Luas-style light rail proposed under ambitious €3.5bn transport plan

The National Transport Authority says it hopes to achieve some quick-wins on the bus and rail network once its ambitious €3.5bn transport strategy for the greater Cork area is adopted.

Luas-style light rail proposed under ambitious €3.5bn transport plan

The National Transport Authority says it hopes to achieve some quick-wins on the bus and rail network once its ambitious €3.5bn transport strategy for the greater Cork area is adopted.

While the Cork Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy (CMATS) includes proposals for a €1bn, 25-stop light rail system linking Ballincollig to Mahon via a new docklands bridge, the most immediate improvements will be linked to the bus, rail, and cycle networks.

  • The main proposals of CMATS include:

    The biggest element of the strategy is the €1bn Luas-style tram system which would run from Ballincollig, via CIT, UCC, CUH, St Patrick’s St, and to Kent Station over a new bridge into the docklands and on to Mahon Point.

    The system could carry 46m passengers per year, with journey times of 27 minutes from Ballincollig to the city centre. Earlier drafts of CMATS focused on delivering a rapid bus transit system along this strategic transport corridor.

    But Government targets for population and development growth in the greater Cork region meant a tram system became viable, with early modelling suggesting it could be as busy as the Luas red line in Dublin.

    NTA chiefs said the 2031 start date can be brought forward if certain density targets along the corridor are reached sooner.

    But the immediate focus of CMATS will be on a €545m investment package in the bus network to deliver a 700% increase in bus lanes from 14km today up to 100km, bus priority measures and new fleet, and the delivery of a high-frequency east-west bus corridor from Ballincollig to Mahon which is likely to form the basis of the indicative light rail route.

    NTA boss Anne Graham said Bus Éireann has seen a 70% increase in passenger numbers on the 220/220X route since the introduction late last year of the high-frequency 24-hour service.

    “We will be delivering a lot more than that,” she said.

    We can look at rail services too, to extend the Leap card to Mallow — that can be done quickly — and to improve frequency on existing services.

    The bus network will be the “workhorse or the glue of the city’s future public transport system”, according to CMATS, with ambitious predicted journey times of 20 minutes from Mahon to Blarney, 20 minutes from Ballincollig to Glanmire, 15 minutes from Dublin Hill to Togher, and Ringaskiddy to Cork Airport in 30 minutes.

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

    CMATS also proposes to develop Kent Station as a new transport hub to facilitate integration between the various transport modes, including the bus, cycling, light rail, and suburban rail networks.

    It is hoped that once the outcome of the public consultation is considered, the final CMATS document will be prepared before the end of the year and presented to both Cork city and county councils for adoption in the various local area plans.

    Currently, public transport accounts for just 5% of journeys in Cork. By comparison, walking has a 20% mode share, while the dominant mode is car, used for 74% of trips. Cycling makes up the remainder of trips, with 1% of all trips made by bike.

    ‘Essential milestone in development of city’

    The €1bn light-rail system for Cork outlined in the €3.5bn transport strategy for the region should be fast-tracked to ensure it is up and running within a decade.

    And the Cork Metropolitan Area Draft Transport Strategy (CMATS) should be put on a statutory footing to ensure its vision is delivered, with calls on the National Transport Authority (NTA) to open an office in the city to keep the plan on the agenda.

    The calls came yesterday as the NTA unveiled the long-awaited CMATS for public consultation. Cork Chamber described the document as an essential milestone for the development of Ireland’s second city region.

    But Chamber CEO Conor Healy said it should be placed on a firm statutory footing to ensure delivery, supported by transparent timelines and clear funding commitments.

    “In recognition of Cork’s positioning within Ireland 2040, we believe the establishment of a permanent NTA office in Cork is required to ensure that implementation does not fall off the agenda,” he said. The timely delivery of CMATS is essential to the future development of Cork as a place to live and work.

    From a business perspective, investment in sustainable and public transport is a top priority alongside more city centre apartment living.

    "With 65,000 jobs targeted across Cork and significant population growth, we cannot continue to have 70% of commuters arriving into the city using private cars, or have trucks directed through our city’s core because of a lack of alternative options.

    “While large scale infrastructure such as light rail and the North Ring Road are part of our vision for Cork, early delivery of ‘Bus Connects’ must be a priority. Cork only has 14km of dedicated bus lanes. From today, we must see immediate action on scaling bus networks throughout Metropolitan Cork to transform how we commute,” Mr Healy said.

