Monkstown Greenisland Greenway

A golden opportunity to link two communities with a new greenway centres on a disused railway just six miles north of Belfast. The ‘Back Line’ between Monkstown and Greenisland has been dormant for over 50 years, yet the land is still in public ownership. Developing a new 2.7km traffic-free path could provide great options for locals trips without the car, and build upon the success of the recently opened Newtownabbey Way.

Monkstown Greenisland Greenway map
(Click to explore the route in Google Maps)

The Back Line was actually the former main line of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway (Northern Counties Committee) from Belfast to Ballymena. The layout of the junction at Greenisland meant trains had to stop and reverse during their journey. The 1930s solution of constructing the Greenisland Loop Line (it’s viaducts now such an impressive feature of the Newtownabbey Way) reduced the need for the renamed Back Line – services stopped in the early 1960s and the line fell into neglect.

The disused 'back line' diverges from the operational Whiteabbey-Greenisland line
Disused Back Line diverges from the operational Whiteabbey-Greenisland line (click for Street View)

Starting from Greenisland (directly under the Knockagh Monument) a greenway access could be opened from the terrace which runs from the train station, with an appropriate barrier between the pathway and the live railway.

Greenway starting point, beside Greenisland Railway Station
Greenway starting point, beside Greenisland Railway Station (click to explore in Google Maps)

Starting the run uphill towards Monkstown, another access point into Farm Lodge Park is possible. Although (as will become the theme along the route) most local housing developments have turned their back to the old railway line, making access to many streets difficult if not impossible.

Possible access points at the outskirts of Monkstown
Possible access points at the outskirts of Monkstown (click to explore in Google Maps)

There appears to be some fields still yet to be developed into housing around Meadowlands, Meadow View and Woodlands, with a greenway spur both possible and desirable. Similarly, Bramble Avenue could be connected to the greenway.

A bridge at Burnet Avenue runs over the line with a single line tunnel underneath. There appears to be ample space to ramp access from the street.

View of trackbed from Burnet Avenue bridge
View of trackbed from Burnet Avenue bridge (click to explore Google Street View)

From the bridge, it’s possible to see the railway track still in place.

Rails still in place and visible from Burnet Avenue bridge
Rails still in place and visible from Burnet Avenue bridge (click to explore Google Street View)

This points to one of the quirks of the ‘Back Line’ – even though it’s overgrown, disused and cut off from the network, it was never formally abandoned and remains legally a railway. While there may be a notion to retain it for the purposes of future expansion (as suggested by some in a recent consultation on future railway investment in Northern Ireland) it doesn’t seem to be a high priority in the short to medium term.

Greenway approach to Monkstown - finding the best route
Greenway approach to Monkstown – finding the best route (click to explore in Google Maps)

Bringing the greenway all the way to the Monkstown Road is more of a challenge. A gate opens onto the old railway alignment at Oaklands Drive, providing a good local access point.

Trackbed passing by Oaklands Drive
Trackbed passing by gate at Oaklands Drive (click to explore Google Street View)

However lack of space on the live railway embankment to the Monkstown Road Bridge mean a raised parallel pathway may not be viable. More realistically, a footbridge across to Lisbane Avenue would provide good access across to Monkstown centre, and a short 250m hop down to Bridge Road to link up with the Newtownabbey Way.

Looking from Monkstown Road bridge to possible Lisbane Avenue access bridge
Looking from Monkstown Road bridge to possible Lisbane Avenue access bridge (click for Street View)

There are many obvious advantages to developing a greenway on this stretch. The issue of land ownership and access rights cause difficulty in greenway projects, but here the land has remained in public ownership. Creating a viable active travel corridor between the Monkstown and Greenisland communities offers options for short trips to local schools, churches, community centres/amenities and independent retail businesses.

Better linkages to workplaces in the Monkstown Industrial Estate, and improved cycling connections to a second railway station in the area builds on the great work to open the Newtownabbey Way. Indeed, with the ongoing A2 Shore Road upgrade expected to have some consideration to space for cycling, a triangular network of active travel space would begin to take shape between Newtownabbey and Carrickfergus.

