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Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today we are here to mark a great moment for Midleton and for Cork, and an important milestone for transport investment in Ireland.
It is 150 years this year since the railway station at Midleton was first opened. For over a century, Midleton station served the needs of the people of the area. In time, like so many other local stations, it fell victim to economic change and, perhaps also, to what was then our growing national infatuation with the private car. Midleton station was closed.
But the times changed again. Our economy began to grow, and we began to appreciate the need for greater public transport, both to improve the competitiveness of Ireland in attracting investment and to protect and preserve our environment.
In Cork, the local authorities came together with others, including my Department, to develop the Cork Area Strategic Plan (or “CASP”). The CASP set ambitious goals for the growth of Cork in the first two decades of this century. It identified Midleton as a town for major growth, given its position on a potential public transport and rail corridor beside Cork City, projecting that the population of Midleton would more than double by the year 2020.
We therefore committed ourselves to reopening the Midleton rail line as part of a wider upgrade of the suburban rail service in Cork, in support of the integrated land use and transport strategy in the CASP. Today, we deliver on that commitment.
Cork-Midleton Project and New Services
This has been a substantial project, involving investment of €75 million.
Midleton and Carrigtwohill have new stations, with facilities to ensure accessibility for those with mobility and sensory impairments. There are also extensive car parking facilities at both stations to encourage people from further afield to drive here and continue their journeys using sustainable transport.
Passengers travelling to Cork from Midleton will now have twenty-one services on weekdays, and the same number of services from Cork to Midleton. These will operate half-hourly at peak and hourly off-peak. I have no doubt that Midleton, and the Cork region in general, will benefit enormously from these new services in the years to come. They will help to attract investment, improve mobility for the workforce, and offer a cleaner and more sustainable mode of travel.
The reopening of the Cork-Middleton line complements improvements already made to Intercity services to and from Cork. In 2007 a new Cork –Dublin intercity rail service was launched and has proven highly successful. The frequency of trains on the route has doubled, capacity has been increased by 80%, while a fleet of 67 new InterCity carriages provides a greatly improved quality of journey.
In the new and challenging economic circumstances that we are currently facing in this country we must, as a priority, stabilise our public finances. But we must also promote competitiveness, stimulate confidence, and thereby promote investment and job creation.
For this reason, this Government has made it clear that we intend to maintain investment in our infrastructure to the maximum practicable extent in the current circumstances. At the same time, we have to be realistic, and recognise that we cannot continue spending at the same level as in the boom years. We therefore have to prioritise.
Earlier this year, when it became clear that we would have to choose our greatest priorities for investment, both my Department and Iarnród Éireann were agreed that one of our key priorities for 2009 must be the completion and reopening of the Cork-Midleton rail link.
When the global economy begins to recover, as it certainly will, we must be positioned to take full advantage. We must have the infrastructure in place to attract investment and to ensure sustained, and sustainable, growth. This growth must be spread across all regions. Here in Cork, this new rail line will have a vital role to play in that process.
In conclusion, I would like to congratulate once again all those whose hard work has made the vision of this new rail service from Midleton to Cork a reality. Most of all I would like to congratulate the people of Cork and Midleton. I know that these new services will have an enormous impact in the years to come on the economy and the life of the region.