    Sinn Féin TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire welcomed the strategy but said he is worried it is not ambitious enough and six weeks isn’t long enough for public consultation.

    “I do not think a single tram line will meet all the potential demand that will be there,” he said. “However, we also need an immediate intervention in terms of bus improvements, serious safe cycling infrastructure, and investment to follow that.”

    FG Cllr Deirdre Forde welcomed the draft plan but she said she was concerned that it had completely ignored the potential of water taxis.

    “We have one of the greatest harbours in the world, and I think it’s a glaring omission not to have included this as part of a holistic approach,” she said.

    Indp Cllr Marcia D’Alton also welcomed the strategy but said she has concerns about current bus services not turning up or dropping passengers off mid-journey.

    “The NTA needs to understand the level of non-delivery of service,” she said.

    SF Cllr Chris O’Leary said it is essential that the NTA consults adequately to ensure that people buy-in to the plans.

    Green Party candidate, Lorna Bogue, said the party has been campaigning for a light rail system in Cork since 2007 and said CMATS’s 2031 start-date is too far away.

    “The Dáil has declared a climate and biodiversity emergency. The UN is saying transformative responses are needed to how our cities and transport infrastructure are run. We should be aiming to have a light rail system in place by 2025,” she said.

    “The timing of the release of this report smells like electioneering too. I think after the event centre sod turning debacle, we should all be more attune to how committed this Government actually is to delivering projects like this for Cork.”

    Sam McCormack, the founder of the Cork Public Transport Campaign, said the CMATS strategy looks promising, but people should remember it’s just a draft.

    “We need to ensure we push our local TDs, councils and government agencies to ensure its delivery,” he said.

    “We need to try and avoid making the same mistakes as Dublin, where their Metro Link project was watered down greatly due to many objections. Cork has a bright future ahead, and with the city’s projected growth, this project will be one of the most important stepping-stones in ensuring our city reaches its full potential.”


    Cork Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy (CMATS) envisages a package of measures, including the completion of the Dunkettle interchange by 2022, the M28 Cork to Ringaskiddy road by 2028, and the North Ring Road by 2035, with a required investment in the order of €1.39bn.

    But in the meantime, CMATS suggests improvements to the N27 Cork Airport to city route, improvements to some 50km of national roads and to 70km of regional roads.

    It proposes the creation of new northern and southern distributor roads, with bus lanes, cycling lanes and footpaths, and the restriction of HGVs in the city centre.

    The southern distributor road will run from the Rochestown area to the Sarsfield Road to help ease congestion on the N40.


    CMATS says Cork, with its relatively compact city centre and reasonably self sufficient metropolitan towns, has significant potential to enhance the pedestrian experience.

    The Cork Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy proposes a €50m investment, including from elements of the BusConnects scheme, to delivery 200km of new and upgraded footpaths and some 140km of greenways.

    It has set an ambitious 63% increase in annual walking trips to reach 90m by 2040. This will deliver a 250% increase in footfall on St Patrick’s St, and has the potential to transfer 24,000 daily car trips to walking.

    It says a key outcome will be to increase the number of short journeys (less than 2-3km); to facilitate walking’s role as part of linked trips, particularly with rail and bus journeys; and to promote a far higher standard of urban design in new developments, and in highway design, in a fashion that consistently prioritises pedestrian movement and safety over that of the private car.

    Suburban Rail and Park and Ride

    A €274m investment will be required to deliver a new suburban rail network to enhance the existing routes between Midleton, Cobh and Mallow, via Kent Station, with new suburban stations proposed at Blarney, Monard, Blackpool, Tivoli, Carrigtwohill West, Water Rock and Ballynoe, and 10km of dual track to Midleton.

    It is predicted to carry 16m passengers by 2040 with proposals for trains every 10-minutes from Mallow, Cobh and Midleton to Kent Station. It is proposed to electrify the network, to improve the Kent, Cobh and Mallow stations, and invest in 22 new trains.

    CMATS says journey times on the Blarney to Kent Station route would be around 12 minutes, and around 25 minutes on the Midleton to Kent Station route. The network will cover 19% of the population.

