Greenway or Railway. It seems many people in Co. Sligo and beyond could benefit from further information with regard to the argument as to whither a restored railway or an alternative greenway is the best investment for the region at this time. Many people wonder why we can’t have both while others take a position of seeing the birth of one as the death of the other.
Any investigation into the value to greenways in Ireland today shows that their economic value is both deep and far-reaching. The Waterford Greenway, Irelands most successful greenway, currently being extended, is a shining example of the economic value of a greenway to a rural economy. Any investigation of into the value of restoring the rail link between Collooney and Athenry (the latest published in recent weeks), shows that the proposal is simply not viable in the current economic climate.
There is government funding available for one and there isn’t for the other. Currently, government has a substantial budget in place for the creation of a National Greenway Network. They have no such budget for expanding a rail network, a rail network that they actually intend to reduce in size, for economic reasons.
Many people ask, quite reasonably, why can’t we have both – setting the greenway alongside the track until such time as the train arrives? To place a greenway alongside the current derelict track would be one of the best ways of ensuring we never have a greenway in Co. Sligo. Current estimates for creating the proposed Sligo Greenway from Sligo to Knock Airport, are costed in the region of €10 million. If this greenway was to be placed alongside the line, the costs would increase to between €40 and €50 million. Why is this? While, in places there is ample room, pinch-points along the line would require Compulsory Acquisition Orders to secure the additional land needed for the alongside option. In addition to this, a whole new infrastructure of bridges and crossings would have to be built from scratch to facilitate an alongside greenway. These structures currently exist over the line and would be incorporated into the proposed greenway. In fact, the only pieces of the derelict railway that are of value are these structures. Placing a greenway alongside the current derelict, overgrown wasteland would create the most expensive and unattractive greenway in the world. It would simply never be funded and in fact, it defies all logic that anyone would even suggest it. Is there a solution? Yes, build the greenway on the line now. Funds are available for this project and the government is actually inviting an application. Then in the future, if rail becomes a viable option, do that project then.
In years to come, if the railway does materialise, its creation will require the complete destruction of the existing infrastructure. The new railway will have to be built from the ground up; nothing of the current structure will remain because none of it is of any value in creating a modern railway. When the rail project does happen, it will then be a small matter to replace an existing greenway as part of the new development at that stage. Keep in mind, that we will all have been enjoying the benefits of a greenway for many, many years by this time. The reason we can’t have both is a question of affordability and viability. There is only one prize on the table. We could wish that the prize on the table was different or we could wait in the vain hope that a better prize might appear in the future, but if Co. Sligo wants to take home a prize today, the greenway is the only one on offer. If we prevaricate further, we will be waiting and waiting, with no guarantee of a better outcome.
Some would suggest that our region has suffered greatly and that is very true. Few places more so than my native south Sligo. What rural Ireland needs is the restoration of rural structures, the rejuvenation of communities and the growth of local business. These are the places that need investment if rural Ireland is to survive. A wildly expensive railway passing through south Sligo has as much chance of restoring its economy as a fortified water main has of irrigating the land that surrounds it. I would suggest the immediate roll-out of a decent Boradband Network as being a much better investment and would be of more benefit to our region. This would definitely allow for repopulation and economic growth.
We are facing a time when prudent spending and modest gains will be the order of the day. I would respectfully suggest we put our efforts into this ethos if we want to lift our economically deprived region. Forge ahead for now with what is possible, what we can afford.
So often the greenway option is condemned to second place; it’s only an exercise path - promoted by annoying do-gooders with lofty notions and low ambitions - put it to one side - there is a bigger prize if we wait, I have heard all the arguments. However, a half loaf is better that no bread. We are within touching distance of a greenway; a huge prize for Sligo. Let’s not spoil it and end up with nothing because that is exactly what we will get if we are not very careful.