A major report published by economist Dr. John Bradley has found that there is a strong business case for the reopening of the railway from Galway to Mayo as part of the wider Atlantic Railway Corridor at a cost of €154m (€128m + 20% contingency), with a Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR) for the project that is greater than one. (See notes below)
The 210 page report, entitled The Atlantic Railway Corridor – The Galway-Mayo Rail Link: An Appraisal was welcomed today by a spokesman for West on Track who said that it “proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is a viable and urgently needed project for the economic development of the West of Ireland.”
“Dr. Bradley and his team have done a great service to our entire region and the Government should now move to include this important infrastructure in the forthcoming National Development Plan. As the report shows this important project can be delivered by 2025 at a cost of €154m which represents exceptional value for money for 50km of prime infrastructure.
There is strong cross-party political support across the entire western region for the restoration of this key piece of infrastructure which has lain idle for too long, but we cannot continue to exist on fine words – we now need to see delivery. In particular, we are calling on Minister Eamonn Ryan to prioritize this project as he promised to do in September of last year. As the Minister said in the Dáil on Thursday last this project will deliver his strategic objective of connecting the ports of Waterford and Foynes to Ballina at the same time. For that reason the Foynes project and the Galway-Mayo link should commence without delay as both are shovel-ready projects.
“A Government commitment to commence the restoration of the Galway-Mayo section of the WRC, is all the more relevant due to vulnerabilities in Ireland’s international supply chains as a result of BREXIT. Such vulnerabilities require improved connectivity and direct access to the south-eastern and southern ports of Foynes, Cork and Waterford. The current rail freight issues in Ballina serve to illustrate the urgent necessity of having an alternative route for Mayo industries to the southern ports. From later this month there will be at least five trains per week from Mayo to Waterford and it is clear that the logical solution to the current problems at Dublin Port is to urgently develop that alternative,” he added.
The Bradley Report provides a cost benefit analysis (CBA) of reopening Phases 2 and 3 of the Western Rail Corridor (WRC), i.e., the cross-radial link between Athenry (on the Dublin-Galway line) and Claremorris (on the Dublin-Westport/Ballina line). The CBA was performed in accordance with the Common Appraisal Framework (CAF), which provides standard methods and procedures for making a transport business case for submission to government in compliance with the Public Spending Code.
The report finds that the railway link could be restored for a capital cost of €154m (€128m + 20% contingency), less than half of what EY reported in January, and that there is a Benefit Cost Ratio for the project that is greater than one. The Capital Costs were independently verified by Permanent Rail Engineering (PRE), a UK rail consultancy, who reviewed and assessed the capital expenditure estimates. The consultants PRE noted that the EY overall unit cost rate (i.e., cost per kilometre of restored track) is over double (2.4 times) the suitably adjusted unit costs incurred in the construction of Phase 1, and observed that this “would appear to be unreasonable given that the same overall technical specification is required for all three phases.”
The report was prepared following the publication in January 2021 of a report entitled, Western Rail Corridor, Financial and Economic Appraisal, prepared by the consultancy firm EY (the EY Report) and carried out on behalf of Iarnród Éireann and the Department of Tourism, Transport and Sport. The EY report raised so many questions and contained so many errors that a fresh appraisal was deemed necessary. To facilitate comparability, the present analysis was initiated by West-on-Track and adheres to the format and assumptions of the EY report as far as possible.
The report describes the history of the Western Rail Corridor and the successful restoration and operation of the Limerick-Galway (Phase 1) stage in 2010. An analysis of the economy of the central Atlantic Economic Corridor (AEC) region with specific insights into the economy of Mayo is presented and the wider regional development rationale for the WRC restoration is explained. This development rationale was absent from the EY report.
Three analytical sections of the report deal with the construction and operating costs of the Athenry-Claremorris link, the benefits that will accrue when the link is restored, and the specific benefits that will arise from a more direct north-south freight link to Foynes Port and Waterford Port.
A socio-economic profile of Tuam, the largest town in Galway, is presented in an appendix since the WRC restoration will reintegrate it into the national rail network. It is also proposed that an additional park and ride station be developed at Abbeyknockmoy to offer a commuter service to the regional capital for traffic from that area and the wider Roscommon catchment, which currently feeds into traffic delays on the busy N17.
