Youghal would benefit from a greenway rather than waiting decades for a railway

COMMENT & ANALYSIS: Standing in the way of the East Cork Greenway for a slim chance of of a railway to Youghal is well-meaning but misguided.

A local Green Party general election candidate, Liam Quaide, is pushing to keep the greenway off the disused 22km railway between Youghal and Midleton. The Evening Echo reports that fellow Green Party members Dan Boyle and party leader Eamon Ryan, and Sinn Féin’s Pat Buckley turn up to a meeting to support the idea of preserving the route.

Quaide is quoted as telling the newspaper the his party “don’t want an either-or” and the people at the meeting saw value in greenways. He just doesn’t want the greenway built on the former railway line.

He said: “But it seems to be coming at such a high price, that we’re trading a potentially essential public service for an important tourist amenity. That trade-off doesn’t seem right.”

There’s two core problems with what Quaide said.

First, as local independent Councillor Mary Linehan-Foley pointed out: “Rather than look at a derelict site for another 10 years while we wait for a railway, we’ll take the Greenway project.”

Cllr Linehan-Foley has campaigned for the railway to be restored for 17 years since she was first elected but sees the greenway as a better option in the short-term.

The hard truth which might not be liked locally is that the population in Youghal is not large enough to support a modern railway line, and, even if the route to Youghal was reopened based on planned growth, the villages near it would definitely not support a railway station. The town it self has less than 8,000 living in it.

The next problem is viewing the railway as “potentially an essential public service” and the greenway as just “an important tourist amenity.”

That is missing the point of massive community and regional value greenways have already proven in Waterford next door as well as in Mayo and the midlands.

Greenways allow children to cycle to their friends when the roads close to them are unthinkable for children to be using, and local adults use greenways a huge amount for walking and cycling.

The community and health benefits are undervalued by those not close to them. And the commuting and transport benefits could be a lot greater if the design was right and links are made to schools and work places.

We should follow the example of the Dutch and enable greenways and a wider network of rural routes to help teenagers, commuters and others without access to cars to be able to cycle from rural areas into towns and cities.

It’s disappointing to see this from a Green Party member, but we’d be rightly accused of being more biased if we didn’t point it out.

But, in any case, there’s no “trade-off”. The railway isn’t coming in the next 10 years or more, and, in that time, the area could decline more. A greenway could help stop and reverse the decline, and it could be opened in 2 years. How willing are people to put their bets on a railway which may never come?

I am editor of IrishCycle.com and have reported on and commented on cycling in Ireland for over a decade. My background is in journalism -- I have a BA in Journalism from DCU and HDip in Print Journalism from BCFE. I wrote about cycling for national newspapers, and then started CyclingInDublin.com for overflow stories. Later the website was re-branded to reflect a more national focus.

22 Comments

  1. How many people in the area would commit to use the railway regularly and pay the amount which would need to be charged to even cover the cost,much less make a profit. There is no sense whatever having a subsidised service if it is not well used and if it can be done much cheaper by a bus. Judging from the passenger numbers on a recently reopened section of rail in the west there is a strong chance a greater number of cyclists would use it.

  2. Does it have to be one or the other?

  3. kevin sweeney May 20, 2018 at 2:58 am

    I don’t often find myself disagreeing with you, but on this occasion I do. I am a rural bicycle commuter, a frequent bicycle tourer and a regular rail user. I live 29 km from the station at Edgeworthstown an easy ride on my electric bicycle.

    As a cyclist I loved the Athlone to Mullingar Greenway and lamented the lack of such a facility for my regular commutes to Cavan Town. But as a rail user who has many reasons to visit Galway, I could not help but mourn the destruction of the rail link. Edgeworthstown to Galway is via Dublin. My only alternative is an infrequent and slow bus service or cycling (which I have done a few times).