    Six new park and ride facilities at Ballincollig, Blarney, Dunkettle, Carr’s Hill, Cork Airport, Bandon Road, are proposed to tie-in with proposed new bus, light rail and suburban rail routes.


    The plan proposes to invest €230m in the development of 200km of primary bike lanes, 150km of secondary cycling network, 60km of inter-urban cycling networks and 140km of greenways to help foster a culture of cycling in Cork and hit 20m cycling trips by 2040.

    It has designated a coherent network of east-west and north-south cycle routes across the area which will provide access to all major trip generators, with employment hubs and third level education centres prioritised first, followed by schools.

    Key cycle routes to be improved include segregated routes along waterfront areas, Sallybrook/Glanmire to the city centre via Lower Glanmire Road, Model Farm Road to Glasheen Road, Old Youghal Road, Kinsale Road to the airport, Douglas Road and the Skehard Road. Chetwynd Viaduct forms part of a greenway.

    CMATS proposes the roll-out of a mix of cycle lanes, ‘mixed streets’ in suitable low traffic environments where the cyclist shares the road space with motorists, cycle tracks which are physically segregated from traffic by either a barrier or a level change, and cycle trails or greenways through green areas and parks.

    It is also proposed to extend the city’s bike sharing scheme, with consideration being given to dockless bikes and to develop enhanced ‘end-of-trip’ or supporting facilities, such as bike parking and shower and changing facilities.

    It is hoped the investment will see an additional 56,000 daily trips potentially transferring to cycling, including 13,000 trips made in peak morning period.

    Bus Connects

    CMATS describes the bus network as the workhorse of metropolitan Cork’s public transport system up to 2040, and earmarks €545m to upgrade and improve a network it predicts will carry 85m passengers a year.

    In a city with just 14km of bus lanes, CMATS proposes 100km of new bus lanes and bus priority measures, a fleet of 220 double deck buses, six strategic park and ride sites, 200km of cross-city routes, 50km of orbital routes, and 150km of radial routes.

    It will feature bus priority measures, bus gates, 10 designated radial routes, four orbital routes- two northside, two southside - and a bus corridor from Ballincollig to Mahon and Summerhill to Douglas.

    High-frequency services, which could run every three minutes along certain strategic designated transport corridors, could carry 49,000 passengers at peak morning hours.

    Crucially, the CMATS strategy provides for the bus network to connect with the suburban rail network at Kent train station, and with the Cork Light Rail and the park and ride network, to provide interchange with radial and orbital bus services.

    It is predicted that up to 4,800 passengers will interchange between the cross city, radial and orbital bus routes during peak morning hours.

    Light Rail

    A €1bn light-rail tram system running east-west from Ballincollig, via the city centre, Kent Station, the docklands and on to Mahon is proposed - but not before 2031.

    The strategy says while further feasibility work is required to examine alternatives, the early years of the CMATS strategy will help identify and protect an alignment for the route. A total of 27 trams would run along the 17km route, with 25 stops suggested.

    The indicative route takes in the proposed Cork Science and Innovation Park at Curraheen, CIT, CUH, County Hall, UCC, St Patrick’s St, on to Kent Station before crossing a new docklands gateway bridge into the south docklands to run west to Mahon.

    The tram could get you from Ballincollig to St Patrick’s St in 27 mins, from Ballincollig to Mahon Point in 47 mins, and from Mahon Point to St Patrick’s St in 20 mins.

    CMATS predict the service will carry 46m passengers a year, and 11,400 passengers per direction, per hour at peak two minutes headway, covering some 30% of the region’s population and 60% of the jobs.

    Have your say

    The draft CMATS plan has been published for six weeks of public consultation. Submissions are invited until June 28. Public information events on CMATS will be held between 3pm to 8pm on June 5, at the Imperial Hotel, Cork City; June 6 at the Oriel House Hotel in Ballincollig; June 12, at the Radisson Hotel, Little Island; June 13 at the Carrigaline Court Hotel in Carrigaline, and June 19 at the Blarney Castle Hotel, Blarney.

    Full details of the draft CMATS are available online at and consultation material will also be available to view at Cork City Hall and Cork County Hall. You can make your submissions online, by email or post.

    The online submissions can be made at; email submissions should be sent to; and postal submissions can be sent to Cork Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy, National Transport Authority, Dún Scéine, Harcourt Lane, Dublin 2, D02 WT20.

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