Wednesday, 6 July 2011
Question 26: To ask the Minister for Transport; Tourism and Sport the possibility for using disused railway lines as walking trails in view of the success of the Westport railway line walk, County Mayo; if a feasibility study will be performed to identify other suitable sites; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18965/11]
The Westport to Achill cycle and walking route also known as the great western greenway has indeed been a great success. Mayo County Council was responsible for initially identifying the route, investigating the feasibility of the route and for the actual delivery of the route. Phase 1 of the project was completed in April 2010, and phases 2 and 3 are expected to be opened by the end of this month. Based on information from Mayo County Council, the first phase has been remarkably popular with more than 2,000 users during the Easter weekend alone. Financing is being provided through co-funding from the Department and Fáilte Ireland.
Such cycle and walk ways represent an area which is directly relevant to two key aspects of my Department, that is to say, smarter travel and tourism. The great western greenway is a prime example of this, being a resource for the people of Mayo and tourists to the region. While the development of such proposals is in the first instance a matter for the local authorities, I, my Department and the agencies of my Department are keen, bearing in mind the financial constraints, to support such initiatives.
Similarly, feasibility studies for potential routes along other abandoned rail lines are a matter for the local authorities concerned. With regard to the potential of other disused rail lines for similar projects, Kerry County Council has proposed the development of a cycle route from Tralee to Fenit and the Department has agreed to provide €200,000 for funding for this.
Although not utilising disused railway lines, Meath County Council carried out a feasibility study for a cycle route along the Boyne Valley linking Trim to Drogheda. This would have obvious benefits from a smarter travel and tourism perspective. However, the cost of such a scheme would be at least €13 million and this does not take account of any land acquisition. Given the financial position of the State at present, it is not possible to provide such a level of funding.
The National Roads Authority completed a scoping study for a national cycle network in 2010. This study is available from www.smartertravel.ie and identifies potential route corridors, although not actual routes, between urban areas with a population of 10,000 or more that could constitute a national cycle network. Following this, the Department tasked the National Roads Authority to conduct a feasibility study of a cycle way from Dublin to Galway and onto Clifden. The public consultation on the Dublin to Mullingar section of the route is due to commence shortly.
In view of the success of the great western greenway, the effects it has had on tourism in the area and the fact it has provided a great service at little cost for the local people I seek a feasibility study to be carried out in several places. The Minister outlined some of them, including the proposed Kerry route and the cycle route along the main carriageways. We are also considering linking north Dublin to south Dublin with a cycle route. I hope the Minister could further examine other routes, perhaps unused railway stations and other such places, and pressurise the local authorities to come up with some reports in this regard.
I welcome the Deputy's suggestion. We are willing to do that and I have indicated as much in my reply. However, I am keen to avoid spending hundreds of thousands or even millions of euro on feasibility studies and plans for projects which cannot be paid for or brought through to fruition. I would rather deliver one project and make it happen than carry out studies or consultancy reports on ten projects that will never happen.
I have not yet been to see the great western greenway. There is an outstanding invitation from the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, who is determined that I should come down to see it and I intend to do so in the coming months.
There has been no great expense in this regard. Many of these proposals could be carried out with little or no expense. Some of the properties are in State ownership and some belong to communities. The expense would not be vast. From this point of view I hope we could further consider schemes that will not cost a great deal of money.
I welcome the support from the Department for the Tralee to Fenit line, which is important. My wife and I visited the Newport to Mulranny line last summer. It is an impressive and fantastic infrastructure. Last Saturday morning as I cycled the Ring of Kerry I passed the Mountain Stage railway line in south Kerry. There are fantastic tunnels and viaducts along the line. At present, South Kerry Development Partnership Limited is carrying out a feasibility study on the line. It hopes to open a greenway from Glenbeigh to Caherciveen. I call on the Minister to keep his eyes open for the feasibility report when it comes back.
In respect of the great western greenway it is important to acknowledge the council's work and especially the co-operation of the landowners and farmers which is essential if one is trying to do a project such as this. The key thing at the end of any feasibility study is the cost. In the case of the great western greenway, the cost was €1.4 million for phase 1 and €1.75 million for phase 2. There is a 50:50 split in the cost with the whole project costing just in excess of €3 million. By contrast, the other attractive project along the Boyne Valley would cost €13 million without getting any land along the way. These can be relatively inexpensive or rather expensive. I look forward to examining the proposals mentioned by Deputy Griffin. I am not familiar with the spot but the Minister of State, Deputy Kelly, assures me it is a good spot.