    In the specific case of Youghal you are right, just reopening the line to Youghal will not spark a railway revolution. You are also right that those who promote greenways solely as tourist projects are missing the bigger picture of what greenways can do. My difference with you arises in that I think you maybe missing the bigger picture about railways. Our rail network is in great order but compared to our European neighbours it is a sketch of a network, yet our neighbours are all adding to their networks. They are moving more people and more freight on their upgraded and expanded networks. We move very little freight by rail and consequently we have a vast fleet of HGVs pounding our roads to bits.

    Like bicycles, railways are a sustainable mode of transport. The right answer is not greenways or railways but both. The real problem with building rural greenways is not local people who want railways but farmers who don’t want new greenways crossing their land, East Galway being the classic case. The ability of small numbers of sociopathic farmers to stop greenway projects is the key political problem that needs to be tackled. I say this as a rural resident who has close relations, friends and neighbours in the farming business.

    Bigx is also right that just reopening Youghal will give a result like the Ennis to Athenry line, a lightly used heavily subsidised line. But this also misses a bigger picture, nothing is more heavily subsidised that road transport. If motorists in and around Youghal had to pay the true cost of their motoring any railway opened would have lots of custom. The power of the road lobby is the real political problem that needs to be addressed by both the cycling and railway lobbies. They should be making common cause and aiming their limited firepower at the mighty road lobby, instead they are squabbling over the crumbs.

  4. One of the comments that adds to my view on this is a transport planner on Twitter who said: “There’s also nothing stopping building a railway with a parallel Greenway if that time came. Best to get building Greenway and deal with fitting rail if and when that needs to happen.”

    And if railways are to be opened, the funding must be pushed for that they are highly segregated. That’s the operating aim of the network and there’s no point re-opening lines on a budget (like the WRC which is subject to issues like speed restrictions and flooding for at up to and over 1/4 of the year.

    With this route and Athlone to Mullingar one there is zero chance that the railways will open in the short to medium term. That’s central to my view on this — it’s not like the greenway is replacing a live railway.

    Indeed, the current view among much of the establishments far from opening closed lines — it’s a view of closing lightly used lines. There’s a lot of people in pockets of power who think half the national railway network be shout and just have buses running on motorways as a replacement.

    I agree with you on freight and Ballina shows a glimpsed what can happen.

  5. Cycling Without Age, http://www.cyclingwithoutage.ie, would very much welcome the development of a Greenway in this area. We currently have two trishaw bikes in Cork and one in Waterford, with a second coming soon, who could then access the Greenway. Cycling Without Age takes residents of nursing and care homes out for free, slow-cycling spins piloted by volunteers. How magical if this route could be developed for their benefit. Elders just want to have fun…too!

  6. kevin sweeney May 20, 2018 at 11:50 am

    You are right there is zero chance of any new rail lines being opened, just as there is zero chance that 20% of the transport budget will be allocated to active travel. And those of us who advocate for both will remain impotent voices in the wilderness. The only hope for either is the shock that will be delivered in 2020 when we have to start buying carbon credits. For the moment the road lobby will continue to dominate.

  7. I agree with Kevin. I’m not comfortable with completely abandoning our potential for railway expansion in order to build greenways, and it’s crucial that the greenway is planned in such a way that a railway can still be opened alongside it in the future. Much like the greenways in the country, our railways can’t really be described as a proper network, but rather a collection of radial lines running out of Dublin. Freight coming to or from Rosslare has to go through Dublin to get anywhere in the country, even though Iarnród Éireann maintains a line between Wexford and Waterford which could give easier access to the South West. This is why I’m not comfortable with the proposals to dismantle this line to build the Rosslare to Waterford greenway. Similar for the Galway to Sligo line via Claremorris, which would connect Galway to Sligo and Westport without needing to go via Dublin or Athlone respectively. The complete absence of railways in the North West is also just tragic.

    I really don’t believe that these greenways need to be an either/or question.

  8. kevin sweeney May 20, 2018 at 1:45 pm

    The complete absence of railways in the North West is a tragedy. It’s 175 km from Edgesworthtown to Derry and not a single km of track. There is no where else in western Europe so completely devoid of railways. There are also just a few fragments of greenways in this vast territory.

