Western Rail Corridor: Promoting Regional Balance, Claremorris, April 13th 2007 Value of Improved Rail Links: The Enterprise Perspective by Dr. Chris Coughlan

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Western Rail Corridor: Promoting Regional Balance, Claremorris, April 13th 2007
Value of Improved Rail Links: The Enterprise Perspective by Dr. Chris Coughlan
Firstly on behalf everyone living and working in the Western Region of Ireland "thank you" and congratulations to all those involved in working towards and realising their hard earned efforts in delivering the western rail corridor. It's ironic that through your vision and achievement
you have restored the infrastructure of the past by overcoming the prejudice of the present so as to guarantee success of the future
However the real work has only now begun and the backbone of the western rail must be used to become the "pathway to prosperity" in achieving a renewed, reformed and revitalised western region. The next and ultimate real challenge and vision is now to strategically transform the western region to become a recognised European and international centre of innovation and economic growth which offers the highest quality of living, quality of learning and quality of work.
Although this conference title is "Promoting Regional Balance" I believe that the actual body of work ahead is “gaining” regional balance which throughout the history of our island, up until now, has never even been considered or acted upon for the West.
If the rural electrification scheme in the early part of the last century moved at the same pace that we encountered in reviving the Western Rail we would still be in the dark
There has always been a glass ceiling where the west had to fight twice as hard to gain half as much. Now the potential is there, not only to be a counterbalance to the Eastern seaboard and the Dublin region but in fact to raise "all our boats" where the economic and social benefits and success of the west will have a multiplier positive effect on all regions of Ireland.
We now have within our grasp through the western rail, in addition to the road and air infrastructure to become a joined-up and integrated, innovative and competitive region. However, this will only be achieved through careful planned collaboration all along our Western Atlantic Rail Corridor (Western ARC). Collaboration has to be aggressively driven by the coming together of our universities, our institutes of technology, our state agencies, our industry groupings, our civic authorities and other relevant bodies to jointly develop a strategic plan for the region with stated aims, deliverables and timescales. Up until now we have had various separate and disjointed groupings in many of these areas, such as the Atlantic Alliance, Atlantic Corridor, various Chamber of Commerce and American Chamber of Commerce, industry representative bodies etc. and although doing good work in their own right, they now have to come together and work together to develop the western cluster to become an internationally recognised innovative, cost effective and competitive enterprise region comparable to other already well known cluster regions around the world, such as Silicon Valley.

Already we have two emerging clusters in the region, Information Technology and Biomedical both of which are supported by two CSET’s Centres of Excellence at NUI Galway under the auspices of Science Foundation Ireland. They are the Digital Enterprise Research Institute (DERI) which is defining the next phase of the World Wide Web, called the Semantic Web and the Regenerative Medical Institute (REMEDI) which is doing leading research in gene therapy delivery and stem cells. Recently this has been strengthened by the announcement of a medical school at the University of Limerick.

We have nearly 60,000 third level students attending five third level colleges in our region, University of Limerick, Limerick Institute of Technology, National University of Ireland Galway, Galway Mayo Institute of Technology and Sligo Institute of Technology. We now have the ability to not only to more easily get them to their place of education but to collaborate and move between places of education, linking their capabilities. This will also mean retaining and attracting more students resulting in the availability of a highly skilled work force in the region. More important it will mean we will now have a practical means and mechanism, that supports the growth of the West’s and Ireland Inc’s knowledge economy because it gives us the capability of developing a more integrated, effective, flexible and responsive R&D, technology transfer, learning and skills to meet the current needs and to anticipate the changing future needs of business and industry in our region. It is critical that the IDA, EI, Education Institutions, Business and Industry together develop a proactive enterprise strategy to both retain and change current enterprises and to attract new enterprises.

Western enterprise success in moving up the value chain and keeping ahead of the curve will be greatly enhance by closely linking enterprise development with our rail infrastructure. In fact the rail infrastructure should become a new cost effective, critical and integrated component around which both the value and supply chain of western enterprise will be based.

As such it will be the catalyst in connecting and integrating new and existing enterprise and thus building the critical mass required in lighting, growing and maintaining a western corridor cluster. If fact the rail corridor from Sligo to Limerick will link and more importantly open up and both socially and economically develop and grow 14 additional smaller and medium-sized towns. It will bring skilled workers from any part the region to places of work and in getting goods and services to market both within and beyond our region.

This of course will only be achieved by being the most attractive, cost effective and quality service on offer to both commuters and commercial freight. However, “coopetition” will also have to be invoked that is when it makes clear business sense under particular circumstances to coordinate and cooperate with competing entities such as bus services, our three airports SNN, Galway and Knock and road freight. This coopetition will not only be good for those involved but overall must be good for the region. Under such circumstances, as soon as is feasible a proper integrated good value, quality and most important seamless service will have to be planned and offered throughout and beyond the region.

