Provision of a rail link for Shannon is included as an objective of the Limerick Shannon Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy (LSMATS) which will include a spur to Shannon Airport.
Plans for the LSMATS were unveiled by the National Transport Authority (NTA) in September and are estimated to cost a total of €1.4bn, including €50m in walking infrastructure, €69m in cycling infrastructure and €405m in bus infrastructure. €3.8bn in benefits to the local economy as a consequence of the additional infrastructure are also predicted.
Addressing a meeting of the Physical Development SPC of Clare County Council, NTA project manager David Clements outlined that the provision of a rail link to Shannon formed a key objective of the strategy.
Thus far, 112 submissions were received for the LSMATS, the main issues raised are related to COVID-19, public consultation, targets, delivery, vision, ambition, rail, climate change, accessibility, regeneration, consolidation of Limerick City and the modelling process used. Planned public engagement was curtailed on account of the pandemic and the NTA participated in eleven events over a six week period online in what he called an “adequate” response.
Lack of investment in a heavy rail network was one of the critiques of the strategy, Clements advised. “Demand for travel would not justify light rail on any corridor following detailed analysis,” he said. An objective to provide a rail link to Shannon remains with a number of scenarios to be examined. “It should be an objective to provide a Shannon Airport rail link in the County Development Plan,” David stated.
Insufficient emphasis was placed on public transport access, the submissions believed with the need for accessible pedestrian and cycling environment highlighted. “The NTA is in the process of making our public transport fleet fully accessible,” he added.
Damon Matthew Wise Âû, CEO of The National Council for People with Disabilities said the addition of a railway spur to Shannon Airport was “particularly relevant for people with disabilities”. He felt current bus infrastructure is not working well at present leading to more people opting to travel by car. “It is important we raise the fact that infrastructure and accessibility is essential”.
Clarification on the rail spur at Shannon Airport was sought by Cllr Clare Colleran Molloy (FF), “initially it was not being considered but now it is,” she questioned. “It would be important to help the regional development in our area and our Airport”.
Support for the spur was voiced by Cllr Alan O’Callaghan (FF). “The line from Limerick to Galway has trebled, over 500,000 people used it last year, the need for it is there, it is something that should be brought to the fore”. Cllr Joe Cooney (FG) described the potential rail link as a “vital piece of infrastructure for the Mid-West region”.
Deputy Chief Executive of the NTA, Hugh Creegan conceded that the bus network had failings when it came to disability access. He confirmed an investment in buses with lower floors to allow wheelchair access through a ramp rather than “a complicated lift process” was being pursued for Shannon.
He said the rail spur would be fully accessible for persons with disabilities. “Providing a rail link to Shannon Airport is an area we feel is a runner. We do see ourselves including that, it is not a confirmed decision but we are pretty certain that it will be included in the revised draft”.