  9. I cycled around Youghal a bit, and a greenway is something that really needed. Unless a person is going about there at some early hour, it’s a bit like a commute cycle with fairly heavy traffic at times. The railway brought tourists to the beach, but the beach and its surrounds aren’t that enticing now. A successful greenway could be a great starting point for improving Youghal, and even some sort of light/minature railway, alongside (like on part of the Copper Coast greenway) could be supported by that sort of tourist revival.

  10. Cian, you make a fair point about Greenways connecting rural communities as well as serving as a tourist amenity. They bring many cultural and economic benefits, and the Green Party has always championed them. However, only a short-sighted business model of public services would decree Youghal unworthy of a rail line. Commute times on the N25 are getting longer and longer all the time, and are a serious quality of life issue for many people. This is only going to worsen as our population grows. It is worth considering how much of our working day will be spent stewing in traffic in the years ahead.

    The East Cork Greens believe it is worth investing in a quality public transport system so that the region can grow in a well-planned way. A train service from Youghal should link up with a light rail system in Cork city as part of an integrated transport network. This would ease congestion on our roads, allowing students, workers and the elderly to travel as efficiently as our neighbours in other developed European economies. Buses are not going to provide for the transport needs of East Corkonians in the long-term and in fact are not doing so at present.

    Public services do not necessarily have to make profit and can in some instances be justified running at a financial loss because they provide greater overall benefits to society. This is true of education, health and other services. Also, if the government re-installed train lines in areas like Youghal populations would grow around them, commerce would happen more smoothly and the line would become less costly to run. Rail travel also facilitates cycling in that many people combine both for long journeys.

    The East Cork Greens do not think we should be defeatist about returning an essential public service to Youghal and its surrounding areas. The fact that politicians to date have failed to do so is not an argument to give up now. If we concrete over the tracks that are going to be much more in need in the years to come we will be cutting Youghal off from a key infrastructural link with Cork city indefinitely. We would stand no realistic chance of reconverting the line, and trying to reroute it would be a grossly expensive and complicated endeavour. Also, if we do not radically upgrade our public transport system in general in this country we face huge carbon emission fines from the EU in the years ahead – already several hundred million € by 2020 alone.

    The Green Party fully supports a Greenway for East Cork, and recognises the much needed boost to the local community and economy it would bring, as has happened in neighbouring Dungarvan. However, we do not believe an essential public service should be sacrificed in bringing it about. We advocate a broad picture approach to the development of Cork county and believe that it is worth fighting for both a railway and a Greenway which runs from Youghal to Midleton. There was a great deal of support at our recent public meeting in Youghal for this ambitious approach.

  11. Philip O'Connor May 20, 2018 at 10:21 pm

    The Greens are right. It’s not one or the other. And trains are a cyclists best friends.

    One of the things the nay-sayers say against reopening the line is that no-one would commute to the city using the train because what would you do when you land at Kent Station without a car. How would you ever go to work? How about taking your bike with you on the train?

    Commuting by train and bike is a brilliant way to go. Greenways are great but cyclists should be pushing for more for cycle friendly services like commuter trains too.

  12. @Philip O’Connor
    Trains can work when moving large numbers of people between urban centers, and certainly a commuter line from Youghal could be feasible in the long run, but it would require sufficient numbers of regular users to be viable. The Gorey-Dublin and Dundalk-Dublin lines work as long distance commuter lines as there is sufficient demand. However, only 8000 people live in Youghal. There would have to be significant growth to make a railway viable and why build there when there is loads of space much closer to Cork?
    We need to understand that railways need concentrations of people and that means integrated planning to best take advantage of transport resources. As long as the preferred settlement pattern in rural Ireland is for widely dispersed one-off houses, larger settlements will continue to stagnate and inappropriate transport projects like the Western Rail corridor will fail.

