Light rail, not more roads, is the only real solution to Galway's gridlock

Academics and local government in Coventry show interest in Galway's light rail debate - and they want to help

Hands up those who can remember getting their first home phone installed? Insider had to wait six months after application before Albert Reynolds, Minister for Communications, waved his hand in 1980, and as if by magic, I got a wired in house phone, then being manufactured by our own Northern Telecom in Mervue.

Hands up all who remember the ‘Harmony’ handset? Until then I had to walk down the road in all weathers to the coin box near Brennan's pub on the Docks, to be able to give daily reports back to my sales manager at company HQ in Dublin!

Pretty soon I will be able to use the device implanted near my ear to be able to communicate with the world, such is the fast moving pace of modern technology.

The rise of traffic congestion

At that same time, just 40 years ago we had very predictable traffic movements in Galway as people cycled, walked, or caught a bus to their place of work. Less people owned cars. Some workers even came home at lunchtime for their dinner.

Today, traffic is an all-day issue that is making Galway an unpalatable place to live, and alongside high price housing, is causing many Galwegians to choose to live outside of the city. This, in turn, is creating its own problems around how to get people back to work in places such as Parkmore and other business parks.

'Arguments about whether the ring road is or is not the solution are yet to be resolved and debates may continue for many more years before a resolution is reached'

Insider is known to be a long-time advocate for Park and Ride at different locations along the main entry roads to the city, and further believes that a light rail system should be installed for Galway. Together, this would allow commuters a cost effective, energy efficient, and environmentally sustainable means of traversing the city.

Back in the late 1970s when Insider first came to live in Galway, all shapes of cars were becoming more plentiful, with their use eventually leading us towards today’s chaos. Toyotas, Datsuns, Fords, Fiats, and Mercs were the popular choices then, and SUVs were unheard of.

The rush from one side of the city to the other became more manageable - for a while - when the Quincentennial Bridge was built around 1985. Traffic around the docks was also reduced until the turn of the century, which then saw Galway join the boom, as the Celtic Tiger roared and traffic levels increased to bug us now well into the 21st century.

Oral hearing into N6 ring road

The return of the oral hearing, to be held via Microsoft and social distancing, into the construction of the long awaited N6 ring road motorway, is signalled to recommence on October 12, and will/may determine how the next phase of city transport moves us forward, or maybe it not.

Arguments about whether this motorway is or is not the solution are yet to be resolved and debates may continue for many more years before a resolution is finally reached.

In the intervening years the GLUAS group of enthusiasts, who favour the construction of a LUAS style, city-wide light rail system for Galway, as an alternative option, continue to search for a modern solution to the daily city gridlock.

Insider, had been brought up with, and was a regular commuter using the London underground to get to work in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1999, in Galway, Insider was impressed with Labour local election candidate, Marc O’Riain, whose campaign poster showed a graphic with a LUAS tram heading down Lough Atalia Road into Ceannt Station.

Insider became even more of an LRT advocate when he attended a meeting at the Ardilaun in 2009, with a presentation of Prof Lewis Lesley's version of light rail in Warrington. This led to the establishment of the GLUAS Group in Galway, and has led to what is today a growing group of engineers, college lecturers, architects, and ordinary supporters seeking an alternative, viable, solution to our traffic chaos.

'Coventry is keen to work with Galway, seeing Galway as an ideal location for this kind of system, which is designed for use in small to medium size cities'

While Covid-19 has seen a sudden growth in people walking and cycling again, the reality is that Galway city is set to further expand its housing developments, with a predicted 40 per cent growth in population, to include Bearna, Moycullen, Claregalway, and Oranmore within its expanded Metropolitan Area Spatial Plan, which has been decided for us by those who know so much about how we should all live.

The Northern & Western Regional Authority, along with our new Green influenced Government is also telling us what we always knew - that more people will live in cities from here on - and that we will have to improve our now shaky transport offerings.

