Dan Boyle: Circuit Training


From top: Tobercurry Train Station, County Sligo in the 1950s and the site as it is today; Dan Boyle

I should have taken a picture but I was driving on a busy road, and there was no place to pull in.

Having just driven past Tobercurry, I caught a glimpse of a disused rail line. It was part of the Western Rail corridor that had once connected Sligo with Galway.

It was only a glimpse but the rail and sleepers didn’t seem to be in too bad a nick. It was very overgrown. In the picture were two ponies claiming grazing rights from the mechanised horse that had superseded their ancestors as the main means of transport.

Once I had gotten out of my own mechanised pony, I went to find out what had happened to Tobercurry and its status as a railway town.

I travel frequently in North West regularly passing through Tobercurry. I would be familiar with the short bypass road that ensures that the passing through is as limited as possible

I was saddened to learn that the construction of this road brought about the demolition of the train station and its ancillary buildings.

While learning this information I also came across a press release from 2003 calling for the re-introduction of the Western Rail corridor. It came from then Fine Gael spokesperson on Transport, Denis Naughten.

Too many ironies for me to handle.

Despite that I don’t see political inconsistency or resultant hypocrisy as being the main problem here. Who I consider most guilty of failing to redevelop Irish railways is Irish Rail.

Of course there is political responsibility in failing to provide a sufficient public transport subvention, or anything like an adequate capital budget.

What angers me about Irish Rail is that it doesn’t even try to be an advocate for an expanded rail service.

Throughout its history it has shamelessly overseen the closure of dozens of rail lines throughout the country, never questioning the Department of Transport’s aping of Britain’s Beeching Report.

The handful of lines that have been restored – Limerick/Galway; Cork/Midleton and the repurposing of the Harcourt Street line, have happened despite and not because of Irish Rail.

Even with low hanging fruit like seeking the reopening of the Navan line, an obvious safety valve for the commuter problems of Dublin, the silence of Irish Rail is sadly all too typical.

This inertia has created a vacuum that unused rail lines will remain perpetually unused. Into this void has come the reinvention of discontinued rail lines as greenways.

As a concept it has inherent logic. In practice, when produced, they are increasingly becoming important pieces of social infrastructure.

In Cork the former Cork Passage railway has been magnificently reimagined. The Great Western Greenway in Mayo was encouraged and supported while the Greens were in government. The Waterford/Dungarvan greenway has taken the spec to a new level.

The problem is that this type of planning must eventually reach saturation point, bringing about diminishing returns.

What’s worse is that it brings about lazy thinking that greenways should always be disused rail lines, and that all such unused lines should become greenways.

Along with others I’ve made a submission that a proposed greenway from Youghal to Midleton should not replace the existing rail line. Cork County Council laughably suggests that a greenway ‘futureproofs’ a railway there.

I’m not confident that this mindset can be challenged. If it can, or when it does, we then might have an Irish Rail that seeks to expand its network, and not the moribund vehicle of today whose summit of ambition is to decommissions much of the network it has for the sake of an easy life.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

Pics: SligoGreenaway

38 thoughts on “Dan Boyle: Circuit Training

  1. Tom

    They reopened the western rail corridor after huge pressure and nobody bar pensioners used it. The actual cost per paying passenger is astronomical.

    1. Rob_G

      Something like hundreds of euro per passenger, per journey, if I recall correctly.

      Outside of Dublin – Belfast, Dublin – Cork, and some commuter rail for the greater Dublin region, Ireland just does not have the distances nor the population densities for a rail network.

      1. Fact Checker

        Ireland has lots of rail – the problem is that it is in all the wrong places.

        New track and capacity in and around Dublin (maybe Cork) gives you a payoff easily a dozen times better than connecting two small towns in rural Ireland.

      2. Joe

        We had an extensive rail and tram network in this country in the past with a smaller population. bad planning let to their demise and we’re screwed now cause of some imbilisic decision to get rid of them.

      3. Pip

        Precisely, Rob.
        Railways were great when roads were poor and vehicle ownership, both private and commercial, was low. They transformed these islands.
        They were, and still are, great in areas of high population density.