  13. I do think reopening the Youghal line is a pipe dream and it’s a shame that a greenway would be held up based on that. However there is no reason that the greenway can’t be put in place so that if the rail line is reopened the greenway will run alongside it. I very much doubt we are talking about a frequency of more than one train an hour so that should work fine for the cyclists. The presence of the greenway would also serve to preserve the rail route. We know from other locations that local landowners just appropriate rail routes when it suits them, and then turn around and complain when their ill gotten land is being taken back.

    There is a very active group of people who are anti-rail. Motorists not cyclists. We spent billions upgrading the road network and now people say we should eliminate trains, even the Dublin to Cork or Dublin to Belfast lines and spend that money on the motorways instead. Everyone getting a train today should just get a bus instead. Since we spent so much on motorways and so little on rail we do have a situation where it is just as fast to drive both of those routes as it is to take the train. If we had spend an equivalent amount on rail as we did on roads we’d have more multi-line track and better quality track allowing for express trains that would half the travel time on those routes.

    People that say ‘what do you do when you arrive in Kent station in Cork’ are coming from the mind set of a motorist. Anyone who isn’t emotionally invested in their car can see that you walk to your workplace, or take a Coke Zero bike, or a bus, or use their folding bike, or even get a taxi or take a go car. You can tell these arguments are ideologically driven because when faced with an equivalent question about what you do when you get to the ring road and traffic is jammed up and when you get to your work there is no parking they don’t assume that driving doesn’t work, they demand more parking and more road space and less priority for pedestrians and cyclists and they claim that if they don’t get it the city will be destroyed.

  14. I’m sorry, are the Green party really saying “don’t build a greenway in case in the future some time some one with huge deep pockets will rebuild a railway and if there is a greenway on the line it will be impossible to rebuild the railway.”

    And yet it will be fine and there will be no issue putting a train line here
    https://www.google.ie/maps/@51.9356913,-8.0162187,3a,75y,75.97h,64.65t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sxsUhEG3n71K8vfJIrbnulA!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

    Let alone a level crossing in Mogeely

  15. Cian, you make a fair point about Greenways connecting rural communities as well as serving as a tourist amenity. They bring many cultural and economic benefits, and the Green Party has always championed them. However, only a short-sighted business model of public services would decree Youghal unworthy of a rail line. Commute times on the N25 are getting longer and longer all the time, and are a serious quality of life issue for many people. This is going to worsen as our population grows. It is worth considering how much of our working day will be spent stewing in traffic in the years ahead.

    The East Cork Greens believe it is worth investing in a quality public transport system so that the region can grow in a well-planned way. A train service from Youghal should link up with a light rail system in Cork city as part of an integrated transport network. This would ease congestion on our roads, allowing students, workers and the elderly to travel as efficiently as our neighbours in other developed European economies. Buses are not going to provide for the transport needs of East Corkonians in the long-term and in fact are not doing so at present.

    Public services do not necessarily have to make a profit and can in some instances be justified running at a financial loss because they provide greater overall benefits to society. This is true of education, health and other services. Also, if the government re-installed train lines in areas like Youghal populations would grow around them, commerce would happen more smoothly and the line would become less costly to run. Rail travel also facilitates cycling in that many people combine both for long journeys.

    The East Cork Greens do not think we should be defeatist about returning an essential public service to Youghal and its surrounding areas. The fact that politicians to date have failed to do so is not an argument to give up now. If we concrete over the tracks that are going to be much more in need in the years to come we will be cutting Youghal off from a key infrastructural link with Cork city indefinitely. We would stand no realistic chance of reconverting the line, and trying to reroute it would be a grossly expensive and complicated endeavour. Also, if we do not radically upgrade our public transport system in general in this country we face huge carbon emission fines from the EU in the years ahead – already several hundred million € by 2020 alone.

