Lough Atalia is at a complete standstill

Does this sound familiar to your ear? In fact, it is familiar to every Irish listener to AA Roadwatch on RTE’s Morning Ireland. “Gridlock Atalia” is a condition with which traffic-weary residents of Galway city, county, and commuters coming to work in Galway from further afield are afflicted every day. Over 20 years ago, a community group submitted a plan for light rail from Barna to the city, taking in the growing suburbs of Knocknacarra and Westside. Ten years ago, Brendan Holland, a well-known businessman in Galway, picked up the baton, with his plan traversing the city, at an estimated cost of about €200 million for 21km of track, or €9 million per km – compared to more than €31 million per km quoted for Dublin’s Luas light rail system at the time.   According to a draft light rail investment strategy prepared by the Railway Procurement Agency:

Cork, Limerick and Galway should get their own versions of Luas.

The document, released under the Freedom of Information Act, says it is now increasingly recognised that traffic congestion is not a phenomenon unique to Dublin, but an “everyday reality in all of Ireland’s cities and many of its large towns”.  According to its draft strategy:

This may involve the delivery of strategic light rail studies for each of these cities to complement existing and proposed transportation strategies, land use proposals and local area plans drawn up by the relevant local authorities.

The document points out that trams are operating successfully in several small to medium-sized cities in Europe such as Grenoble (population 160,000), Orleans (120,000), St Etienne (185,000), Baden-Baden (55,000), Bonn (310,000) and Utrecht (270,000). The GLUAS working group came into existence to lobby for a light rail system for Galway.

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It aims to be an inclusive forum for change in the Galway area and has invited groups and organisations interested in sustainable transport solutions to join the movement. The group presently includes representatives from the following organisations and always welcomes new members:

  • An Taisce
  • Galway Chamber of Commerce
  • Galway City Business Association
  • Galway City Community Forum
  • Galway Green Party/Comhaontas Glas na Gaillimhe
  • Galway Healthy Cities Project
  • Kenny Group
  • NUIG (representatives from Engineering, Geography and Political Science and Sociology)
  • Student Union (NUIG)
  • Tram Power Ltd.

There are four proposed routes:

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Source:  Gluas Working Group

The original proposal of three lines would require the construction of 64 stations, with park and ride facilities at Knocknacarra and Dangan.  At the time the project was proposed in June 2008, it was suggested that it would be completed within three years. In 2015, backers of the project once again appealed to the Galway City Council to consider funding the project.   

Calls were renewed in 2017 at local, national levels and international levelsGalway City Council produced a study in 2010 which said light rail was too costly, and the population was too low. An outer bypass planned for the city was abandoned many years ago on environmental grounds after a total expenditure of €14 million on planning and legal costs. Galway County Council is leading a “new and improved” bypass plan, which involves demolition of family homes.

When the initial corridors were unveiled in 2015 indicating its proximity to the city, NUI Galway was one of the first to question why other options, used successfully in other cities of Galway’s size and character, such as light rail were not being considered.  Plans for a revised bypass route,  severing into the heart of the city were due to have been submitted directly to An Bord Pleanála in the third quarter of 2017. However, the €650 million project has been delayed for multiple reasons, according to Fianna Fáil Councillor Peter Keane who, along with Fianna Fáil’s Alan Cheevers has held a series of public meetings on Galway’s traffic congestion.  Peter understands that discussions are continuing with the National Parks and Wildlife Service, and the strategic infrastructure application has to be translated into Irish before submission.

Another most critical speed bump in his view relates to the fact that the selected route “corridor” touches a parcel of land which multinational Boston Scientific has acquired at Parkmore on the city’s eastern flank. Proximity to the route renders land “sterile” for development under the city development plan, according to Cllr Keane, a situation also affecting land purchased by the city council for housing which is within or close to the bypass “corridor”.

My colleague in the Oireachtas and well-known Independent TD Galway native Catherine Connolly maintains that up to two-thirds of the city’s public land has been frozen. If the bypass is approved, project completion is 2024 and that is being acutely optimistic. Ten years later, technology has improved, as has the urgency for low-emission transport solutions with Galway being one of five cities earmarked for growth under the State’s National Planning Framework.  

The revived Gluas light rail campaign is not opposed to the bypass, and Cllr Peter Keane, a strong supporter of the bypass, is not opposed to light rail.  However, he believes the State would never pay for two such transport projects. Nevertheless, the Gluas campaign points to European Investment Bank and to Public/Private partnership opportunities. Catherine Connolly has been looking at the success of the French experience of light rail in Le Mans and Angers, cities similar to Galway in character and even went so far as to call for honorary French consul Catherine Gagneaux’s input.

The Gluas campaign has initiated a petition seeking a new feasibility study, and Holland has been heartened by the response since he began seeking signatures in his newsagent shop on Williamsgate Street. The Minister for Transport Shane Ross has “left a door open” for light rail in a Dáil response to a question tabled by Deputy Connolly on the issue, by indicating that a strong business case was required. I am hearing reports, yet to be verified, that a man was spotted in his car in his stationary car on Lough Atalia road, with a camping stove, cooking his dinner.  

I believe radical and profound action is required to keep cars out of the city centre by making public transport a far more viable option. I applaud the proposal to look to European Investment Bank and Public/Private partnership opportunities and I stand by my colleague in the Oireachtas, Catherine Connolly TD and applaud businessman Brendan Holland for not giving up.  

Take your own route, not the one everyone is using or taking.

Deputy Anne Rabbitte, MEP Candidate      

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