I sincerely thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this important topic in respect of public transport. The Killucan-Kinnegad Transport Lobby Group, chaired by my colleague, Denis Leonard, is a very vibrant local development group which has been in existence for a long period. It has been strongly focused on what it wishes to achieve and for a number of years has been actively advocating, and working towards, the reopening of the railway station at Thomastown, Killucan, which closed in 1963 after 115 years in operation.
It is the only station on the 22-mile stretch between Mullingar and Enfield on the Dublin-Sligo line that has double track, an existing station and platform and parking for over 120 cars. An independent report was commissioned by Westmeath County Council in 2007 and it strongly and unequivocally recommended that the station be reopened. It is part of the Westmeath county development plan and the national spatial strategy, while other strategic plans have also acknowledged it. There is a huge potential customer base, a matter which would worry the Minister in the context of recent reports. The demographics show that there has been a significant increase in the population of the area. The population in Killucan and Kinnegad has effectively quadrupled. There is also a large catchment area that includes east Mullingar, The Downs, Raharney, Ballivor, Rochfortbridge and Miltownpass.
The old station infrastructure is already in place, including a platform and signal box. It has been estimated that an unmanned facility could be put in place at a low capital cost of just over €1 million. The station is located at a loop point in the line. This section of double track is used to allow oncoming trains pass each other safely. Most hourly passenger services stop there already to allow other trains pass in safety, so we are not demanding something new. Adding Killucan as an occasional additional scheduled stop would clearly have minimal impact on existing customers and timetables.
We all acknowledge that many people need to get to their places of work. There is a huge migration of people from Mullingar and other stations along the line eastwards in the mornings. We do not wish to impact on them and this proposal will not do so. Iarnród Éireann owns a significant amount of land around the station. The installation of a park-and-ride facility could be achieved without land procurement and with virtually no impact on existing customers during the upgrade works. The 2007 study indicated that, at a minimum, approximately 260 commuters to Dublin from the housing developments in Ballivor, Killucan, Rathwire and Kinnegad would definitely use the Killucan station if it were reopened. That was more than eight years ago. Unlike the case with recent reports, this station would be extensively utilised as a significant number of people commute eastwards daily for work and other commitments.
Of course, some joined-up thinking at company and Government levels is also important in terms of the significant impact the availability of the reopening of the station could have on climate change targets and the significant reduction in the carbon footprint that would result from motorists availing of such a service and facilities. It is well known that there has been an increase in transport carbon emissions in the past number of years. There was a recent editorial in the Irish Independent on this issue. It asked what could be done to encourage commuters to utilise rail transport. It is instructive to read. It states:
What are the Department of Transport and NTA doing? Are they consulting with communities on what services they need to allow them to leave the car at home? ... The Government has a choice. Allow congestion to grow and emissions to rise, or tackle transport.
There have been ongoing consultations with, and representations to, Irish Rail about this station. Irish Rail has said it is okay from a safety point of view and eventually confirmed, through its chief executive, that it was also fine from a timetable point of view. The cost is €1.2 million to €1.6 million, depending on the specifications required. It is not a black hole. Up to 50% of the funding is available from the Border, midland and western, BMW, region and funding could also be leveraged from numerous rural development funds. I ask the Minister to support this.