IRISH Rail has said reopening the Youghal to Midleton railway is “not realistic” and is supportive of establishing a greenway along the route.
The rail provider's stance has effectively put an end to any hope of the line being established in the near future.
Local debate on the development of a greenway on the line has centred around the viability of the railway with the Green Party saying a cycle and pedestrian route will kill off any future hope of the rail route being established while Cork County Council is backing plans for a 23km green route linking the two towns which will also connect the villages of Mogeely and Killeagh.
If approved, it will be developed in line with Transport Infrastructure Ireland guidelines that require a width of four metres for a greenway.
Irish Rail's corporate communications manager Barry Kenny told the Evening Echo that the existing infrastructure on the line is outdated and unusable, meaning a full refit would be needed on the line in order for it to be reopened.
“There are no plans to reopen the line. It is not funded as part of the National Development Plan 2018-27. We are currently underfunded for our existing network, and our view is that we should ensure the existing network is fully funded before consideration is given to reopening lines.
"CIÉ Property is facilitating a study by Cork County Council on the establishment of a greenway on this alignment.
"We believe greenways, as well as being an excellent public amenity, can ensure that alignments which have no realistic prospect of reopening in the medium to long term can be protected from encroachment ensuring the alignment is available should a railway line become feasible and funded in the future. It would also remove any costs to Iarnród Éireann on the existing alignment, which tend to be incurred in response to issues (e.g trucks damaging bridges, illegal dumping etc) rather than any specific annual cost.
"Any licence we issue to local authorities for the establishment of greenways provides for the alignment to return to the control of Iarnród Éireann should a railway be proposed in the future," he added.
Local representative and county deputy mayor Mary Linehan Foley is in favour of delivering the greenway rather than letting the route remain closed.
County Mayor Patrick Gerard Murphy said the greenway “will strengthen the attractiveness of East Cork in general as well as Youghal and Midleton in particular”, while County Hall chief executive Tim Lucey said the greenway will form a “fantastic” local recreational amenity and form a key feature in promoting a sense of place and pride for its residents.
The route opened as a railway line in 1860 and was still in operation for passenger services up until the mid-1960s. However, passenger trains were cancelled and it became a freight and goods line until the early '80s when it was completely closed. The line has remained idle since with many parts overgrown despite parts of the track, station buildings, bridges and culverts still remaining.
Public submissions on the Council's planning process for the greenway closed this week.
Green Party representative Liam Quaide has dismissed comments suggesting the railway line would remain permanently idle if not developed as a green route.
“Politicians to date have failed to return a rail service to Youghal. This is not an argument to give up now. The CIE is a state body, instructed by Government and with enough collective political will we can start planning for our future like any other developed European country,” he said.