Clearance works taking place recently on the Claremorris to Athenry line

West on Track recognised for its resilience in pursuing goal

Community group West on Track is the recipient of the Paddy Joe Moran Mayo Meitheal of the Year 2024 Award.

The West on Track community campaign was originally established to preserve and eventually re-open the closed rail line from Sligo to Ennis.

It began in Claremorris in 2003 and was initially composed entirely of Mayo people, but the campaign quickly expanded to include representatives from all of the neighbouring counties.

The campaign to re-open the Western Rail Corridor from Sligo to Limerick was formally launched later that year in Athenry.

West on Track clearly set out the multiple social, tourism and business benefits which would accrue from its revival.

Long before online petitions became the norm, West on Track succeeded in collecting over 100,000 (physical) signatures for a petition of support of the reopening of the railway. These were presented to the then Minister for Transport, the late Seamus Brennan, in Kiltimagh station in 2004.

As a result of the initial campaign, the government agreed that it would reopen the railway in stages as part of the Transport 21 programme.

As a direct consequence of the West on Track campaign, the Ennis to Athenry section linking Galway to Limerick was re-opened in 2010 after a lapse of several decades.

Opening at the height of the recession, the new railway faced many challenges from rolling stock to high fares, slow journey times and no online booking. The launch of a new expressway bus service did not augur well for the newly-opened railway.

Soon, critics were lining up to lambast the project.

A special RTE Prime Time programme sought to portray it as a waste of public money and an Irish Times editorial called for the rail link’s conversion into a greenway.

Like Ireland West Airport before it, the Western Rail Corridor was clearly anathema to the Pale.

However, a determined effort by West on Track and local communities, working with Iarnród Éireann and political representatives, ensured that services were gradually improved and since 2017 it has been the fastest growing railway in the country with more than 600,000 passengers travelling last year.

The success of the Ennis to Athenry rail re-opening augurs well for the next stage of the West on Track campaign, which is to have the rail-line re-opened from Galway to Claremorris and eventually onto Sligo.

Thanks to the tireless campaigning of West on Track, the towns of Westport, Ballina, Castlebar, Claremorris, Tuam (and ultimately Sligo) can now look forward to having a passenger intercity and commuter rail link with the regional capital of Galway, and a direct rail-freight route to the southern ports of Cork and Waterford, the new Foynes Ten-T Core Port and the proposed new port facilities in Galway.

It is important to state that West on Track is an entirely voluntary community organisation across all of the counties in the west from Limerick to Donegal.

No one in the organisation receives expenses and members pay for all travel, accommodation and other costs themselves.

It encompasses chambers of commerce, community development organisations and a range of other community groups. Unusually, there are no ‘officers’ in the organisation, rather each county has designated spokespersons who make up a steering group representing the views of the members.

The late Fr Micheál Mac Gréil, one of Mayo’s most distinguished sons, was a founding member of the organization and was its patron until his death last year.

The group has two Facebook Pages with 8,000 followers and has featured on numerous radio and television programmes since its foundation including Eco Eye, Ear to the Ground and Nationwide.

It has worked closely with local authorities and their elected representatives in the Western Inter-county Railway Committee as well as with development agencies across the region including the Northern and Western Regional Assembly and the Western Development Commission.

It has developed strong links with business organisations across the region and is represented on the Irish Exporters Association and the Atlantic Economic Corridor group.

West on Track is a shining example of voluntary community endeavour and embodies the spirit of the old Irish tradition of ‘the meitheal’.

It is about people working together for the betterment of society, and future generations will certainly reap the benefits of the tireless campaigning of West on Track.

They are deserving winners of the award presented annually by the Mayo Dublin Association.