Open letter to Minister Eamon Ryan

Dear Minister Ryan,

On your visit to Westmeath last week you made some great announcements in relation to electric vehicles in Athlone, but our transport issues go far beyond that. Please answer our urgent plea for real public transport options in Westmeath and in the midlands.

Yesterday, we had wonderful announcements by NTA in relation to the Greater Dublin Area Transport strategy, including a Dart to go to UCD, Metro north, and about five other Luas extensions.

Billions of euro are being spent in Dublin and it’s impossible to get €5 million here to open Killucan station, of which half would come from the EU – for example, Metro would cost more than €10,000 per person if everyone in Dublin used it – Killucan station would cost €300 per head for those within 10km of it.

If 2:1 investment in public transport over roads is to mean anything, it must also apply to Westmeath and the midlands in general.

What happened in practice is we just built better and better roads which facilitate buses to bypass towns they used to stop in.

We would like a representative of your department and the NTA to come to our county to discuss public transport with us first-hand and in a meaningful way.

It is currently in freefall in many towns that have few or no options but the car.

Some examples:

• there is a lack of carriages on the Dublin Sligo line serving workers going to Dublin and five major universities along the line;

• there are massive gaps and timetabling reliability issues in the local and national bus service, including no Mullingar town bus service;

• there is lack of meaningful connection of rural towns and villages with local public transport options;

• bus shelter provision is minimal;

• there is a lack of willingness to upgrade the station in Killucan even though it costs so little in capital terms;

• the Mullingar Athlone line is not included in new capital plans.

The Mullingar to Athlone rail line goes back to Irish rail in 2030 anyway – it would cut train journeys to Galway from Dublin to just over two hours from currently two and a half hours, and would give Athlone, a spatial town, access to Mullingar hospital, and give Mullingar, a spatial town, access to the technical university in Athlone, or to the two universities in Galway.

Both towns are earmarked for 30,000-plus residents over the next few years.

We need joined-up thinking here. We cannot be continually announcing public transport projects on the coasts (particularly the east coast) and leaving the midlands untouched.

Everything needs to pass through here, but much of it either does not stop or is not reliable.

If Just Transition means anything, we also need to move from cars to public transport that is accessible, affordable, and reliable.

We have to move beyond blaming cattle (for carbon emissions) while bringing in Brazilian beef, blaming the lack of having enough renewables (already too heavily reliant on wind), or banking on people being about to afford overpriced retrofit projects.

We need to focus on the real reason we pay most of the millions in fines to EU for missing targets – Ireland’s three million cars sitting on crowded motorways taking two hours to get to Dublin from here, or sitting in congested traffic in towns due to the lack to amenable public transport options.

We need the kind of public transport that operates so well for many counties (some with a lot lower GDP than us), reduces stress levels and enhances the quality of life, and serves to rid towns and cities of needless harmful emissions.

As a government, you and your colleagues need to stop with the excuses and roll out a fit-for-purpose public transport system.


Cllr Denis Leonard,