Tuesday, 2 March 2004

Questions (63, 64, 65)

Jim O'Keeffe


127 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Transport if he will approve funding for the western rail corridor; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6605/04]

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Pat Rabbitte


154 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Transport his response to a submission from the campaigning group West on Tract that the cost of reopening the Sligo-Limerick rail link would be less than €250 million; the role and remit of the new feasibility group to examine the feasibility of the rail link; the funding he intends giving the group; the timescale in which he will ask it to report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6785/04]

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Michael Ring


163 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Transport the plans he has to progress the western rail corridor in view of the strategic rail review; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6624/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Transport)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 127, 154 and 163 together.

At the invitation of a number of the groups advocating the western rail corridor, I recently carried out an extensive tour of the corridor and visited many of the former railway stations on the line. My purpose in visiting the west was to meet and listen to those who are putting forward this rail proposal and to see for myself what is involved in the restoration of the line.

Deputies will recall that the western rail corridor was not included in the recommended investment strategy in the strategic rail review published last year. However, the review did conclude that the proposal was in line with the aims of the national spatial strategy.

The review further concluded that the viability of such rail proposals is critically dependent on the local and regional planning authorities incorporating the proposals into regional, county and local development plans. Specifically, what is needed here is the integration of transport proposals, such as the western rail corridor, with land use strategies that could provide the basis for sufficient rail demand that, in turn, would make the economic case for proceeding with the proposal. The viability of all rail proposals, including the western rail corridor, is crucially dependent on the creation of sufficient critical mass that would justify the development of rail as the appropriate transport option.

In my recent visit to the former railway station in Kiltimagh I said that I could see the potential of the western rail corridor and that I would wish to provide every possible opportunity for the viability of the case to be brought forward. Accordingly, at the request of the various groups promoting the western rail corridor, I propose to establish shortly an expert working group to examine the potential for the western rail corridor. I will be announcing the composition and remit of the group in the coming weeks. Any decisions in regard to the western rail corridor will have to be made on the basis of the ongoing work of the working group.

In this regard I note that all the regional authorities are currently drafting regional planning guidelines as part of the implementation of the national spatial strategy at the regional level. One of the core issues that the western rail corridor working group will have to carefully consider is the extent to which the rail proposal is facilitated by the land use strategies emerging from these guidelines.