Tuesday, October 3, 2023

‘All we’re missing to sum up the Killucan and Mullingar train debacle is a Percy French song’

Percy French was not only a wonderful composer and musician, but clearly a visionary too.

It’s all of 121 years since he wrote Are You Right There Michael? but the song, written to parody the West Clare railway line, is as relevant to the state of things on the Mullingar–Dublin railway line. The more things change, the more they stay the same, it seems.

French’s song questioned whether the train would ever reach its destination whereas in Mullingar, the situation is more about trying to get on the train in the first place. And if you live in Killucan, the most you can do is wave at the train with your handkerchief and wipe the tear from your eye; the train doesn’t stop at the station for passengers.

It’s easy to criticise in this country and there are many issues to choose from, but public transport in Mullingar is beyond a parody or a joke, especially where the railway is concerned.

In this week’s edition, the vexed issues of the necessary re-opening of Killucan Train Station and overcrowding on trains leaving Mullingar are vented.

A number of local public representatives are very agitated about the issues, notably Cllr Denis Leonard who, we feel, will never rest easy until Killucan re-opens. He’s a man on a mission.

What’s so daft about all of this is that the problems are real, solutions can be put in place and should have been years ago. Yet again, our Government (including Transport Minister Éamon Ryan) waits until a problem has escalated before it even begins to recognise it as a problem. And when the machinery of the State does swing into action to try to solve a problem, decades of much-loved (by the Civil Service) bureaucracy arrives as another delay.

Firstly, on Killucan, it’s clear that its train station should have been re-opened years ago. It’s a no-brainer. The station could serve thousands of commuters who live a short distance from it; it would keep traffic off the commuter routes to Dublin; it would help with Ireland’s green ambitions; it could give commuters a much less stressful start and end to their working days.

‘If you managed to get to the platform (the gates might or might not be open), finding a seat on the Dublin commuter train is a nightmare’

As it is, there might be a feasibility study (or maybe not, who can tell?) to prod the issue. Naturally, Westmeath County Council has been dragged into the issue, as if it hasn’t enough to be doing. Even the dogs in the street of Killucan and its environs are shouting: ‘Just re-open it!’

Secondly, in Mullingar, if you managed to get to the platform (the gates might or might not be open), boarding the Dublin train and finding a seat are logistical nightmares. A train that clearly has too few carriages is usually offered. Irish Rail has taken delivery of new 41 carriages, some of which could be used for Mullingar, but these can’t come into service until either quarter three of this year or early next year – it depends who you listen to. If they’ve been delivered, why can’t they be tested and put into service within a month or so? What exactly is the delay?

Incidentally, if the new carriages failed ‘the test’, what then? Another three-year wait on new ones?

No wonder so many of our public representatives are upset. Sometimes, the harder they try, the bigger the obstacle. For what it’s worth, this little newpaper puts itself behind the re-opening of Killucan Train Station and a much better service for Mullingar commuters. Not in 121 years time, but now. We have the money, so just do it.

So, are you right there, Éamon?

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