Friday, April 28, 2006

Limerick on track?

With all the fuss that's made about the politically fuelled folly known as the Western Railway Corridor (the bit between Sligo and Claremorris specifically), there are a few parts of it that make sense. The Ennis-Athenry link offers the possibility of Ennis passengers gaining extra links to Dublin in addition to the existing Limerick services. Tuam-Galway traffic may also justify some peak service. But the Limerick area, with four rail lines running into it but woefully underutilised, is now getting some attention with the announcement that a feasibility study for a Shannon Airport link will be undertaken.

One has to feel that some of the motivation must be the impending loss of compulsory stopovers at Shannon for North American traffic - that this is Fianna Fail's attempt to retain seats in Clare. False dawns have been seen before in relation to this project.

One proposal is essentially a spur perpendicular to the existing single track line at Sixmilebridge. This seems to me a roundabout route for travellers albeit requiring the least new line length and a busway would probably be cheaper and more effective. Instead, a line beginning from the existing line near Cratloe travelling via Bunratty, Shannon Town, Shannon Airport and Shannon Free Zone and continuing to the Ennis line northwest of Sixmilebridge seems worthwhile and brings several destinations onto the rail network rather than just one.

Shannon town, Ireland's first attempt at a "new town" has developed very slowly. Not only could a passenger rail link help the development of Shannon town and relieve commuting traffic to the free zone and the airport for workers there, but in the early stages of service it could act as an alternate route for existing Ennis-Limerick traffic so that the older line can be refurbished for higher speeds without cancellations - the existing Ennis-Limerick line is limited to about 50mph, slower than the nearby Limerick-Galway road. To make the times reasonable full 75mph grade separated alignment is crucial.

The Rail Procurement Authority is focusing on workers rather than passengers for the Dublin airport metro - this is (unusually) sensible of them given that passengers encumbered with bags will usually opt for a door to door service. Passenger ratios using transit at major airports are generally low. Workers can be attracted by tax deductible rail tickets as easily as their Dublin and Cork area counterparts, which is why the town and the free zone should be either destinations in their own right or linked with shuttle buses free to those with tickets/passes.

Hopefully this is a sign of good things to come for Limerick, which also needs Iarnrod Eireann to follow through on improvements to the Nenagh service. The City and County Councils need to lean on Bus Eireann to provide service between Castleconnell Station and the University of Limerick to make commuting viable for students and staff, as well as workers in the Technological Park. Unfortunately the lack of local authority direct input in transportation means national politics will ultimately dictate regional needs, since some capital investment will be required to improve speeds and comfort on this somewhat worn out line.

The Limerick Blogger has some more on this.
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