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Tram, rail dreams – where’s the infrastructure?

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Every couple of years, probably as elections loom closer, some wise guy comes up with the brilliant idea of building a railway network for inter-town connections and an urban tram system.

This is usually in response to the public’s frustration at increasing congestion on our roads, especially during the early morning when driving children to school takes about an hour or early afternoon when civil servants, bank employees get off work.

Transport Minister Yiannis Karousos told his EU counterparts this week that Cyprus favours trams and trains, to help reduce emissions with the cost of building such a network to be offset from the climate credits we are supposed to gain.

Cyprus has not seen a passenger rail line since the 1950s while a dedicated cargo train shuttled copper ore and dirt between Skouriotissa mines and the nearby jetty at Xeros up until the mid-1970s.

Before we even consider such a venture, the minister needs to convince the (taxpaying) public that a rail and tram line will have real benefits.

We have yet to see the cost-benefit analysis of such a project or any environmental impact study.

Before having these dreams, Cyprus needs to redefine its transport culture, a status issue cemented in the psyche of an urban society that not long ago was mainly rural.

Transport from villages was mainly by bus, which is why ordinary folk frown upon anyone using public transport nowadays, no matter what air-con systems and free wifi is installed.

To paraphrase William Shakespeare’s play, King Richard III, Cypriots are religious believers of “a car, a car, my kingdom for a car.”

If the average Cypriot family was deprived of the fleet of four-wheelers, that number is as many as the household members, then it would be near-tragic, humiliating, worse than personal bankruptcy or being sent to jail for a minor offence.

Only when Cypriots feel comfortable with using public buses, can we start even talking about other modes of transport.

The numbers are simply not there, and the critical mass needed in passenger traffic will never justify a rail or tram line. Even if millions of tourists use the network.

We also need to consider the mess of our urban road networks.

These were designed three decades ago with minor improvements over the years.

The fact that Cyprus ranks at the bottom of the pack when it comes to road fatalities, is mainly due to haphazard driving and irresponsible motorists, but also to poor road conditions.

An argument between the mayor of Strovolos and the town planning authorities backfired when the state planners said rebuilding the Tseriou through-road has been on the table since 2015, but constantly tweaked by the municipality.

It seems the minions at Strovolos cannot decide who to serve – the commercial interests of the area or the greater good of all drivers and residents.

Unfortunately, Strovolos also shares top prize as one of the dirtiest towns in Cyprus with the open-ended construction site of municipal Nicosia not too far behind.

It will cost Texan taxpayers some $20 bln and six years to build a 90-minute rapid line between Dallas and Houston.

Ours does not have to be that expensive, but as one saying goes, “don’t move your feet before you get on a donkey.”

Let’s learn how to use public transport first, then fix our roads before considering whether we want a train, tram or rocket ship.