GLUAS lives to fight another day as councillors come on board in support

If an independent assessment into the costs of establishing light rail in Galway comes close to the figures being presented by the GLUAS group, then the city will have a modern light rail system within the next few years.

The GLUAS group, which is proposing a light rail system for Galway city along the lines of the LUAS system in Dublin, claims it can deliver it for €250 million and within two years of construction.

However a report carried out for City Hall estimated the costs would be closer to €700 million. As a result councillors have called for an independent assessment to see what a light rail system might cost. If the figures from that study come close to the GLUAS figures, work on light rail will proceed.

Robust Foundations - Galway Public Transport Feasibility Study was carried out for the Galway City Council by MVA Consultants earlier this year. Although not ruling out light rail, it came down in favour of a Bus Rapid Transit system, which could cost €114 million and be implemented over five years.

MVA raised questions over the validity of GLUAS, saying its calculations showed it would cost €698,600,000 - in contrast to the GLUAS’ estimation of €250 million. As a result, GLUAS were asked to attend the city council meeting in March to explain the discrepancies between the two figures.

In-between the February and March meetings, council officials were impressing on councillors the importance of voting in favour of the MVA report so it could be sent to the Department of the Environment and approval for it used to secure major funds for the city’s transport plans. Not doing so could put these in jeproady and the department has contacted city manager Joe MacGrath seeking the report.

At Monday’s city council meeting, GLUAS told councillors that the system required 17km of rail lines at a cost of €10 million a kilometre. The additional costs would be for professional and planning fees and the entire project could be delivered within a two year period from the start of construction.

The GLUAS team also challenged MVA’s figures, saying the costs were based on those for the LUAS in Dublin. GLUAS pointed out that LUAS costed €28 million per kilometre because the tracks had to be dug one metre into the ground and it involved dealing with gas, water, phone, and electricity cables.

The Galway system will only have to be dug a “couple of inches” into the ground and will not disturb gas, water, phone, and electricity cables, thus reducing the costs considerably. The team also added that in the current climate construction costs have also come down.

Councillors decided to vote to approve the MVA report “insofar as it recognises that an integrated public transport system was crucial to dealing with the transport problems of the city”.

However councillors would prefer to see a light rail system to the BRT system on the basis that it will be “easier to attract car users to switch to light rail”, it is more likely to run on time, shorter overall journey times, and the advantage that light rail does not have to share surfaces with other vehicles.

As a result the Galway City Council will now apply for additional funding for an independent assessor to carry out a “full investigation of the engineering works required in order to provide a light rail system” and what the costs of those will be.

“Nobody has tried to go out and quantify what the engineering and site works costs of light rail in Galway will be,” Fine Gael councillor Brian Walsh told the Galway Advertiser. “This funding would help carry out a feasibility study. We need that information to progress this issue as there is too much of a variance in the costs we have been given at present. Such a study will give us a clearer picture of what the costs will be.”

Cllr Walsh says that if the independent assessment shows the cost of establishing light rail in Galway comes close to or “endorses the GLUAS figures” then councillors will be keen to go ahead with the GLUAS system instead of BRT.

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