This newspaper’s recent editorial on the proposed greenway along the route of the Western Rail Corridor has provoked a lot of hot air on social media forums; indeed, more hot air has been generated than would be required to run several steam engines along the 115-mile route from Limerick to Sligo. Much of the commentary – if one could even label it that – is little more than the ramblings of a petulant peloton who are outraged at the notion that in a democracy there might be somebody who disagrees with their particular point of view. Indeed, Donald Trump’s early morning tweets seem positively sane in light of some of the recent statements from these wannabe cyclists.
Thankfully, the position of the greenway promoters has been articulately and cogently expounded by John Mulligan, and this newspaper is more than happy to publish his exposition, not least because it offers an opportunity to critically analyse the proposal for a greenway through the heart of our province.
Mr Mulligan cites the Deise Greenway as an example of what could be achieved with the Western Rail Corridor were we to turn it into a greenway, and posits the question: were the promoters of the Deise Greenway ‘misguided’? The answer to that is, of course, ‘no’. However, had the Deise Greenway campaigners sought to construct a cycle path on the rail-link between Waterford and Dublin, they would most certainly have been ‘misguided’. And therein lies the problem with Mr Mulligan’s thesis.
The Western Rail Corridor is not even remotely comparable to the Deise Greenway or the Great Western Greenway in West Mayo. It is a closed regional line, connecting two urban centres and potentially an international airport.
If we are to accept the Government’s contention that it intends to invest heavily in regional population centres like Galway and Sligo over the next 20 years, then we must also recognise the importance of the Western Rail Corridor in an overall plan for our province. The idea that we would allow these flagship urban centres to be connected by a cycling track is not just misguided, it’s mad. That rail line has the potential to play a crucial role in creating a new commuter society in towns like Claremorris, Kiltimagh, Swinford, Charlestown, and Tubbercurry. People may work in Galway or Sligo but they will be within a convenient commute of their place of employment, provided Irish Rail gets its act together and invests in high-speed trains.
Mr Mulligan reminisces at length on the railways of the American Wild West, so much so that one wonders if he has been watching too many old Westerns. Rail transport has actually modernised considerably in America since those far-off days when Jesse James and his band of merry men were robbing the Glendale train, and the country’s rail network – far from being consigned to a dim and distant past – remains a crucial part of its transportation system. Indeed, countries like Japan and Germany, who would hardly be regarded as slouches when it comes to embracing. a ‘forward-looking’ economic philosophy, continue to invest heavily in their rail networks, and it is troubled economies like Argentina, which closed much of its network during the military junta of the 1970s and 1980s, that have abandoned a tried and test form of transportation.
Mr Mulligan also refers to “dirty industries” coming to the West of Ireland from China. Nobody has mentioned anything about “dirty industries”; in fact, Ballina Beverages was cited as a current example of the importance of rail links in the West of Ireland and it could hardly be described as a “dirty industry”.
However, we could take something from China that might prove useful in a reimagined West of Ireland – some high-speed trains that could herald a new era of rail commuting in Connacht.
The proposal for a green way on the route of the Western Rail Corridor is not only misguided, it is hopelessly defeatist. The premise of many of those who promote it seems to be that if we cannot get a slice of the national cake we may as well make do with the crumbs from the table. Had our ancestors adopted such an attitude they would have taken to the bed after the 1916 Easter Rising instead of going out into the hills and valleys of Connacht to secure political independence for those who came after them.
How we use that hard-won independence in the 21st century will ultimately dictate how we are viewed by the generations who come after us. Building a cycling track through the heart of our province is the easy option but it would be tantamount to a betrayal of those who campaigned so vociferously for western development since the foundation of the State. We owe it to them to have a little more ambition, courage and belief in ourselves.