By Dan Walsh
The closure of the Rosslare to Waterford railway line and the implications for the Barrow Bridge were raised in Dáil Éireann on Tuesday by Waterford Green Party’s Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh with Minister for Environment, Climate Change, Communications and Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan.
Deputy Ó Cathasaigh said; “We had an unhappy birthday lately in the south east with the 10th anniversary of the closure of the Rosslare to Waterford train route occurring within the past few weeks. This put an end to a rail link that joined towns across south Wexford to Waterford city, as well as supplying heavy rail infrastructure to two major ports, Belview and Rosslare Europort. Since the closure of the line, advocates for its reopening have kept a close eye on the fate of the Barrow Bridge, which is a 650 m span that links County Kilkenny and County Wexford over the River Barrow. A central part of that bridge can open to allow shipping traffic to access New Ross. Keeping the mechanism of that bridge functioning and in good order has always been essential if this line is ever to be brought back into active use.
“I was dismayed recently to receive a copy of a letter sent by the National Transport Authority, NTA, to the South-East On Track group. The letter states that the Barrow Bridge is to be maintained in the open position allowing marine traffic to traverse unencumbered, reflecting the fact that as there is no railway service on the line, it is entirely appropriate that right-of-way be given to the marine traffic. On further questioning from the South East On Track group, the NTA confirmed that the agreed arrangements in respect of the closed Waterford to Rosslare line do not include weed spraying or vegetation treatment programmes. This was previously done on an annual basis and so it cannot have been a huge draw on CIE’s resources. This sounds to me very much like a plan to abandon the line.
In addition, there have been strong indications from the Chief Executive Officer of Wexford County Council that his preferred use of the rail line is for it to be converted to a greenway.
It is also worth noting that south Wexford, with towns like Bridgetown and Wellingtonbridge standing to benefit significantly if their local train line terminated at a newly built integrated transport hub in Waterford city.
“I ask the Minister to review immediately the NTA’s new maintenance agreement with Iarnród Éireann and revert it to pre-September 2020 status, so the line remains a viable piece of infrastructure, pending further review.
In reply, Deputy Eamon Ryan said; “As most members are aware, rail services on this line ceased in 2010 under an agreement made between the National Transport Authority and Iarnród Éireann. Several improvements were made to bus services at the time to ensure continued public transport connectivity. Undoubtedly, some people are fearful that the decision to maintain the Barrow Bridge in the open position means a point of no return as to whether services might ever return on this closed line. Equally, I do not wish to give false hope regarding the imminent return of services.
“The decision to maintain the bridge in an open position is a pragmatic one, because the line has now been closed for ten years. While the line has been closed, the port of New Ross remains open and the position of the bridge reflects the need to ensure easy navigational access to the port. I am informed that up until recently there was a requirement for four full-time Iarnród Éireann staff to be on site to open the bridge to allow ships sail to and from the port, which probably strikes most people as a little odd, to say the least.
In reply Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh remarked; “I am afraid it feels like a point of no return. It is something that has been closely monitored by people with an interest in this route over the years. It feels a little like a managed decline. I am also worried that we will end up tearing out an excellent and strategic piece of infrastructure with a view to developing a greenway on it.
“We have a EuroVelo route which has been developed by Wexford County Council and runs from Rosslare Europort to the Ballyhack ferry, which transports people over onto Passage East and into Waterford. It would be a much better use of resources to develop that EuroVelo route to a higher standard and to develop a corridor from Passage East into Waterford
Deputy Ryan told the House he had a meeting with Iarnród Éireann last week and raised the specific issue of the future of Rosslare Port because it is owned by CIE and Irish Rail. “I was raising it in the context of a wider review that Iarnród Éireann is commissioning on the future of rail freight in this country. I believe there is an opportunity for the expansion of rail freight. At present, only 2% of freight is carried by rail. That is a small fraction of what the average is across Europe. While some argue that the distances here are not long enough, the rest of Europe is saying it wants to switch to even greater volumes of freight traffic.”
Deputy Ryan concluded: “I commit to doing further work with the Deputy and other Deputies in the Waterford and Wexford region to examine what possibilities there might be.”