If the local community backs it, the right ingredients are there for a successful project to bring life back to the Back Line.

… … … …

What do you think of the idea to open a Monkstown to Greenisland Greenway? Are you a local resident in favour or against? Would you prefer to call it The Back Line Greenway or perhaps The Knockagh Greenway? What are the biggest obstacles to development? How would you use the greenway? Leave your comments or share on social media to get the discussion going..

27 thoughts on “Monkstown Greenisland Greenway

  1. If we want serious modern transport facilities for a city the size of Belfast, suitable for all weathers and for those who are less mobile, I’d say reopen the bleedin’ railway line running metro-style light trains. There’s plenty of other routes bikes can cycle along, but this rail corridor is irreplaceable. Unfortunately nationalisation was an utter disaster for railways on this island. Indeed, Clement Atlee’s rate of rotation in his grave must surely beg to be harnessed as a source of renewable energy?

    1. What costs more and which is the best use of money: a light rail, when there is already a train service along Greenisland-Jordanstown-Whiteabbey, or a safe corridor for walkers and cyclists (free to use, too)?

      1. Cheap doesn’t equal good. You get what u pay for. Do Londoners propose closing the Northern Line tube because “there’s already a perfectly good Victoria line”? (Hint: no they don’t). How are people with no legs supposed to use a bicycle?

    2. Feline1: it’s a greenway for both walkers and cyclists : those with no legs? I believe that they usually use wheelchairs, motorised or manual and should be able to use the greenway paths. The proposal is very welcome indeed.

      1. I’m talking about being able to commute and make other essential trips in all weathers, not the odd bit of recreational, sport or leisure travel.
        If you’re seriously proposing wheelchair users should all just man up and try to get 10 miles to work in driving rain in a manual wheelchair, I can only facepalm whilst weeping

      2. Oh dear Feline1 (good name to hide under) – so you’re on about the commute – not the ‘odd bit of recreational …….’. I think you have missed the point of greenways. Very significant effort is, and continues to be put in place for the commute and ‘essential travel’. What is sadly missing are safe routes for leisure activities including walkers, cyclists and, of course wheelchair users and also for those commuters who would prefer to cycle to work than travel by car or public transport. You’re an idiot to state that I was telling wheelchair users to ‘man up’ – that was very insensitive and insulting to me and to them. Consider the thrust of everyone else’s very positive comments about these proposals – you are a lone voice, thank goodness and I shall waste no more time conversing with you.

      3. You’re judging the fanboy comments on a niche single-issue blog as representative of the tranport policy needs of an entire country? OK 😉

      4. Oh dear : yet another flawed argument from you that my opinions are based on this one blog : I am a regular commuter to Belfast who also makes essential travel trips by car, bus and train. Additionally, I am a member of a cycling club and enjoy leisure walking both as exercise and simply for the enjoyment of being in the fresh air with family and friends simply for a stroll – these activities, I think, make my opinions on the NI Greenway proposals valid. I am aware that I am wasting my time justifying my opinions to someone like you – I suggest you start your own blog iro a ‘light railway’ and I am sure you will receive much support, perhaps even from me, but never as a counter-suggestion to the greenway plans.

  2. The development of the path that runs from Mossley Mill is popular. Your suggested development would prove equally popular. There are simply too few pleasant local places to walk or cycle. Why does every space have to be considered for motorised utility? My impression is that people are becoming increasingly sick of motorised transport. For the young it’s novelty. Few really like driving. Just look in the windows of their car at them.

  3. I’m a Greenisland native and can only marvel at how this never struck me before, great idea, especially with the new (hopefully) cycle lanes to come with the A2 upgrade it gives a rwal choice of routes for people cycling from Mossley, Glengormley and Monkstown up to Carrick. Nice one!

  4. I’ve lived in the Brambles for over 10 years and this would have been fantastic when I was at school – I could have walked home instead of taking the bus everyday. This would make a great difference to the area. The only thing that might be an issue is that residents in the areas beside the greenway may be concerned about higher levels of crime or young people hanging about. In my opinion though, the pros outweigh the possible cons here. Are there any MLAs pushing for this?

