Cork’s €1bn light rail system will not start until 2031 at earliest

Artist’s impression of a light rail system in Blackrock, Cork.

Work on a €1bn light rail system for Cork will not start until 2031 at the earliest with the focus in the interim on improved roads and increased bus lanes.

The Cork Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy 2040 launched tomorrow is also designed to facilitate new employment and housing projects in areas such as the City Docks and Tivoli.

The €3.5bn plan, which was developed by the National Transport Authority (NTA) in conjunction with Cork City Council, Cork County Council, and Transport Infrastructure Ireland.

The strategy recommends new commuter rail stations at Blarney/Stoneview, Monard, and Blackpool/Kilbarry on the Mallow line and at Tivoli, Dunkettle, Ballynoe, Carrigtwohill West, and Water Rock on the Cobh/Midleton line, as well as an upgrade to stations in Cork, Cobh and Mallow.

It also proposes the electrification of the suburban rail network in Cork and adding 10km of dual track between Cobh Junction and Midleton as part of a €274m investment in rail services.

Approximately 100km of new bus lanes will be added to the existing 14km of bus lanes under the NTA’s €545m Bus Connects plan for Cork.

The biggest single element of the strategy is a €1bn development of a 17km light rail system connecting Ballincollig and Mahon Point via St Patrick’s St and Kent Station with 25 stops along the route.

It is expected trams could carry up to 46m passengers per year when fully operational with journey times of 27 minutes from Ballincollig to the city centre.

However, construction of the light rail system is not likely to start until 2031 at the earliest.

Despite the emphasis on improving public transport, almost €1.4bn will still be spent on major road projects including the Dunkettle interchange upgrade, the M28 motorway to Ringaskiddy, the Cork North Ring Road and upgrade of the South Ring Road.

The NTA said the strategy was required as Cork is envisaged as becoming the fastest growing city-region in Ireland with a projected 50%-60% increase in its population by 2040.

“This demand needs to be managed and planned for carefully,” the NTA said.

It said the strategy would provide a coherent transport planning policy framework and implementation plan with which other agencies involved in planning, environmental protection, housing and water could align their investment priorities.

The plan is designed to facilitate the progress of new housing developments on greenfield sites on public transport corridors and to allow the intensification of developments in the city centre area and a new science and innovation park to the west of the city.

According to the NTA, there are 820,000 daily trips on average each weekday within the Cork Metropolitan Area which will increase to 1.3m by 2040.

Public transport currently only accounts for 5% of all journeys in the CMA and just 7% of work-related trips.

Cars dominate transport in the region, accounting for 74% of all journeys, while walking has a 20% share with just 1% of journeys made by bike.

More than 200km of new and upgraded footpaths are planned, as well as 140km of greenways.

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