Wednesday, September 8, 2010

People Power in Wexford

On the seventh of April last, Iarnród Éireann announced nationally that the Rosslare to Waterford Rail Line was to be closed. This announcement coincided with the first public meeting of the "Save the Rosslare to Waterford Rail Line" campaign, who had succeeded in highlighting the issue on Facebook, where they had attracted 1500 supporters at that point.
The meeting was shared by a young unknown Bridgetown woman named Tanya Fenelon, who had founded the campaign after realising how the loss of the train would effect her own family and neighbours. Also scattered among the large crowd were TDs and councillors, and reps from all the major political parties.
In the months that followed there were protests, petitions, surveys, meetings and alot of egg on the face for the big guns of Iarnród Éireann. Despite obvious involvement of political parties, these events were all people-centric and revolved around the incredible work load of Tanya Fenelon and the closest members of her committee.

When Rathangan SF attended that first meeting in early April, we realised immediately that this campaign would never have the mass appeal of the campaigns to save hospitals or to stop welfare cuts. It wasn't a "sexy" campaign! It was a lukewarm issue, and despite the fact that the rail line was much needed by the people of South Wexford, it just didn't attract major attention.
Iarnród Éireann must have thought that they had it in the bag.
They thought wrong.
The inventive thinking, hard work and sheer determination of the Save the Rail campaign turned the issue on its head. Iarnród Éireann were told that they legally couldn't close the line without permission from the National Transport Authority. IE's claims that the line was not making money and that only twenty five people used it everyday were exposed as untrue propaganda.
No Rail Line makes money in rural Ireland, but IE only had one ticket collector between four trains, giving you a one in four chance of riding free! The lie about only twenty five people using the train was proven false by the campaigners making daily head counts of passengers.

Interest grew in the issue, and support for the campaign grew. The South East Chamber of Commerce threw their weight behind the campaign, claiming closure was economic suicide. So did surrounding local authorities, and in theory, all of the political parties of the south east.
On Friday the third of September, The NTA granted permission to IE to close the line. Iarnród Éireann celebrated and the local media reported their victory. However, once again we were being hoodwinked by semi state propaganda. It was left to Tanya Fenelon, the unknown Bridgetown woman who had started a facebook campaign a year earlier, to reveal the truth. The line would close, but with conditions.
The line would have to be maintained. An enhanced bus service would have to provided for South Wexford, and most importantly, private operators would be encouraged to reopen the line.

So the Government have allowed another public service to fall, but thanks to the actions of the Save the Rosslare to Waterford Rail Line campaign,there is still hope. People power, the rebel spirit, is alive in Wexford.

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