    2. Caoimhín

      The Ennis to Athenry line was reopened in the middle of an economic recession and so hasn’t yet had time to prove itself. I use that line regularly to go from Ennis to Galway. We are going to have large population growth in the coming decades so it makes sense to have good rail links between urban centres. Indeed, passenger numbers are growing: http://www.clare.fm/news/growth-use-ennis-athenry-rail-line/


      1. Fact Checker

        It’s about 360 people per day between Ennis and Athenry.

        That’s about as many people on two DART carriages.

        Or about a third as many passengers per day as the lowest-used DART station.

        1. Rob_G

          Jesus – on four trains trains a day in each direction??

          That must cost a fortune; it would be cheaper to provide a free door-to-door limo service.

          1. Fact Checker

            I’ve long been in favour of dial-a-bus services for people in isolated locations and plenty of time on their hands.

            You get quite a good social return the same level of expenditure.

    3. BobbyJ

      But Irish Rail did get to close the Waterford – Rosslare line for doing so, that was the deal they cut.

  2. Joe Small

    I’m fond of getting the train but the Western Rail Corridor is a terrible idea. The Galway-Limerick rail line is a running joke, slower than any direct bus or car and many times more expensive. Its usually mostly empty with the only passengers being pensioners with free travel passes. That’s if its running at all – the stage between Ennis and Limerick is often closed for weeks each year due to flooding on the line.
    Similarly, the Birdhill-Portalington line is used by very few and is grossly uneconomical.
    That’s two more lines Irish Rail can close tomorrow. We just don’t have the population concentrations for a proper nationwide train network – this isn’t the Netherlands.

    1. Fact Checker

      Why are environmentalists obsessed with shunting largely empty carriages of air through the countryside at slow speeds?

      Meanwhile, right now, thousands of Dublin commuters every day cannot even BOARD their train, bus or tram at peak times due to lack of capacity. The city has chronically slow and unreliable public transport for a city of its size and income. Dublin needs a metro and a better bus service, and needs it yesterday!

      I would have expected better from a politician from an urban area.

      1. Worlds Biggest Ranter

        That’s the problem with railways in Ireland, they’re largely political footballs rather than a long term cohesive plan. In turn, because stupid locally yokally projects getting the nod, the railways get contaminated with waste of money fever. Proper railways where they’re needed are essential parts of modern day living.

      2. Nigel

        Why aren’t these slow unreliable and badly timetabled services used more I can’t imagine the only answer possible is to get rid of them altogether.

        1. Rob_G

          Short of forcibly relocating a large proportion of the population to live in this part of the west* à la Cromwell, there will likely never be the population densities for rail.

          *In fact I do think that that unemployed people should be incentivised to move out of Dublin to the west of Ireland, but that is another thread in itself.

  3. Murtles

    As nice as it would be to open the line again north of Galway to take in old stations like Claremorris, Charlestown and Tubbercurry, it’d be folly as it would be as stated above a pensioners railway. However what’s maddening, even todays news talking about childhood obesity, there is no political will to fund Greenways along old rail lines as is being done across Europe. Cycle paths and walk ways to benefit health, tourism and enterprise is a win win all around but it just needs someone to get the finger out and cut through the bureaucracy.

      1. TheQ47

        And a big push going on at present for the development of a Sligo Greenway using this old line. There’s no economic viability in opening up a railway between Tubbercurry * and Charlestown. or onwards to Galway or Limerick.

        * I’ll always spell it this way, despite what the signs say – Tobercurry my ar$e

  4. Fact Checker

    “it just needs someone to get the finger out and cut through the bureaucracy.”

    It’s not that simple. For the North Kerry Greenway project the county council had to negotiate with a separate landowner every few hundred metres. Please attempt this in a hurry without ending up in the High Court!

  5. Otis Blue

    All fair points Dan.

