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Whatever happened to... A Luas light-rail system for Cork city?

Trams have been a success in Dublin, and there were hopes the southern city could follow suit.

Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

RECENTLY, FORA HAS taken a look at some of the more notable big-ticket projects that were floated during the Celtic Tiger period – or in the aftermath of its demise.

Most recently, we detailed the story behind plans to build cable cars hundreds of feet above the River Liffey. The Suas scheme stalled after its announcement in 2006, but the developer behind the project is still hoping to get it off the ground.

In this installment, we’re heading south to focus on Ireland’s ‘real capital’.

The Luas light-rail system began operations in Dublin during 2004, but there has also been talk of bringing it to several other locations – most notably, Cork. Here’s how that panned out.

What is it?

Dublin’s Luas is a light-rail system that has two main lines running through the south and west of the city, shortly to be joined by a route to the north.

The network was first seriously suggested in 1994 as part of a broad transport strategy to set the capital up for the 21st century.

Construction started in 2001 and the trams were carrying the public three years later. The system quickly proved a success, with 22 million passenger trips made in 2005 during its first full year of operation.

That success drew envious glances from other cities, most notably from Cork, Limerick and Galway.

90429773_90429773 A Luas tram in Dublin Source: Sam Boal

The Green Party proposed a Luas line from Mahon to Ballincollig through the Cork city centre. A second, short line, running from Bishopstown and incorporating the Cork Institute of Technology and Cork University Hospital, were to join the first route.

It was hoped that a second phase of construction would extend to the harbour town of Passage West and would bring light rail to the north side of the city.

When was it first suggested?

The first concrete suggestion of the plan appears to have been in 2006.

A draft light-rail investment strategy prepared by the Railway Procurement Agency and obtained by the Irish Times said that the agency would ”identify opportunities to develop light rail in Cork, Galway and Limerick where that need exists in the period to 2008″.

What happened?

In its 2007 election manifesto the Green Party promised that, if elected, it would build a light-rail line running through Cork city centre.

“We have already seen the huge success of the Luas in Dublin, and we believe Cork should see the next roll-out of this excellent public transport system,” said Green Party TD Dan Boyle in 2006.

Fianna Fáil also mentioned the possibility of a Cork Luas in its manifesto, although it only committed to carrying out feasibility studies. The two parties ended up as coalition partners, with the Green Party very much the junior member.

Fianna Fáil’s pledge was the one that won out, and the formal programme for government promised that feasibility work would be completed within two years “into Luas-style light rail transit systems in Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford”.

Then-transport minister Noel Dempsey said in December 2007 that the feasibility study for the Cork Luas system was at an “advanced stage”, however months later the property bubble burst and the country plunged into recession.

A moratorium was put on big public transport projects and the project was shelved.

90208681_90208681 Former transport minister Noel Dempsey Source: Laura Hutton/RollingNews.ie

What’s the latest?

At present, the Luas in Cork looks pretty unlikely, although there has still been some talk over the last few years about introducing a tram system in the city.

A report produced in 2010 by a transport planning consultancy firm for Cork City Council looked at how feasible it would be to implement a light-rail system.

It said that Cork didn’t have the population to justify building an expensive light-rail system and found that introducing a rapid-transit bus network would be much cheaper and more flexible.

However, the report has been largely gathering dust since then with no sign of either the bus or tram proposal.

Patrick Street Cork City Patrick Street in Cork Source: Laurie Baynes

The issue was highlighted recently by Cork Business Association chief executive Lawrence Owens, who used the lack of progress on the rapid-bus system as an example of plans to upgrade Cork’s public transport that have fallen by the wayside.

“Cork has suffered a major deficit, as Ireland’s second city, for its transport network,” he told the Irish Examiner.

Housing and Planning Minister Simon Coveney told the paper in January that Cork city “was very suitable for a light-rail system” but would need the population density to justify such a project.

The article said that this density could be achieved when as many as 12,000 people move into the city’s docklands in upcoming developments.

However a spokesman for the Department of Housing and Planning told Fora: “There are currently no plans to develop a light rail system in Cork.”

Although there are efforts to improve Cork’s transport network, such as a suggestion to ban private cars from Patrick Street between 3.30pm and 6.30pm, it looks like the ‘real capital’ will be waiting a while for any major overhaul.

Written by Paul O’Donoghue and posted on Fora.ie

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