The restoration project envisions frequent services travelling from Westport/Ballina via Claremorris south to Galway, with intermediate stops at Tuam, a new ‘N63 Park and Ride’ station at Abbeyknockmoy, Athenry, and Oranmore.
Anticipated journey times on the reopened railway are 58 minutes from Claremorris to Galway and 38 minutes from Tuam to Galway. These timings are predicated on the planned upgrade of the Athenry-Galway section together with the allocation of rolling stock capable of travelling at the higher speed limit. Appendix 4 of the report shows that, contrary to some recent commentary, the railway alternative would be substantially faster than the equivalent Transport for Ireland (TfI) bus timetables for Mayo-Galway.
In line with the government’s Sustainable Mobility Strategy, the restoration of the rail line will assist linking businesses, people and places along the Atlantic Economic Corridor in a sustainable way by supporting comfortable and affordable journeys to and from work, home, school, college, shops and leisure; travelling by cleaner and greener transport; and a shift away from the private car to greater use of active travel (walking and cycling) and public transport (e.g. bus, rail, tram).
The report shows the potential for the growth and development of rail freight with strong support being indicated for the project from Waterford Port, Shannon-Foynes Port, the logistics company IWT and the Irish Exporters Association. As predicted in the report it has recently been confirmed that a new rail freight service between the Port of Waterford and Inland Port of Ballina will commence later in June, in association with Logistics company XPO, transferring a further 5000 long distance truck journeys from road to rail, and guaranteeing more freight traffic for the more direct and sustainable WRC.
Referencing statistics from Fáilte Ireland that show Galway at 1.6m overseas visitors and Mayo at 324,000 the report observes that if even a modest 5% of this proven Galway cohort were enabled to travel by rail from the regional capital to destinations such as Westport and Ballina, it would add a potential 80,000 tourist journeys per annum to the WRC by 2030, while the Railtours Ireland company states that it could generate at least 5,000 overseas passengers on its bespoke rail tours from Galway to Westport.
It is strongly recommended that the decision of Government in 2005, deferred in 2011, to reconstruct the railway from Galway to Mayo and to conduct a further review of the reconstruction of the railway between Claremorris on the Dublin-Westport/Ballina radial route and Collooney on the Dublin-Sligo radial route be immediately renewed having regard to the objectives of the N&WRA Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy and the findings of the report. This objective is consistent with that of the Government commitment to promote development of the Atlantic Economic Corridor.
Dr. Bradley states that the present cost benefit exercise “demonstrates that there is a very good business case in support of the restoration of the WRC link’ between Athenry and Claremorris, and almost certainly for the eventual restoration of the 74.5km line from Claremorris to Collooney (Sligo)”.
He also notes that in August 2019 the Irish Government applied to the European Commission to include the “Western Arc” region in the Ten-T Core Network and that this application received a positive response. “When taken together with the confirmation by the European Commission in January 2020 that, as a result of its declining economic performance, the current status of the west and northwest region was being downgraded from ‘developed region’ to a ‘region in transition’, these factors add greater urgency to the inclusion of the extension of the Western Rail Corridor as a priority action in the forthcoming National Development Plan”, he says.
The report concludes by providing a detailed Project Appraisal Balance Sheet (PABS) and presents the details of the cost-benefit analysis, summarising the monetised and non-monetised benefits of the project, and indicating that a very strong business case exists to undertake the restoration project.
About the Author: John Bradley was Research Professor at the ESRI and has worked and published extensively on the island economy of Ireland, EU cohesion policy, industrial strategy and economic modelling. He previously worked at UCD, the IIRS and the Central Bank of Ireland.
He developed techniques to evaluate the long-term impacts of Structural Funds on the Irish economy from 1989, and worked with the European Commission to apply these to Greece, Portugal, Spain, the East German regions and the Italian Mezzogiorno. After the 2004 EU enlargement he designed analytic tools for DG-REGIO to evaluate the impact of Structural Funds in promoting the objectives of cohesion in all 28 member states.
In 2012 he co-authored with Professor Michael Best a study entitled “Cross-Border Economic Renewal: Re-thinking Regional Policy in Ireland”. In 2019 he authored “The Economy of theAtlantic Economic Corridor: A study of County Mayo”.
He has acted as a consultant to the European Commission, the European Parliament, the OECD, the World Bank, many EU member state governments and has carried out research and training projects in the EU, the Western Balkans and Africa.