As both a cycling and rail nerd, debates on railways vs greenways do my head in

— Beware of arguments which pit railways against walking and cycling routes.

COMMENT & ANALYSIS: Pitting railways and greenways against each other should be a red flag to anybody interested in sustainable transport. But sadly there’s a seductive narrative that has been built up against greenways as if they are blocking railways, which is simply untrue.

Let’s rewind a bit… For years I was a moderator on the Commuting and Transport section on Boards.ie, a message board that has hosted the longest-running open debate between those who want a greenway and those who want a railway on the disused sections of the Western Railway Corridor.

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The divisions between both camps make controversial urban cycle route debates look like a walk in the park. Like with many other issues, as moderator, I was accused by both sides at some point of favouring one side or the other. To be honest, I agreed with some points on both sides.

Due to life events in the last few years, I’ve now drifted away from Boards.ie and only take a glance every now and again. But I can now see the same tired old arguments on Twitter, in the media and also even at a Parliamentary committee. In at least one case from somebody who was on the railway side of the argument on Boards.ie.

Just to be clear here: Arguments on both sides were toxic and the people making them are still entrenched. That’s why arguments from both sides should be taken with a bucket of salt, both sides contain extremes which you could call anti-greenway and anti-railway. Both sucking in people in the middle.

And there’s no doubt that some people were just using the greenway idea against having the railway reopened. Just as there were too many people who are of the mind of having a Western Railway Corridor at any cost even if that cost was quality. The existing low-cost railway reopening between Limerick and Galway is a disaster which is slow. It was also left prone to flooding for months of the year before that issue was eventually fixed, but it’s still too slow.

Both sides engaged in bitter warfare of words despite there being a third option: Building both a railway and greenway alongside it.

There are plenty of such walking and cycling routes in many countries where the path runs parrell to the railway. This idea nearly enraged some of the pro-railway people — maybe out of bitter batting or maybe because their arguments were fairly poor, like there’s no potential for cycling tourism along the route because it’s not as nice as a costal greenway.

The disused section of the Western Railway Corridor is generally one of the widest disused railway alignments that I’ve looked at. There’s generally ample space for a newly laid railway, a large buffer and a greenway.

I’m writing this on an intercity train, I love trains. I’m both a cycling and rail infrastructure nerd, so, debates on railways vs greenways do my head in.

And that brings us to this tweet by consultant Richard Logue — the raising of the tracks on the railway route to Youghal is an emotive image but mentioning how the tracks are being lifted is nothing short of the same old stuff from the Western Railway Corridor debates on Boards.ie.

If a railway service was being put in to Youghal, the tracks would have to be taken up and renewed anyways. Richard knows this, and he knows most of the people viewing his tweet won’t.

The railway corridor to Youghal doesn’t seem to be as wide as the Western Railway Corridor but a small amount of the fields along the route could be CPOed. There isn’t a huge amount of obstructions and the greenway can divert.

The greenway which is being put in place won’t stop the building of a modern railway to Youghal when the time comes.

I’m not sure who this fake war between greenways and railways benefits. But once people get into a bunker mentality, it’s hard to see a way out.

As a railway nerd who thinks more along the lines of capacity, frequency, and transport orientated development, I strongly agree railways in Ireland need a huge investment in upgrading existing lines as well as building new ones. But the last thing it needs is another Western Railway Corridor done on the cheap where the bus and car are far quicker options.

Hopefully the railway plan which has just finished consultation will be a path to progress. One thing I agree with Logue on is that for such a plan to be successful, it needs political vision and leadership. Leaving it up to even the best transport planners alone is a recipe for a weaker plan.

Continuous references to historic railway maps of Ireland (including what were effectively cattle train lines) and seeing greenways as one of the biggest threats is a distraction. A real modern plan will look at new routes as much as old lines — like a Cork-Dublin-Dublin Airport-Belfast line that frees up the Northern Line for high-frequently Dart services or S-Ban-like services on a separate route to Naas and onto Newbridge and Kildare. And I’m saying this as someone who lives in a Mayo town: Serving cities, commuter towns and the routes between city is where railways are key.

Some of the vital things needed across the country such as double tracking the Galway line, extra passing loops, and national rail electrification are boring. Its what nerds talk about. It’s people who say these things cannot be done who set the railway network back. So, why are greenways being attacked and not those blocking progress?

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