‘Continued public investment in transport infrastructure will deliver for the region and sustain jobs’

‘Continued public investment in transport infrastructure will deliver for the region and sustain jobs’ WDC tells Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport’

Quality transport infrastructure critical to competitiveness and maintaining employment

The Western Development Commission (WDC) has stressed the need for continued public investment in the West’s transport infrastructure to secure competitiveness and maintain employment in western counties. The Commission was speaking after making a presentation to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport on September 24th .

“Despite the current economic downturn, the planned investment in transport in the Western Region should not be postponed, as any delay would be a threat to the region’s competitiveness and growth,” said Dr Patricia O’Hara, Policy Manager at the WDC.

“Quality roads are critical to maintaining competitiveness and employment. We know from our research that poor roads increase costs, lower productivity, and reduce labour market mobility and flexibility. Road projects such as the Atlantic Corridor, which will run from Letterkenny to Waterford via Sligo, Tuam and Ennis are essential for the region’s competiveness and we are concerned about the fact that there are no timelines assigned to parts of that route north of Galway city,” Dr O’Hara added.

Speaking about the Western Rail Corridor, Dr O’Hara said: “We know that there is demand for improved rail services in the west. When Iarnród Éireann increased frequency and capacity on the GalwayDublin route, the number of people using it increased by 9% to 1.6 million in 2007. Passenger numbers using the rail services from Ennis to Limerick, which is part of the Western Rail Corridor, have exceeded all expectations. These examples illustrate that if you provide the services the passengers will follow.”

The Athenry to Ennis and the Galway to Athenry services are on schedule for 2009 with new stations planned at Sixmilebridge, Gort, Ardrahan, Craughwell and Oranmore. “We understand

that in early 2009, once the Ennis to Athenry section is completed, work will begin on the Tuam to Athenry section which is due to open in 2011. The line from Tuam to Claremorris is scheduled for 2014, while the line from Claremorris to Collooney is to be preserved for future use,” Dr O’Hara added.

The WDC told the Oireachtas Committee that the Western Rail Corridor will enhance the towns on the route, nearly all of which, in the last Census showed population growth significantly above the national average. It will also be a really valuable resource for tourism in the region. The Committee was also told how the success of the section from Galway to Limerick will be critical to ensuring continued support for reinstatement of the rest of the line. A wellpromoted quality service involving short journey times, good frequency, a competitive fare structure and comfort will be required to change the habits of a generation who have never had the opportunity to use this rail service.

The WDC outlined how Irish registered goods vehicles now transport almost 315 million tonnes of goods by road an increase of 203% in ten years. However, the largest rail freight traffic movements in the country come from Mayo, where 900 trains every year transport goods to Waterford Port, removing over 16,000 truckloads off the roads and bringing major benefits to Mayo businesses. Ireland needs to reduce road congestion and carbon emissions, so consideration should be given to subsidising rail freight as is the case in many other European countries. In its presentation, the WDC cited an example in Scotland where a capital grant of £3 million for rail freight has now been credited with saving the Scottish Government £1.4 million per annum in carbon taxes and other costs. Benefits associated with rail freight include reduced carbon emissions, less road congestion and fewer injuries and loss of life.

The WDC also stressed the importance of international air access in supporting the regions’ enterprise and tourism sectors. In particular, improved road and rail links are required to provide predictable journey times and extend the airports’ catchments so that they can play their full role in economic development. For this reason, it is critical that the interurban GalwayEnnis road is completed by 2010 as promised, according to the WDC. There is also a need to improve tourism promotion, to maximise the opportunities from existing international routes into Ireland West Airport Knock.

Dr O’Hara said; “An important objective of the WDC is to advance the Government’s policy of balanced regional development by providing a regional perspective on national policy. Having the opportunity to speak directly to the Joint Oireachtas Committee was a welcome opportunity to do that.”