In issue 2 we reported on an innovative new energy bike scheme being implemented in Sligo. Its instigator, Wilhelm Bodewigs, got in touch to tell us about an interesting Tram system proposal for the countyOn Your Bike
Many European cities of Dublin’s size are reorganising the backbone of their public transport system with a tram network. Increasingly “tram-train” solutions are in place where the rolling stock of street trams is also suitable for lightly used railway tracks, thus extending the service far beyond the urban area. With flexible interior design and higher speed achievements, specific needs like an airport express service with a low investment cost or tram-trains revitalising the Western Rail Corridor can be envisaged. The value of these concepts in the context of the Irish “National Spatial Strategy” cannot be overestimated.
The LUAS concept in Dublin has ruled out these options due to the track width chosen differing from CIE’s, which means a full integration with CIE and DART systems cannot take place. Unfortunately the feasibility of sharing railway tracks by heavy and light vehicles has not been discussed yet.
Sligo town recently upgraded to “Gateway” status and is currently discussing a much smaller, but farther reaching regional planning proposal which would implement many of these aspects and also promote sustainable local energy options for transport.
Sligo authorities are currently preparing for the building of a four lane “Mid Block-Road” which separates the Railway station from the commercial core of the town - a 1970’s solution in favour of car dependency, which will have further severe and negative impacts on local and regional mobility costs and the importing of fossil fuel into the region.
A local group of planners and business people felt it imperative that more options should be carefully examined, protecting Sligo’s built heritage and envisaging the region’s profile as environmentally highly valuable. A proposed feasibility study, Low Energy Transport for Sligo, was endorsed by Sligo Corporation 1999 and received funding under the EU ALTENER program.
Due to geographical limitations imposed by the sea, lakes and surrounding mountains Sligo can only expand to the North and South and main road access also dominates from these directions. With park and ride places already discussed north and south of the enlarged urban area it is tempting to search for an urban transit corridor which would cover the town centre as well as main residential and employment areas with short walking distances. This transport corridor, if based on trams, would only require a fraction of the energy to be provided for cars and buses per person/km/capita. The Sligo corridor, approximately 8 km in length, would need a track segregated from cars and granted priority usage if guided through the towns traffic calmed old streets.
Sligo’s urban area provides a feasible tram based route if the CIE railway corridor from Dublin south into Sligo is taken into account. From a park and ride at Carraroe the historic, not laid second track of the Great Western Railway Line could be used into Sligo Railway Station, where the tram would enter the urban streetscape of Wine Street. After crossing the Garavogue River at Stephen Street, the tram would bound north towards The Mall, the General Hospital, the university and would end at Bundoran Road where a park and ride is proposed.
92% of the town centre would be less than 40m or 8 minutes walk away from a tram stop. Most secondary schools, all third level institutions, public buildings, museums and shopping areas are in the vicinity of one of the 17 proposed tram stops.
Another important feature of the report is the proposed creation of a new urban square at Sligo’s Railway station, allowing for the attractive integration of all means of transport: urban and regional buses, taxis, and a bike station with various urban and tourist services.
Integrating renewable power
Working with an awareness of the European and Irish targets on energy and savings, the planning team carried out an evaluation on how to provide local sustainable energy to operate the trams. The proposed tram fleet consists of eight Parry People Mover vehicles whose flywheel drive is charged electrically at selected tram stops with short energy uptakes.
Sligo County Council’s findings confirmed that the reconstruction of the Garavogue river’s lower weir- close to the tram route- would allow for an electrical water turbine. The annual energy needs for the eight trams have been calculated at approximately 430000 kwh. The total annual output of the water turbine is estimated at approximately 900000 kwh, giving plenty of space for more trams or a second route.
Environmental and educational excellence
The proposal has been welcomed at EU conferences in Barcelona and Tenerife as an example of good urban planning practices and impressive environmental education.
The planning report has been presented twice to Mr. Noel Dempsey, then Minister for the Environment, addressing in a partnership approach questions and feasible alternatives to an outdated proposal of a Mid Block National Road corridor through the heart of Sligo, an issue which has already humiliated and polarised the people of Sligo.
While many aspects have to remain in the political context, ministers have failed, through either public enquiry or directives, to demonstrate that public transport, a key element of energy/planning policies of this government, can viably happen if the Mid Block Road is implemented".