    We’ve a lamentably bad record in transport and infrastructure planning and development. It’s always beholden to political whims and short term gombeen interests such as this


    And then there’s this


  6. Worlds Biggest Ranter

    In 1972 Dublin Airport T1 was designed and built to accommodate a railway line (its a down stairs section, often used when other parts of the airport are being renovated etc, usually hidden by a hoarding & two doors in the right hand corner: http://www.pjhegarty.ie/our-projects/fit-out/check-in-area-14,-terminal-1,-dublin-airport.html) yet here we are 46 years later and there’s still no line built. That kinda tells us all we need to know about joined up thinking in Ireland. It was actually designed and constructed with an underground connection to Dublin City Centre in mind. Like it’s already there! That you can actually see a railway line standing at the front door of the Terminal building makes it all the more questionable.

    As for the Navan line. The most bizarre thing about that is until the 60’s Navan actually had not one but two railway lines! One of them is still there in its entirety and runs two daily trains from Navan to Drogheda for Tara Mines. There’s a station building still in the Town. A motorway was built linking Navan & Dublin 10 years ago and just about everybody in the know advocated building it simultaneously with a rail link to Dunboyne, a line which is in place a directly at the end of the same said motorway! If ever there was time to do it!

    1. Fact Checker

      Dublin Airport will be (hopefully) served by Metrolink when it gets built in the 2020s.

      This will carry far more passengers to and from the airport than a heavy rail link station would, particularly a heavy rail spur to and from Clongriffin.

  7. Liam

    WRC was built on the cheap in the 19th century, it would cost a fortune to reopen and it would provide a slow circuitous service to a series of small villages. Just because it once existed does not mean it’s a good idea to reopen it. The most commercially viable section of it (Limerick-Galway) has been reopened, it’s slower than getting a bus and is the most heavily subsidised line in the country.

    As for the Youghal line – if you reopened the line, it would encourage the development of Youghal as a long-distance commuter town for Cork which I don’t think is a sustainable idea given how far it is from the city and how much undeveloped land there is much closer to Cork. Look at places like Arklow & Gorey – loads of houses built for commuters during the tiger era, because of the train service. The commuters all drive though and the N11 is a carpark as a result. Long distance commuting is a bad idea and transport investment should not encourage it. The money would be better spent on a light rail system for Cork.

    1. Hansel

      There’s really no density on the Youghal line. The idea that we can support subvention of rail through Castlemartyr (1,000 people at 8km) Killeagh (1,000 people at 10km) and Youghal (10,000 people at 20km) is bad public policy.

      In terms of the greenway keeping rights of way on that line, there’s buildings already on the line at Ballyquirk and a private driveway over the line in Youghal, which have happened since 1989. Keeping the rights of way of the line has not been done. There is an opportunity to open the line for public use and maintain the alignment, but you want to keep it in disuse indefinitely.

      In short: you’re “letting the perfect prevent the good”
      I love getting the train, I love commuting by train, but focus first on bringing the Passage railway back into use as a shared pedestrian/rail/public transport corridor, then you have the precedent for the Midleton line. Don’t prevent some current progress in pursuit of a far away dream.

      1. Dan Boyle

        Without infrastructure the capacity of Youghal to grow would diminish. I don’t think there is a case for opening the intermediate stations, but there is a case for opening the line. Once the line is tarmacked over it is gone. Forever.

        1. Hansel

          Dan, thanks for the reply.

          The line’s actually already gone, that’s what I’m saying.
          There’s buildings on it. They already need CPO’s from private landowners just to open it as a greenway, check the documentation. That’s why IE likes the greenway, they can’t / won’t police it otherwise and they keep ownership of the route.

          If you could spare the time, please could you check out the Cork Cycle Network Plan of Jan 2017 – there’s an eurovelo route IU-1 marked alongside the railway down as far as Youghal. They plan to CPO land to do both railway and greenway side-by-side. If it’s not viable East of Midleton, it won’t be viable West of Midleton. Your thoughts on same would be greatly appreciated. Either this approach is viable and you’re in favour of the greenway or this approach is not viable and all plans for development in the East Cork area need to be revised accordingly.

          Thanks again for replying.

          1. Fact Checker

            Half the catchment of Youghal’s revived train station would be water, and the other half would be a golf course.

