Rail plan for West Cork is back on track

January 24th, 2022 7:05 AM

By Emma Connolly

The railway station on Marsh Road, Skibbereen, before its closure.

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A LOCAL TD has said he will push the government to support a new plan to restore rail services to West Cork.

The Cork Commuter Coalition, a lobby group to promote public transport and sustainable mobility, has set out a plan that would see all West Cork’s main towns connected to Cork city by electric rail.

The group has submitted a report to the government’s all island strategic rail review, and now FF TD Christopher O’Sullivan said he’ll also make a submission that the return of West Cork rail should be examined, after the new proposals caused a ‘a lot of excitement in the area’ this week.

The 37-page report identifies three main rail corridors into Kent Station: a 33km Macroom line, an 87km line from Bantry through Bandon, Clonakilty and Skibbereen and a 36km  Kinsale route via Carrigaline, with a 4km spur to Crosshaven. A key goal is also to connect as many tourist sites on the Wild Atlantic Way as possible.

The group’s chair Ciarán Meers acknowledged the report isn’t costed and has spatial and topographical challenges, but their objective is to make rail part of the area’s future, and not just its past, given the last rail journey from West Cork was in 1961.

‘It’s about getting this raised in the Dáil,’ he said. ‘As such, this is not a document analysing the pros and cons of bringing rail back to West Cork – given the ongoing climate crisis, increasing spatial inequality, and social exclusion, the benefits of railways for fixing these problems have made themselves clear. To continue to ask the question “Should West Cork have rail?” is reductive – a far better question, and the question that we are asking, is how can rail be brought to West Cork in the most efficient, effective, and beneficial manner?’ he said.

Deputy O’Sullivan said he felt there was an appetite for a return of a West Cork railway.

‘The fact that this report highlights that it is a possibility, and not just a pipe dream has caused a lot of excitement and I know many communities will get behind it from a sustainable transport and a tourism aspect,’ he said.

Deputy O’Sullivan added that there were ‘large obstacles’ to overcome if the plan was to be delivered.

‘But I do believe that under the current government we have shown we are very much in favour of funding for public transport. Not to say that it’s automatic that the multiple millions of euro, potentially billions, that it would take to deliver would be automatically forthcoming, but I certainly think it’s something that would be considered.’

He is now urging communities and landowners to get behind the plan: ‘If you have that support, I can certainly see, at some point over the next decade, some progress being made. And if there is a desire to deliver this, it has my 100% backing.’

Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns said she would raise the plan with the Minister for Transport. ‘The drastic reduction in the Irish train network, including the Cork, Bandon and South Coast Railway, in the 1950s and 60s, was disgraceful. A rail connection from West Cork to Cork city and beyond would make a significant difference for tourism, commerce, and commuting.’

Independent TD Michael Collins said it was ‘high time the government sat up and fully supported a plan like this.’

‘They must concentrate efforts away from the capital, to rural areas who are paying massive carbon tax on fuel.’

Brendan McCormack, co-chairperson, Cork South West Green Party, said the proposal was ‘timely, intelligent, and utterly necessary.’

‘There is one certainty – sustainable rail transport will come back to West Cork. The only question is whether or not we are imaginative enough to do it sooner rather than later. All our elected representatives should be pushing for investment now to begin the project,’ Mr McCormack added.

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