This week sees a significant local anniversary, for on the 21st July 1906 the first official train crossed the Barrow railway bridge. The infrastructure was the last significant piece of railway network constructed nationally and it linked the west of Ireland with Rosslare and via ferry to the UK.
The railway bridge proposal had a troubled start. Several plans were considered and rejected, including a railway link to Passage East and either a ferry or bridge crossing to Wexford. When plans were suggested for crossing the Barrow River, linking Kilkenny and Wexford, New Ross Harbour Commissioners were also wary. Any infringement to navigation would impact the port. This was allayed by providing an opening span, allowing ships access and egress. Other engineering problems remained however such as the distance between the Kilkenny bank and the Wexford side of the Barrow river, and the depth that had to be dug to, in order to meet solid foundation for many of the bridges supporting spans.
The bridge, showing the opening span, under construction.
Taken from the Kilkenny side, looking upriver. April 1905
Construction commenced in January 1902 from a depot on the Wexford side at Wellington Bridge. Finally on Saturday 21st July 1906 a special event train departed Dublin, calling to Carlow and Waterford to mark the official opening officiated by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland at the end of the line; Rosslare. When the line finally closed in Sept 2010, many wondered what would become of it. Recently we have heard murmurings of a Greenway link, building on the stunning success of the Waterford Greenway. But did you know an alternative use was proposed before? Ireland’s first toll road bridge!
Community Notice Board
Walk leader is Ray McGrath, and assisted by Michael Farrell, John Burke and yours truly
Plans were first mooted in late 1976(1) when CIE complained that the line was no longer economically viable and their board had made a decision to close the line and were looking for an option for its use. In early December(2) “…Mr. J. A. O’Connor, C.I.E. area manager for the south-east…stated that the service withdrawal had resulted from scheduled…trains…being uneconomic…” He was quoted as saying “…Proposals have been received from private interests for the conversion of the Barrow viaduct to a road bridge and the use of the permanent way as approach roads to the bridge.” the paper continued “… It is further understood that the viaduct may become Ireland’s first toll road…”
Later in December(3) we learn that “A new company, Barrow Bridge Ltd., of which the principal partner is Roadstone Ltd., has applied to both Co. Councils for planning permission to convert the viaduct into a road toll bridge….The proposal to close the line has caused many protests in the southeast area….A committee representing trade unions catering for workers in the Thurles sugar factory, which is fighting the closure, said it was quite apparent that the board of C.I.E. had decided to withdraw passenger and freight services…”
A Munster Express article (4) seems positively disposed towards the project in the new year when we read that the project “has now taken on a new and hopeful turn…A company has been incorporated, with Waterford control, consisting of Mr. Max Fleming, Chairman; his son Mr. David Fleming, Managing-Director, with Mr. M. M. Halley, solicitor, as Law Adviser, and they have taken a lease from Coras Iompair Eireann (Irish Transport Company). Messrs. McCarthy, Engineering Consultants, Dublin, have already applied to Kilkenny and Wexford Co. Councils for planning permission” I’m not sure what happened to Roadstone over Christmas, or were the three gentlemen mentioned connected to it?
The paper went on to outline a proposal to build a two lane roadway on either side of the bridge, with a traffic light controlled single lane crossing of the bridge. Interestingly no mention was made of Drumdowney tunnel. A toll will be charged to pay for the upkeep, and the system will be controlled, we are assured, by close circuit TV. (As an aside, and in the context of present plans for turning it into a walk and cycle path, the article mentions that the bridge is acknowledged to have a existing to right to walk, no mention is made of tolling the walkers!)
JJ Walsh, the Munsters owner and editor hadn’t grasped the public mood however. Taking a contrary view to the newspaper, unions, farmers, businesses, locals and public representatives swung into action in the new year. January seems to have been a hot month for meetings, lobbying and general awareness raising. The issue made all the local and national papers and the last mention of the process I could find was from the Munster Express of February 4th(5). In this we learn that the Minister for Transport and Power, Mr Tom Fitzpatrick, is flatly denying that any decision has been taken by the Board of CIE, and that any decision would only be considered if or when the respective County Councils made a decision on planning. I’m guessing that was when the proposal ran out of road! To be frank, given the engineering issues with altering the bridge and negotiating Drumdowney tunnel, its hard to take the proposal serious on any level.
The bridge is still one of the finest pieces of engineering in the south east, and if you have never seen it, here’s a wonderful piece of footage of the opening span in action via Joel
If you like the video you might give him a comment for feedback
(1) The earliest mention of the toll bridge I can find was October when a gentleman named Alan French had a letter published in the Irish Times drawing attention to it. Intriguingly Mr French claimed that the reason CIE were pushing a road bridge, was that they were obliged to ensure SW Wexford had a viable transport link maintained. As they wanted clear of the line, they had run with a “ridiculous” alternative. The closure would be a “scandal” Irish Times. October 2nd 1976. Page 13
(2) Irish Independent Friday, December 03, 1976; Page: 9
(3) Irish Press, Sat Dec 18th 1976 page 3
(4) Munster Express Jan 07 1977 page 2
(5) Munster Express Feb 4th 1977 page 2
I publish a blog about Waterford Harbours maritime heritage each Friday.
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