues in relation to inter-urban rail, inter/intra-regional rail and rail connectivity to our international gateways, with the latter considering the role of rail freight.
The subject of the original report, which was unsupportive and brought the scorn of many stakeholders, was the 60km railway gap, between Claremorris near Mayo in the north, and Athenry in the south. This would be the last link in a complete ‘Western Corridor’ between the towns of Sligo and Galway in the north, and the international ports of Cork and Rosslare in the south of Ireland. Both ports have been busier since the UK exit from Europe, with traffic avoid the extra administration of using the so-called UK landbridge.
Rail a unifying factor
Ireland’s infrastructure and economic development is under scrutiny, particularly in the west of the country. Work is underway with an appointed Western Development Commission concentrating on the Atlantic Economic Corridor. Dillon says there is a clear recognition in terms of policy development of the unique need for regional infrastructural investment running along the western seaboard. “With submissions being made to the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility, there is definitely scope for funding opportunities to help progress the Western Rail Corridor”, he said.
The including of Northern Ireland in the forthcoming study is of particular interest. Rail freight is moribund in the UK territory, but has been in the news, with the UK government ‘Union Connectivity Review’ examining ways of enhancing trade links between all four nations of the United Kingdom. As part of that review, the UK government is to commission a feasibility study into a fixed link between the island of Ireland and island of Great Britain, directly connecting Northern Ireland and Scotland. Although some way in the future, the prospect of enhanced infrastructure links with the UK is capturing the imagination of businesses on both sides of the North Channel.
Ironically, an initiative for the west of Ireland, and a separate desire to unify the UK, could produce a tighter post-Brexit bond between Ireland and the UK, with rail freight the defining factor.