Government does not intend to complete Western Rail Corridor

Limerick-Galway route will be maintained but not extended

The Government will not be going ahead with further development of the Western Rail Corridor.

Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe has said his priority for funding heavy rail is to protect the operational network and to maintain safety standards rather than to expand the network.

“I have no immediate plans to further expand the rail network. The priority for funding I have in place is to strongly maintain the existing network,” Mr Donohoe said.

The statement is a setback for supporters of the proposed new network, which would provide rail links between all major urban centres along the western seaboard.


Speaking after meeting new Irish Rail apprentices at the company's training centre in Inchicore, Dublin, on Tuesday, Mr Donohoe said he had "no plans" to extend the western rail line from Athenry to Tuam, and it would not be progressed in the lifetime of the current Government.

Passenger numbers

However, the existing Limerick to Galway line would be maintained, he said. “What is there at the moment, I am confident we will be able to maintain for the foreseeable future.”

The first phase of the network – the Limerick to Galway line – has been operational for almost five years. The link, which cost €105 million to build, experienced disappointing passenger numbers in the first year of operations.

However, during the first 11 months of 2014 there was a dramatic increase of almost 80 per cent in volume on the key Athenry to Ennis section of the line compared with the similar period in 2013.

The increase however came from a low base and even with passenger numbers approaching 50,000 per annum on that section of the line, the Government does not consider the figure high enough to justify any further investment in the corridor.

The western rail corridor was approved by a previous Fianna Fáil-led government. But in 2011 the Coalition and then minister for transport Leo Varadkar put a stay on the next phase of the corridor, the 25km section linking Athenry to Tuam, with an estimated cost of €58 million.

Continuing investment

The position of Irish Rail is that its existing network is underfunded. In its submission to the department’s draft strategy on land transport use, Irish Rail argues against the strategy’s emphasis on continuing investment in road networks. However, it focuses its attention on urban commuter travel as well as InterCity rail journeys, most originating from Dublin. The corridor is not mentioned.

However, the lobby group campaigning for the corridor, West on Track, has argued the most recent census figures from the Central Statistics Office show the western line is holding its own compared to flagship lines.

Spokesman Colmán Ó Raghallaigh said: “The census figures clearly reveal that there is very little difference between the performance of the ‘flagship’ Dublin-Belfast route and that of the Limerick-Galway route and other so-called ‘lesser-used’ lines.”

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times