Freight receiving and holding areas will have to be strategically located along the rail corridor, coordinated and flexible freight transport times and a competitive cost structure with initial attractive options to attract enterprise business will have to be offered. Maybe value-added service could be offered at freight areas, such as, packaging, assembly and repair, similar to what UPS offer in the US.

To successfully convert, capture and retain market share then the movement of freight, daily commuters and tourists will have to be “made easy” and at all times reflect and cater for the market needs, through such items as, clean and comfortable stations with relevant commuter and business facilities, regular schedules, flexible choices, value pricing, integrated ticketing (the West can do it where Dublin has failed), a quality service and the ability to book and buy online… anytime, anywhere, anyone.

To attract inward investment, employment and tourism it is essential that an international promotion, marketing and “Branding the West” be inaugurated and backed by a comprehensive Web portal. However, this web portal should equally be a comprehensive enterprise site used as an essential day to day global tool for enterprise in conducting business between companies both inside and outside the region.
The western rail directly supports the Government Spatial Strategy and Decentralisation Programme and it maybe the only means available through which to implement them and make them practically work. By opening access to all points as outlined in the spatial strategy the rail system will become the backbone along which western industry and employment will be grown, built and opened up to previously unviable outlying areas. Recently much comment has been made about the importance of the quality of life and living and especially how in the Dublin area they have been totally eroded. I believe that in a very short period of time as the vitalisation of the western region becomes more apparent that decentralisation will become, as the American's say "a no brainer" as people and families will want to head west for, quality of life, children friendly considerations, natural environment, enterprise variety, education options and for easy seamless internal and external access and movement of people, goods and services. Along with our tax incentives these factors are major decision influencers when companies are making the decision to locate in Ireland. We have to be single-minded in protecting these unique selling points (USP's).
In the west we have the potential to build a social and economic cycle which could significantly contribute to Ireland’s wealth by increasing GNP and GDP by attracting inward investment, by growing new indigenous industry and by increasing productivity. These must be our aims and we must all work together to achieve them. No pun intended but the western rail has a central role to play by being the “engine of growth” both for the region but also for the nation. In Physics this is known as the “butterfly effect”, a butterfly flaps its wings at one side of the Atlantic and starts a sequence of events that gives rise to a hurricane at the other side of the Atlantic. In other words small effects, such as a rail system in the west of Ireland can give rise to large consequences such as not only increased prosperity for the region but increased and continuous prosperity for the nation, look what the railroad did for America. Our aim for the West should be:

to become an internationally recognised innovative, competitive “Atlantic Tiger Economy”- nothing more or nothing less.
Dr. Chris Coughlan, Galway Chamber and Deputy President, Chambers Ireland


Therefore Ladies and Gentlemen in summary and conclusion
The Achievement todate:
you have restored the infrastructure of the past by overcoming the prejudice of the present so as to guarantee success of the future
The Challenge ahead:
To make the Western rail the “Pathway to Prosperity” for Enterprise in the West Region

Meeting the Challenge:
The ten "C's" of the Western Rail
Counterbalance to the East and Dublin but will “raise all boats”

Connecting and integrating mechanism to create a real and tangible

Corridor or backbone to retain and grow existing enterprise and to attract new FDI and indigenous start-

Up’s. The rail corridor will also facilitates the availability and development of

Capability and skills in our Educational institutions which will be crucial to attracting, growing and

change managing enterprise in the region. In addition we must drive

Collaboration amongst all civic, state, educational, business and industry bodies in the west to work

as a

Catalyst to integrate the regions enterprise so as to build a

Critical Mass of expertise and skills to enable the emergence of a strategic

Cluster particularly in the areas of ICT and Biomed and through

Coopetition to work with competing services, such as buses and airport authorities in the region to ensure a

Competitive joined up and innovative internationally recognised region

Supporting the Challenge
“Brand West” for Enterprise as well as Tourism
Market and Protect our Unique Selling Points (USP’s)

  • quality of life

  • child friendly

  • natural environment

  • enterprise variety

  • education options

  • seamless physical internal and external access

    • mindset that the western rail system is the West’s value and supply-chain

    • value-added freight regions

  • seamless electronic internal and external access

    • global portal for enterprise conducting business

    • book and buy – anytime, anywhere, anyperson

Deliver the Vision
strategically transform the western region to become a recognised European and International Centre of Innovation and Economic Growth which offers the highest quality of living, quality of learning and quality of work.
The Atlantic Tiger Region – nothing more nothing less!

- Dr. Chris Coughlan

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