Commuter railway ‘could carry four million per year’

AN inquiry into the €139 million commuter railway planned for Cork heard yesterday that it could carry up to four million passengers a year.

The inquiry, which is being chaired by Pat Butler SC, heard that Iarnród Éireann hopes to have the Cork-Midleton line open by the end of July 2008, and in its first year of operation it is likely to carry 1.74 million passengers.

However, Tom Finn, the company’s Transport 21 manager, told the inquiry at Midleton Park Hotel, that passenger numbers would rise to two million per annum by 2010 and four million by 2015.

Mr Finn said the CASP (Cork Area Strategic Plan) had identified corridors for public transport and predicted major job creation in the north and east of Cork, which needed to be addressed.

He added that it was predicted the population of Midleton would increase to 16,700 by 2020, from its current 6,400, while Carrigtwohill’s will jump from 3,400 to 15,000.

Phase one of the rail project, which was under discussion yesterday, will also include reopening stations at Midleton, Carrigtwohill, Dunkettle, Kilbarry and Blarney and the acquisition of 12 diesel railcars. Improved services to and from Mallow are also included in the package.

Phase two, which will probably occur in the middle of the next decade, will involve increasing the number of railcars to 24, the frequency of services and the opening of a new station at Monard, near Blarney, where a 5,000-house town is planned.

Mr Finn said the benefits of the commuter line would also allow for the creation of higher density developments and widen access to more affordable housing in the region.

Oliver Doyle, Iarnród Éireann’s operations development manager, pointed out that initially there would be two trains per hour at peak time between Midleton and Cork and two between Cobh and Mallow. There will be a once-hourly service off-peak between Midleton and Cork.

“When demand increases on the Midleton section the frequency will be increased to four trains per hour. Ultimately the Cobh service will be four trains hourly in each direction,” he said.

He added that the first train from Cobh will leave at 6.30am and the first from Midleton at 6.45am. The last train out of Cork for Midleton will be 11.45pm and to Cobh at 11.59pm.

Mr Doyle said it was eventually envisaged that in years to come the Glounthaune-Midleton section of the line would have a capacity of four trains per hour in either direction.

The Carrigtwohill and Midleton stations will be fitted with footbridges, lifts, ticket vending machines and will have large car parks.

He said there would be three CCTV-monitored level crossings along the line and that the level crossings at Myrtlehill and Woodhill in Tivoli would be eliminated. This has caused concern to local residents who will state their objections at the inquiry tomorrow.

Niall O’Loughlin, an environmental expert with the independent PM Group, said efforts were being made to address potential impacts on wildlife.

He said that badgers would be protected and provided with alternative setts if necessary. He added that there would also be provision of bat roosting sites. In addition there will be replacement of woodland habitat, scrub and grassland where necessary.

Iarnród Éireann hopes to start construction on May 21, 2007 and commence operator training the following year, with the line being completed on July 29, 2008.

Planning permission in this case can only be given by Minister for Transport, Martin Cullen, because railway works are excepted from going before the normal planning authority.

The inquiry has received 35 submissions from the public and these will be heard in the coming days.

The inquiry should continue until November 3.

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