The Coventry experience

Insider understands that GLUAS had become aware of research, with an actual project, for Coventry, which is to use an urban Very Light Rail vehicle (uVLR ) - the city's first venture into tram use. Indeed, introduction and testing of uVLR will commence on the city's streets in 2021.

GLUAS members quickly made contact with the researchers at Warwick University who are working with vehicle builders, and Coventry City Council executives who are very advanced in developing their own system. That interest was reciprocated with the Coventry team keen to work with supporters in Galway. They see Galway too as an ideal location for this kind of system, which is designed for use in small to medium size cities.

Throughout August, WMG - The University of Warwick and Transport Design International have been working with NP Aerospace, based in Foleshill, Coventry, to begin the assembly of the innovative, rail guided, battery-powered vehicle for Coventry’s planned urban VLR network. Engineers are now constructing the sleek, carbon fibre and metallic structure that will form the backbone of the vehicles to be used.

Thanks to NP Aerospace’s specialised facilities, engineers from both companies have been able to continue their work in a safe environment which allows them to fully comply with the UK Government’s social distancing guidelines. The finished vehicle will be capable of comfortably carrying 56 passengers and will be tested on the VLR National Innovation Centre Test Track at Castle Hill in Dudley. This prototype vehicle is the first of its kind and is scheduled to start on track testing early next year.

Insider understands that each vehicle is capable of being used in groups, being linked in twos or threes, as well as separate pod units. The project is being led by Coventry City Council in close collaboration with engineers at WMG and TDI.

Should Galway follow Coventry's example?

Following a comprehensive test programme for vehicle and track, a permanent tracked route is planned to be installed across Coventry, supported by a fleet of locally manufactured vehicles. The first route will provide a service between the rail station and Walsgrave Hospital and will offer residents, workers, and tourists an affordable, quick, and environmentally friendly way of travelling around the city.

'Dep Catherine Connolly's 24,000 petition signatures are an indication, if one were needed, that people want light rail for Galway'

Imagine a system like this in Galway, leading into the UCHG campus from Eyre Square, with links working inwards from Oranmore and Bearna?

The proposed uVLR network is seen as key to the vision for future transport in Coventry where the team want public transport to be efficient, affordable and most importantly environmentally friendly. Insider believes this could represent a route to follow in revolutionizing how we all travel in Galway too.

Warwick University

It is understood that GLUAS reps have been meeting ‘virtually’, with teams from Warwick University [pictured above] and executives of Coventry City Council, who have all been very enthusiastic about partnering with Galway city, and see us benefiting from their work. This relationship needs to be followed up by the Galway City Council and our councillors, as well as with TDs like Catherine Connolly, who has been a local leader in promoting LRT for Galway.

Deputy Connolly's 24,000 petition signatures are an indication, if one were needed, that people want light rail for Galway. They now have a chance at being involved in the very latest version. City executives need to wake up, but of course, it is the Dublin based head of Public Transport Capital Programmes with Transport Infrastructure Ireland, who needs to be convinced. Insider also understands that the Minister for Transport, Eamon Ryan, has been very impressed with what he has been shown.

Benefits of light rail

Light Rail IV

Light rail has helped to boost the image of every city in which it has been established, and research has shown how this in turn has led to additional economic benefits in terms of attracting inward investment, business, and tourist visitors, and increased expenditure.

'Light rail has a role in the ‘branding’ of places, which other forms of transport such as bus, rarely achieve'

Similarly it is reported that image enhancement can lead to significant spin-offs. The confidence that is instilled from a very visible, long-term commitment to public transport, and the feeling that this indicates an area is ‘going places’, is a common response in user surveys and focus groups which Insider has read.

It is also clear and has been found that light rail has a role in the ‘branding’ of places, which other forms of transport such as bus, rarely achieve - Fáilte Ireland should promote Galway's introduction of uVLR, as soon as it is adopted, as the way out of traffic gridlock for which Galway is already known - to its cost.

With major changes on the way in transport development, and a “2:1 split in capital spending on public transport vs roads” now is surely the time to press Galway's case.


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