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Light rail for a medieval model city

Posted: 11 November 2008 | Brendan Holland, Chairman, GLUAS | No comments yet

Galway is an old medieval city out on the west coast of Ireland and Europe. It is a city designated as a Gateway City in the national spatial strategy with a population of 75,000 and a hinter population of 345,100 – which is expected to grow to 488,000 by the year 2020.

Galway has been a University City for the last 150 years, which has contributed to the city development in no short measure, and it is an industrial city with a major tourist industry. Galway is the Capital of the Gaeltach (Irish speaking area) with a bohemian culture and home to the world famous Galway Arts festival. If that’s not enough, every year on 5 August, the biggest horse racing meeting in the world attracts thousands to the city.

Galway is an old medieval city out on the west coast of Ireland and Europe. It is a city designated as a Gateway City in the national spatial strategy with a population of 75,000 and a hinter population of 345,100 – which is expected to grow to 488,000 by the year 2020.Galway has been a University City for the last 150 years, which has contributed to the city development in no short measure, and it is an industrial city with a major tourist industry. Galway is the Capital of the Gaeltach (Irish speaking area) with a bohemian culture and home to the world famous Galway Arts festival. If that's not enough, every year on 5 August, the biggest horse racing meeting in the world attracts thousands to the city.

Galway is an old medieval city out on the west coast of Ireland and Europe. It is a city designated as a Gateway City in the national spatial strategy with a population of 75,000 and a hinter population of 345,100 – which is expected to grow to 488,000 by the year 2020.

Galway has been a University City for the last 150 years, which has contributed to the city development in no short measure, and it is an industrial city with a major tourist industry. Galway is the Capital of the Gaeltach (Irish speaking area) with a bohemian culture and home to the world famous Galway Arts festival. If that’s not enough, every year on 5 August, the biggest horse racing meeting in the world attracts thousands to the city.

Traffic congestion

However, the city is not without its problems, of which traffic congestion is very high on the list. Large residential estates lie in the West of the city with the Industrial estates on the East. There are only two major bridges which cross over the short river Corrib that joins Lough Corrib in the North, and Galway Bay in the south. Private car transport amounts to a large percentage of traffic in Galway and only 4% of the traveling population uses public transport – so it is no wonder that we have traffic problems!

To find a car parking space in the University or at the Hospital, you will need to add an extra 30 minutes onto your journey to successfully find one. It takes an hour on some days for the staff of the Boston Scientific – one of the major city employers with a 3,000 strong work force, just to get out of the car park and on to the main carriageway. This is the image of the city he had when Prof. Padraic O’Donoghue, Dean of Civil Eng. at N.U.I.G. who organised a work shop on Light rail for Galway which was attended by a large cross section of the Galway community.

Is the City too small for light rail?

The common belief in Galway was that the city was too small and it would be too expensive to introduce a light rail system. A committee was set up from the workshop with a remit to prove this belief right or wrong. Members of the committee included the City Centre Business Association, The Chamber of Commerce and staff from the University and the Hospital. Tourists, people from the community, a City Councillor and those with an interest in seeing Galway prosper also attended. In a speech given at the City Airport, the Minister for Transport said he saw Galway as a model city with a light rail system being an integral part of the city.

Prof. Lewis Lesley of TramPower Ltd. (U.K.) agreed to conduct a study of the city to check the suitability for a light rail system. The linear design of the city was a big plus. Prof. Lesley matched the population points in the city and came up with the most viable routes which consists of a network of two lines. The key to making a light rail system work in Galway is the location of strategically placed Park & Ride stations to attract the maximum number of private car commuters driving into Galway, and therefore reducing traffic and pollution.

The East-West Route would benefit from a Park & Ride scheme between the Distributor Road and Merlin Park. The North-South Route would benefit from a Park & Ride facility between Bushy Park and Briar Hill.

GLUAS will be designed to run 17 trams with 64 stops running over 21km of rail with a seven minute frequency. The trams will be low-floor and platforms will be a little higher than existing pavements and footways. This will give level entry to GLUAS trams for passengers in wheelchairs, and especially parents with young children in prams and buggies. Such low platforms can be installed with very little alteration to the existing street structure. In some places, the rails for the GLUAS will be laid in the existing road carriageway, and the space shared with other road vehicles, albeit with traffic management to ensure that GLUAS is not congested. In other places where space permits, GLUAS tracks will be laid separately from the carriageway to permit even faster GLUAS service.

Being electrically powered, GLUAS will have a peak demand of up to 10MW and will require an electrical distribution system, with substations about every 2km apart. These substations will be powered from the National Grid, and local renewable electricity generation. Because GLUAS will be electrically powered it will be quiet and will not emit any polluting gases. This will help to ensure that air quality in Galway is improved and that traffic-related noise pollution is reduced.

An LR55 rail track system is expected to be used, which involves a 20cm deep and 40cm wide excavation of road surface with minimal disruption to road surface and under surface utility services. Using Galway firm Joseph Coyne Quantity Surveyors, Douglas Wallis Architects, and Fitzgerald Grogan Accountants, it was estimated that this would cost €200 million. A power generation initiative using wind and hydro was added as an extra source of additional revenue contribution.

Funding

So how will GLUAS be funded? We accept that with the credit crunch and public finances not being plentiful, it was unlikely that the public purse would be available. Even a part partnership with public and private would take time and we don’t want to wait! The best option would be to borrow €100 million from the European Investment bank. The balance would come from a profitable utilities company which would benefit from tax allowance, VAT refunds and business expansion schemes. The loans from the European Investment Bank would be sustained by the sale of 12,000 tickets per day at an average of €2.50, combined with a contribution from the power generation. We believe that GLUAS will be reliable, clean and on-time service so this number of passenger will be easily obtainable.

In the programme for government there is finance put aside to have a feasibility study for light rail/rapid transport study in Galway, Cork, Limerick & Waterford. At the moment they are putting the tenders out for this study. On 8 September we are making a presentation to the City Council which we hope will help persuade the council to back our proposal. While this project is about transport and moving people around the city, there is a small part which has nothing to do with transport. Its about saying Galway is a model city, open to innovation, and open for business. Its about life style and a better place to live.

Efforts for a totally sustainable solution

We have not even mentioned the benefit to the environment and the reduction in carbon footprint that this electrically driven light rail system might bring Galway. So this is the challenge we have set ourselves and lets hope the city will benefit from our efforts for a totally sustainable solution.

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