            I exaggerate slightly, sorry.

            But half of the town’s population (of only 8,000) is a kilometre or more from the station!

            I am not at all sure why the populace would swap either the car or a 50-minute bus ride to Cork for a train that leaves from a much less convenient location.

            The Greenway has the potential to bring tourism to the area – far more employment at much lower cost than a railway.

  8. Dan Boyle

    There is plenty of scope for Youghal to grow, and why shouldn’t that growth also be on the Waterford side as well. A least you seem to be admitting that once a Greenway the railway is gone.

    1. Hansel

      Not sure who you’re replying to here, but I don’t agree that once a greenway arrives a railway is gone forever.
      With proper political will, we can have more than just (road) and (cycle or trains).

      But even if I did agree that, bloody hell a greenway making use of the line now is surely better than a railway not making use of the line for 20-30 years, and encroachment and squatting happening all over it? Again, with my “perfect preventing good” quip.

  9. Dan Boyle

    Once the tarmac is laid it will never be unlaid. If you don’t believe is justified now, you won’t believe one can be created in the future.

    1. Hansel

      “If you don’t believe is justified now, you won’t believe one can be created in the future.” Are you arguing for immediate rail extension to Youghal? An >€100m CapEx and a large ongoing operational deficit afterwards? Any company (and government) has to consider opportunity cost and there are MUCH lower hanging fruit for IE than Youghal. I can think of many in Cork alone (Blarney, Kilbarry, Dunkettle/Tivoli P&R, Horgans Quay, etc). Rail to Youghal can happen, but it’s not going to happen in the next 20-30 years. If IE pursued it now it would have poor business justification compared with other projects and would be reckless abuse of taxpayers money.

      You’re also giving absolute predictions of what “won’t [ever] happen” due to other people’s shortcomings. If this is the best you’ve got, just give up now: stop criticizing Irish Rail and others (me?) for having a negative attitude. Things change, people change, populations change, financial circumstances change.
      20 years ago many people thought the Midleton line would never reopen.
      10 years ago a lot of people thought the Midleton line would be a loss maker for ever and that Midleton as a town was going nowhere.

      Ironically, preventing a greenway in the interim may hinder business justification further by depriving Youghal of an amenity and growth.

      To the man with a hammer, sometimes everything looks like a nail.

      1. Dan Boyle

        What Youghal is being told is increase your population and then we’ll think about railway. In the meantime as the population increases endure a couple of decades of traffic gridlock and then we’ll think about a railway. That sounds pretty defeatist to me.

        1. Hansel

          Sorry Dan I never saw your reply.

          I agree with your synopsis, it’s a very defeatist outlook. But if you had an urban expansion area in Water Rock and an in Mogeely/Castlemartyr or Killeagh then the whole complexion changes.

          There better bang-for-buck projects for rail. Even in the Cork area. Focusing on the Youghal long-shot is to the detriment of those others. What would help Youghal immediately would be finishing the Castlemartyr road works by proceeding overnight and at weekends. Bringing any industry to Youghal would be beneficial, including tourism and including cycle tourism. People in Kilmacthomas are absolutely delighted with their windfall. It’s very easy to persuade people not to do anything with the Youghal line and bemoan others (Iarnród Éireann) for not delivering a utopia. And people in Youghal have not been overly proactive in promoting their town (look what the Allens and Co did to bring people to Shanagarry of all places, by comparison).

          Meanwhile what about bringing the Blackrock line back into use as a public transport route and create the precedent that protects the Youghal line? Two birds with one stone. Except that’s not an easy political battle. An easier political battle is to go for a no-hope or long-shot momentum-staller, like Buttimer’s M28.

  10. Clampers Outside!

    A mate visited us in Waterford. I’ve two bikes so we hopped on the Greenway for a short cycle, a casual “7 or 8 km to Kilmeaden” I said.
    We turned back just after Kilmacthomas, so about 53km done in total. A lot for a “casual” cycle.
    It’s a super amenity to have with the Waterford starting point practically in the city :)

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