    The Green Party fully supports a Greenway for East Cork, and recognises the much needed boost to the local community and economy it would bring, as has happened in neighbouring Dungarvan. However, we do not believe an essential public service should be sacrificed in bringing it about. We advocate a broad picture approach to the development of Cork county and believe that it is worth fighting for both a railway and a Greenway which runs from Youghal to Midleton. There was a great deal of support at our recent public meeting in Youghal for this ambitious approach to the issue.

  16. kevin sweeney May 22, 2018 at 3:08 am

    Aka
    That railways are “viable” and “feasible“ was established in 1825, it’s about choices in resource allocation not viability or feasibility. We continue to pour vast resources into road building, and into dealing with the extensive downstream consequences of our idiotic car culture. Had we put a quarter of the money we wasted on intercity motorways (check them out on Google Earth, out in the sticks, between the cities many of them are lightly trafficked) into our railway network we could by now have a proper network comparable to our European neighbours. The money wasted on the M3 would have built a brand new, double track, 200 km an hour, electric, alignment most of the way to Donegal.

    Neither do railways need concentrations of people, people are very capable of concentrating themselves at railways stations. Where I live in East Cavan there are hordes of people many of whom live in one off rural houses, commuting daily to Dublin. Rush hour around here starts at about 5.30 am, these early bird car commuters are arriving in Dublin at about 7 am and sleeping in their cars until work starts. They can’t avoid the evening rush hour and many do not arrive home until close to 8 pm, or 9 if things go wrong on the M50. If we had built a 200 km per hour line and opened a station near Virginia instead of building the M3, those people would concentrate themselves at that station, rather than get up at 5 am so they could drive to Dublin.

    All of our European neighbours have more extensive rail networks than we have but they are continuing to upgrade and add to their networks. Yet here we are on this island (north and south) with a sketch of a network, having an interminable debate about the viability of railways, 193 years after the world’s first railway opened. Meanwhile as this debate continues, people in East Cavan and other comparable areas will still be getting up at 5 am and embarking on long distance car commutes. Many of them are young working people with children, and this lifestyle exerts a terrible long term toll on their health, their family life and their community life. Yet another hidden cost of our increasingly insane car culture.

  17. @Kevin Sweeney
    I agree with much of what you say about the insane car culture that we have in this country, but the motorways were not an option in 1825, they are now, and that is not going to change.

    Also, the fact is that the car culture that you complain about is exactly what has facilitated the huge increase in one-off housing that has happened in the last 20 years and is the only reason it can even function as a lifestyle choice for people that aren’t farmers and want to live in places like East Cavan. It is not something that can continue indefinitely as the countryside is turning into a big thinly-populated poorly-serviced far-flung suburb of nowhere.

    Heavy rail needs numbers to be viable. Virginia and environs has an population of 4393 people. Cavan town has 7193 people. How could that support a heavy rail line that can probably carry 600-1000 people that would need at least half that to be viable for any one journey? The hinterland of these towns where all the one-off houses are is too thinly spread and there is little loyalty to any urban center to make up the huge additional numbers that would be needed.

  18. kevin sweeney May 22, 2018 at 5:29 pm

    Aka
    But our European neighbours all have more extensive motorway networks than we do but this is not stopping them building new railways.

    It is perfectly possible to live in a one off rural house and commute by bicycle, particularly by electric bicycle. I live 20 km from Cavan Town and make that journey several times a week, for business, for shopping and for leisure. There are four car free, working households in my parish, none of us are farmers, all are electric bicycle commuters. The longest work commute is done by one neighbour, 40 km daily to and from work by electric bicycle. Most people in one off houses drive cars because they want to and because they can, and because they don’t understand the utility of electric bicycles, not because they need too.

    You also seem to assume that only people in Cavan Town and Virginia would use a railway. Co Cavan has a population of 76, 092, Donegal has 158,755, throw in the population of North Meath maybe 80,000 and Fermanagh 61,000. Many of us provincial people travel regularly to Dublin, for work, for study, for medical and official services, for business, for shopping and for leisure. I know these people, they are my neighbours, I hear their tales of commuting woes daily. If they were offered an affordable 50 minute rail journey from Cavan Town to Dublin rest assured they would choose that over a two or sometimes three hour journey by car or bus.

