CHILDHOOD wonder is a powerful thing. I’ll always remember times sitting on a train in my formative years watching the train beside me.
When one moved, it took a few seconds to know was it us or them that was moving. Simple stuff, but memorable.
Many of us have fond memories of the train journeys of our youth, watching the countryside go by. It’s no wonder the proposed Midleton to Youghal Greenway on the track route of the old train line is meeting some resistance.
The Midleton-Youghal rail line opened in 1860 and closed to scheduled passenger service in 1963. There was occasional trains after this but that stopped in 1988. There has been campaigns to re-open the route for decades. These have been unsuccessful thus far despite much effort. Even the most hopeful admit that it will be at least a decade before there is any prospect of rail returning. If at all.
The line is currently unused and derelict. The planning process has begun to turn this derelict line into a 23 kilometre Greenway with access points and car parking facilities at Midleton, Mogeely, Killeagh and Youghal. There will also be a 2.5 kilometre boardwalk at Balvergan. There will be scenic views along the route with Youghal Bay providing the finale.
We don’t have to go far to see what a success a greenway can be. The Waterford Greenway has been a roaring success. Greenways attract tourists, many of whom now choose destinations based on activities. Being part of Irelands Ancient East could open up further funding as footfall increases. This boosts local business and is good for everybody because the extra business leads to increased rates for the council to spend in our area.
They’re also a safe place for cyclists, walkers and families to enjoy. I know how nerve racking it can be to have children cycling anywhere near traffic. Increased physical activity leads to better health too. It won’t just benefit Midleton, Mogeely, Killeagh and Youghal. This will be an amenity for everyone. How could anyone oppose such a positive investment in our area?
The main objection seems to be that by installing a greenway, we will end any chance of the rail ever returning. Any reading of the planning documents shows that this is simply not the case. It’s stated repeatedly throughout that while ‘there is currently no current or foreseeable feasibility for rail use’ it remains Cork County Council’s intention to seek rail reinstatement when it becomes feasible.
It’s not just words either. The greenway will be aligned to the fixed rail line. The plans commit to retaining and reusing existing rail infrastructure where possible. It points out that while remaining rail tracks will be removed, they are unsuitable for rail use anyway and would need to be replaced for rail use. The same is true of bridges and culverts, which will only be replaced where there is a safety need. This would have to be done anyway for rail reinstatement.
It is also pointed out that the greenway will maintain the integrity of the rail route, likely making rail reinstatement cheaper and more straightforward if it ever becomes feasible.
What state would a derelict route be in twenty years’ time?
The Green Party in particular have argued that the greenway should be installed on some other unspecified route and the line kept free. They’ve argued that by installing a greenway on the rail line now, people in the distant future may refuse to remove the greenway to facilitate the return of rail, should it ever be a realistic proposition. Put the greenway somewhere else and avoid a row in the future. On the face of it, this seems a reasonable argument. Unless you get into the detail.
One of the reasons the rail route was chosen is because all the land is in the ownership of C.I.E., a semi state organisation. This makes a huge difference to the amount of time needed to set up. The current proposal will see the land remain in C.I.E. ownership and operated by Cork County Council under licence. It is refreshing to see such co-operation between a semi state company and a county council. (This arrangement would make rail reinstatement significantly more straightforward, C.I.E. will still own the route.)
Speed here is important. Funding needs to be secured post planning. There is a national greenway fund available but long delays could put that in jeopardy. Somewhere else could get there before us, a new government with different priorities could be elected or the state’s finances could significantly worsen. Choosing a new route at this stage would mean starting again.
The Council would have to assess multiple routes and achieve consensus on the best route, carry out safety surveys and other works, negotiate with multiple land owners, go through the planning process and then seek funding. It would be a mammoth undertaking, likely costing multiples of the current proposals. I think that it’s very likely that if a decision was taken to choose a different route to the railway, we would end up with no Greenway at all. As well as no train.
When we dig into the detail, the choice we face becomes clear. We are choosing between a Greenway and nothing. I really hope we pick the Greenway. I encourage anyone interested to read the excellent planning documents either on Cork County Council’s website, County Hall or either of East Cork’s Municipal Office’s in Midleton or Youghal, and make a positive submission. The closing date for submissions is October 30. Big projects like this are always difficult to realise. There will be numerous bumps in the road. We need to speak up now to make it happen.
Eric Nolan is the Labour Party’s Local Area Representative for Cork East. He is a father of three living in Midleton.