Ahern support for €360m rail link to West
There has been a warm welcome throughout Mayo for the Taoiseach’s stated support for the development of the Western Rail Corridor, 26 years after it was first mooted. Mr Ahern told the Dáil that "as much as we can, it makes sense to support and engage in what is viable, based on expert advice". And then, significantly, he added "The finances for it are already with the Department (of Transport) and, from representations we have received, I know it will be part of the ten-year rail plan. Therefore, provision has already been made for it". The full restoration of the line, from Collooney to Ennis, is expected to cost in the region of €360 million if proceeded with. If the Government decides to go ahead with it, it may well happen in two phases. Final Government approval will depend on a report prepared by an expert group, set up by former Transport Minister, Mr Séamus Brennan, to consider the viability of the project.
I see that in the US George Bush recently suggested a budgetary saving that involved pulling all support for Amtrak the main railway company in the USA. I hope Bertie wasn’t listening. There is no railway network anywhere that runs without a subsidy from the taxpayer. But then there is no road network that runs without a subsidy either. In the west of Ireland I reckon that the road network is getting an enormous subsidy apart from the direct taxpayer investment. The subsidy is currently being paid primarily in terms of time and costs arising from damage, accidents, delays arising from our poor road and rail infrastructure.
For example, just last night, driving back from Dublin I passed a container truck that had run off the N5. It had its left wheels caught in the soft margin along a narrow stretch of Roscommon road – one of those stretches where two trucks, travelling in opposite directions, find it difficult to pass each other by. They have to slow down and dance daintily past each other, pulling in their wing mirrors almost. Luckily this truck hadn’t overturned or jack-knifed causing injury to anyone, it had just gracefully got itself stuck in the mud, shlopping to a halt at a slight tilt into the ditch.
So what’s the cost of this little incident – what subsidy is the taxpayer contributing? The cost of having two or three Gardai on site with their flashing blue lights directing traffic around the obstruction first of all – undoubtedly they would run into weekend overtime as it was unlikely that this was going to be moved before midnight. The cost of the tow-truck called out late on a Friday night – it was 10:00pm or so. The lost time for the trucking company. Potential spoilage of goods on board. Late delivery penalties if the truck was delivering JIT goods – perhaps produced by some factory in Mayo. And what about the cost of potential loss of future orders and jobs due to unreliability of the infrastructure leading into Mayo?
This little incident occurred on one of the much-vaunted main radial spoke roads leading to Dublin which are supposedly where all the investment is going. How many lost hours occur on the even less-fortunate roads that run from the North West to the South East at an angle to the main spoke roads? Drivers on these second class routes endure even worse close to Third World conditions.
The Western Rail Corridor would be a godsend. I doubt, however, that the expert committee looking at the ‘viability’ of the Rail Corridor will factor into their cost-benefit analysis even a small portion of the hidden subsidies mentioned above. The status quo dictates that roads are cheaper than railways and that all roads lead to Dublin. Nobody questions the direct and indirect subsidies we put into the road network. Did you ever hear any politician or civil servant in the Department of Finance saying that the N5 ran at a loss of €50 million last year? But for sure it didn’t make a profit! The only roads apparently making a 'profit' are the toll bridges - and even there the long delays that they engender in order to take your money from you have clear costs that the average punter is bearing. Nobody quantifies the true cost of not providing a fast rail-link to Galway Limerick and Cork, never mind one to Dublin. But we know exactly how much money the railway network I supposed to have ‘lost’! And that folks is unfortunately the starting point for the expert committee. How much money will the Western Rail Link lose if it only gets x passengers per day? They should talk to the driver of the truck who was almost killed last night on the N5.
Council in rural broadband backing
Mayo County Council is giving its full support to the Government’s County and Rural Broadband Scheme. At an information evening held in the Traveller’s Friend Hotel, Castlebar, on Thursday 3 March, John Condon, County Secretary described broadband as being "... as important as sewerage, water or roads", and stated that the Council aspired to Mayo having an "... abundant supply of the cheapest bandwidth in the world". Every part of the county seemed to be represented in the audience, and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) were also present to answer questions. Cllr Eddie Staunton, Cathaoirleach of Mayo County Council introduced the evening and stressed the importance of the Government schemes to make broadband available to the whole county as well as every school, and the role of the Council in supporting these projects.
This is a worthy attempt to wrest the ownership of the national fibre optic network from eircom. The centres of population will benefit enormously from this when the local loop is finally taken out of Mr O’Reilly’s greedy grasp – (spoken as one who has had eircom shares wrested away without even being asked of course).
Unfortunately, I think that the fact that two thirds of the population of Mayo live outside of the concentrated urban areas means that real broadband for most of us is just a pipe dream. The gist of the meeting was that the local rural communities have to set up the electronic equivalent of group water schemes. In case you don’t know what a group water scheme is they are the poorest water supplies in the country - a kind of wet game of Russian roulette when you turn on the tap - with the water coming out almost inevitably contaminated with viruses and other disease causing organisms. I suspect that the group wireless broadband systems will also come with their own form of virus contamination. Even if they are well run by good enthusiastic local techies, they will inevitably work out much more expensive than the real-world broadband that is available, say in France – 8000kb at €15 per month.
It is important too to have some quality control on the use of the word broadband itself. We should not call narrow-band or middling-wide band BROADband when it clearly is nowhere near that available in other countries. A spade is not a JCB. The current offering in towns only of 512kb on the downlink but with massive contention issues, which can reduce its speed down to slower than a regular 56kb modem or 64kb ISDN line, should not be called broadband. Just as rural areas also have really crappy television signals from the most gawdawful deflector systems, which seem to have deteriorated dramatically since they were licensed, we can probably expect something similar from these new community broadband solutions.
Mayo’s lack of planning with houses spread thinly over the county is really coming home to roost. Poor water, poor sewage disposal, poor roads, lack of footpaths outside people’s houses, poor television signal and now coming to a network near you - crap broadband? Why could they not have concentrated developments around towns and villages where critical mass could be achieved for all of these infrastructural requirements?
One last point about broadband in the towns where there is excellent hope that a good service can be provided separate from eircom's offerings. Without proper points of access to the Internet backbone – POP stations in the West we are only fooling ourselves that we can ever get any heavy duty internet players to locate in the towns that are serviced by fibre optic networks.
Castlebar showband to re-form for special show
In the glory days of the showband era during the sixties and seventies, there were close to six hundred showbands on the road in Ireland, most playing five and six nights a week in dance halls up and down the country. The youngest band during the showband boom was a band from Castlebar called ‘The Leaders’ Showband, which is now planning a reunion. …. Now, more than thirty years later, The Leaders are to re-form for one night only in August, as part of the McHale Road 70th Birthday celebrations in Castlebar. There will be a buffet in the TF Hotel on Saturday, 6 August, and a big street party with live music and lots more on Sunday, August 7.
It seems that McHale Road is building up for a big shindig on 7th August. The Road is looking well with the recent revamping that has been done and I’m sure the cessation of through traffic has added considerably to the quality of life along McHale Road.