Re-opening the Athlone-Moate-Mullingar railway line

Issued : Monday 7 November, 2005

It is essential for Westmeath that the railway line from Mullingar to Athlone be reopened. The fact that it is not in the transport announced by the Minister for Transport last week is a glaring omission and should be rectified before the promised development of the railway gets under way.

Re-instating Athlone-Moate-Mullingar would connect Westmeath to the west of Ireland in a way that has been absent for years. It would provide people in Mullingar and north Westmeath with convenient public transport to Galway, Westport and Ballina. Likewise people in Athlone and Moate would have a quick train service right into the centre of Dublin, at Connolly Station.

For too long, the line between Mullingar and Athlone has lain idle. It is incredible that an important public facility such as this, connecting the country’s major towns has sat unused while there is no major road connection between them. Even though an improved road from Mullingar to Athlone is planned, this will go via Ballymahon and leave Moate out of the picture. It is just as important to the development of Westmeath that Moate be included in the linkage between Athlone and Mullingar, so if this is not to be achieved by a major road then it is imperative that the railway be brought into play.

For many years, students in both Westmeath have been unable to commute daily to Athlone Institutee of Technology, yet could easily have done do had there been a rail service from Mullingar. This has placed an intolerable financial burden on parents who are already paying for their children’s education. At the same time, students from south Westmeath could have availed of a daily commuter service to Maynooth University. It is a glaring omission that these two vital higher education facilities should be in or close to Westmeath while a rail service that could optimise their availability lies idle.

The importance of the railway line does not stop with the Institute of technology or Maynooth. Mullingar Hospital is meant to serve people from Athlone to Moate. Without a direct major road to Mullingar, the railway line is an obvious and necessary means of access to the hospital, for visiting relatives as well as patients.

With all of this going on, people should realise that there is a rail service from Athlone to Tullamore where there is no service from Athlone to Mullingar.

The Midlands Gateway, if it does get under way, will have a huge effect on Westmeath. Mullingar and Athlone, with Tullamore, will each expand to more than double their present size. The National Spatial Strategy is aimed at jobs being created in the area for an additional 100,000 persons.

The Gateway will not work without good transport links between the towns. The Gateway will not even get off the ground unless the transport links are put in place first. Minister Cullen was the Minster who announced the National Spatial Strategy, and he now announces the transport plan, Transport 21. With widespread public cynicism at these, and other Government announcements, Minister Cullen has an opportunity to clearly shows he means business. Let him reopen the Athlone-Moate-Mullingar railway line.

The Athlone-Moate-Mullingar railway line is possibly one of the quickest lines to reopen. The track bed is in place and can take a double line. Fibre-optic cabling for a modern signalling system is already in place. All the bridges are basically intact. If the Minister wishes to show that the Government means business about the transport plan and the National Spatial Strategy, this is his opportunity. Action, not words. Let him order the immediate reopening of the line.

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