    When you use the word viable, I think you actually mean profitable, but road transport makes no profit for society, in fact it consumes vast amounts of resources in direct and indirect costs. Since the beginning of railways, passenger traffic has always been the least profitable end of the business. All our european neighbours subsidise passenger services, just as we do. The real profit has always been (all the way back to 1825) in freight. Yet Iarnrod Eireann have a bizarre cultural aversion to freight, running only about 15 freight trains a week. A rational railway plan would be based around an expanded network and the building of freight depots that could efficiently handle shipping containers, that would transform the economics of Irish railways and save a fortune on the road maintenance bill.

    This is not about viability this is about choices, neither rail nor road transport are directly profitable to society, they both have to be subsidised. Railways require modest subsidy compared to roads, yet we choose to pour vast resources into road transport and continue to have an interminable debate about the viability of railways. It reminds me of the arguments about why dutch style cycling culture could never happen in Ireland, all these arguments are tendential. We do not have a dutch style cycling culture or a dutch style railway network because we choose to pour the vast majority of our transport budget into road transport.

  19. Mike McKillen May 22, 2018 at 6:56 pm

    Kevin Sweeney hits the button: “We do not have a dutch style cycling culture or a dutch style railway network because we choose to pour the vast majority of our transport budget into road transport”.
    That’s why in Cyclist.ie we call for a rebalancing of capital budget for new roads (or additional vehicle lanes) away towards segregated cycling infrastructure. A higher proportion of the roads budget needs to go into properly maintaining what we have.

  20. @Kevin Sweeney
    I don’t mean profitable, I mean viable. And yes, if we had had an enlightened transport policy in the 90’s and 00’s and if standard roads had been built instead of motorways and if a 200kmh train service to Donegal had been built instead and if we had not encouraged non-dispersed settlement patterns and as a result had significant population centers to support such a service, then yes, it would be marvelous for the North West.

    Don’t get me wrong here, I am absolutely in favour of rail transport where it is suitable and like many I curse the short-sightedness of our transport mandarin forbears that dismantled the tramways and closed everything but a skeleton rail service often giving the land away to local farmers that regularly now refuse to sell it back. The fact remains that building a new heavy rail line would have required proper advance integrated planning along its route and the overruling of the many voices that were demanding motorways (and one-off houses) back in the day, (in short the type of political backbone that has always been in desperately short supply in this country) and we have failed miserably to provide any of that. Bemoaning that fact 20 years later is not going to change the reality of the situation. We now have a huge wasteful expensive motorway and we are not going to shift enough people off it and onto a train in order to make it viable. Look at the shambles that is the Western Rail Corridor.

    What we must do now for public transport outside major urban centers is to work to improve and retain what we still have so that it fulfills it’s potential in the current circumstances. If that means a greenway where a railway line is unlikely to be reopened any time soon, then so be it. By all means, lets retain the option of turning it back into a railway line at a future date which might require us to CPO a few meters width of additional farmland alongside the route if necessary, but if we actually reopen the railway, let’s make certain it will be used and that it is the central pillar of a cohesive transport plan for the area.

  21. kevin sweeney May 23, 2018 at 2:07 pm

    Aka
    I don’t think there is too much difference in our thinking, we are quibbling over details. But unfortunately our discussion is purely academic. There is zero chance that any of the things people like us want are going to happen in the foreseeable future. The road lobby will continue to hold the prime position in the corridors of power, as Beckett said try again, fail again, fail better. I’m pinning my hope on 2020 when we have too start paying the costs of our failure to reduce carbon emissions. In the aftermath of that there maybe a chance for some new ideas to take centre stage.

  22. Fair enough. There have been some positive signs coming from certain quarters in Dublin, Waterford and even Kerry Councils, and there is no doubt that a public consensus has been building for some time. Here’s hoping fines will help to force the hand of the political classes.

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