  5. this is an excellent idea – I work with young people who were very excited when i talked with them today about the possibility of this.
    so many young people live and commute between these areas and a safe and traffic free corridor would be ideal.
    connecting with the already popular newtownabbey way, and the shore road developments opens access to transport on traffic free networks – great for my child in the bike trailer and for her to explore on her own wee bike and get used to using her own efforts for transport.
    hope to get involved in the cause – contact me if I can help in any way

  6. I’ve lived in the area for nearly 40 years now and used this route from Lisbane to visit my Granny in Greenisland during the early 80′s. As children we often played and picked blackberries here too.
    I would love to leave my house in Oaklands and have a good walk without having to walk along a road.
    Excellent idea.

  7. I’ve ran along this route a few times and the Greenway proposal would be such a simple solution to provide a fantastic link between Monstown and Greenisland. I have a young family and this would be a great area to walk and cycle with them. Being close to the Newtownabbey Way creates a direct link for Greenisland residents. This is a superb proposal and I only hope it comes to frutrition.

  8. I forgot to add also that there is a public right of way to Knockagh Monument via hole 1 of Greenisland Golf Course. Again I have ran up this a few times and there is still evidence of a path. The path in the middle is a little challenging but with some funding I’m sure a walkable trail path could be formed. Imagine linking this also to the proposed greenway. What a fantastic and stunning peaceful walk you could have.

  9. Hi David. Great idea. I’m very interested in the right of way through the golf course. Have u any pictures? I have a young family too plus dogs so this would be ideal. Also, do you know of any rights of way along greenisland shoreline besides ‘the gut’?

    1. Erica, sorry dont have any picutures of the right of way up the golf course but its fairly simple to find. Walk up hole 1 fairway and keep tight to the left hand side boundary so as not to disturb the golfers. When you get to the putting green exit out the back up the hill and you should see a trail path. Follow the path for a 100 yards or so until you meet the heavy tress foilage at the foot of the steep climb. You will see a gate which you go through and keep right intitially on the trail which takes you to the top. It took me a couple of efforts to work it out so I wouldnt recommend taking the kids first time out. There is also a steep mucky section in the middle which is difficult to navigate if wet.

      On the rights of way I dont believe there are any around ‘the gut’. I obtained a ROW map from the council and the only one I’m aware of down there is Neils Lane.

      If you dont already know there is a new Developement Plan in place for Greenisland. URS the consulting architect who are the authors of it are holding an open day on the 3rd October in Greenisland library. The Greenway etc are some of the ideas in the plan.

  10. Hi – I lived in Carnmoney for 20 years, was born in Ballyduff. I remember a right of way from Carnmoney village to the trig point on top of carnmoney Hill – I have tried to locate this laneway but it appears to have been closed. Wonder if Woodland trust or some one would like to check this out. Views f rom the top of Carnmoney are the best and surpass views from Cavehill.. I have walked from Rathfern Estate through part of the hill but have been unable to access the top of the hill from there. I have been prevented from doing so because of fencing. Olive Burgess 27/6/15

  11. I live right at the end of the greenway at Greenisland, walked it for years with the dogs, until translink/NIR erected steel fencing at the greenisland end last year, so its pretty much impassable now, even though its public land (They also did this a few years back blocking the Neills Lane access from Greenisland to the shoreline, which is also a right of way. Shame. would be great to see both opened up again.

    1. The Council have submitted a feasibility study for the Greenisland Greenway to the Department for Infrastructure. They are awaiting the outcome of the assessment process. Greenway development seems to be a priority according to the Council’s community plan.

  12. Great idea- while you are about it please incorporate suitable sites for local wild flowers- this would meet some of the Borough’s objectives to improve local biodiversity and also enhance the route for walkers and cyclers. Simply reducing the top soil layer is half of the solution to reducing long grass, docks thistles and nettles. The Forestry Commission have a useful paper on the need for scalloped edges to woodland- creating micro-habitats and reducing wind tunnels.

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