An open letter to the Minister for Transport
November 5th 2005
Minister for Transport,
Mr. Martin Cullen. TD.
Department of Transport
From Platform 11. Irelands' National Rail users Organisation.
RE: Transport 21 and Railways.
Can you please explain to us how the largest section of railway ever to be reopened in the history of the state (Ennis-Claremorris) was sanctioned on November 1st by the Government without any land/strategy use or development plan, without any strategic planning or all the other restrictions that Cork, Fingal and Meath County Councils' were subjected to, in order to have some minor rail extensions from the existing network?
Minister Cullen, we have had since 2001, the Strategic Rail Review, The CASP programme, Platform for Change, and the McCann Report itself. What was the reason millions in taxpayer's money was paid for these reports, if the West of Ireland is not subjected to the same examination and due planning and rail viability process that all other regions of the country must follow in order to get a few miles of track reopened?
Why did Cork City and County Council bother to follow guidelines if it's a free for all in the west? How can it be so easy to get a rail line reopened to Claremorris with greater urgency than the Interconnector, in our nation's capital, even though previous reports such as the Strategic Rail Review and the McCann report expressed doubt about the viability?
Please explain how extending the line from Midleton to Youghal in Co. Cork is off the agenda and Athlone to Mullingar is "unviable" according to yourself. In early October this is what you told Dail Eireann after a request to reopen the Athlone - Mullingar line.
"The crucial factor to be considered in any decision to re-open a railway line is the likely scale and pace of development along the rail corridor in question. The greater the critical mass of population and economic activity, the more likely a sustainable case can be made for rail investment. I already made it clear to local authorities in other parts of the country that it is for them to develop and implement land use strategies which would support the case for rail investment."
So how has the opening up of a rail line through rural Ireland from Athenry to Claremorris (a small town with three active rail lines already running into it) become a higher priority than other projects like extending the DART or connecting Navan to the rail network? Can you please show us where the "sustainable case" for rail investment was made in relation to the Wester Rail Corridor?
Just tell us why all the guidelines, reports and previous conditions which were stringently applied to Westmeath, Meath and Cork do not apply to the west, where rail transport development is apparently, "by request" only.
We want to know that's all. It is really bothering us. We are confused and unsure where and when planning and transport development begins and ends and what guidelines actually apply?
Minister Cullen, on the 6 One News on RTE on Tuesday November 1st, you openly stated that "the people of West on Track implored me to reopen the line to Claremorris and I did just that for them" - so are we to assume that the rest of the country can just ask you and they will get what they want as well? Is this how is works now? Should we forget about the planning and land usage guidelines which your department imposed on several other councils around the country?
When the people of Westmeath asked you to reopen the Athlone to Mulligar line you said "no". But a few weeks later you go to Mayo and you say "yes" - even though the Mulligar to Athlone line is far more viable (worthy of merit in the Strategic Rail Review) and would sit into the Transport 21 framework more logically than Ennis to Claremorris. So from this we are assuming that all rail lines in the West of Ireland are viable to you and your department, and that all rail lines in the rest of country range from "so-so" to "unviable" according to the Martin Cullen Rail Viability Evaluation Scale.
We think we are fairly intelligent people at Platform 11, but Transport 21 left us most confused. We no longer understand the rules of the game anymore. Except to say, that if Platform 11 implored you to fast track the Interconnector, would you? If the people of Navan implored you to fast track a Navan rail link without any further studies or delays, would you? If the people of Cork presented you with a technical report and viable recommendation for the Midleton line to be extended to Youghal, would you do it for them? If the people of Dublin implored you for a decent public transport system without Government dithering, would you give it to them? What if we just forget the due process, consultants and planning stuff and like the west just "implore" you to deliver rail services to the areas that are in dire need of it, would you do that for us minister?
You see Minister, this is why we are so confused. We need to know - what are the rules and do they apply to everybody? Please Minister Cullen, We are "imploring" you for the answer to this mystery and nothing else. So that those of us who want to see viable rail development in Ireland, know where we stand and will know how to go about lobbying for it from now on. Unfortunately, you plan has left us feeling like we are back at square one and our votes don't count.
Irelands' National Rail users Organisation.