Will the Barrow Railway Bridge ever open and close to shipping again?

This is my ongoing diary into the fate of the Barrow Bridge. The details are below but in brief here’s whats covered to date (24/5/2024)

  • July 1906 – opened to connect the new port at Rosslare with Waterford and on to the west
  • Sept 2010 – route closed
  • Feb 2022 – Bridge gets struck by an inbound ship
  • November 2022 – IE pins open the opening section and gates the bridge to any train
  • March 2023 – another ship hits the bridge
  • July 2023 – publication of the All-Island Strategic Rail Review
  • Jan 2024 – Update from Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport
  • May 2024 – Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh reports on a positive meeting with the IE management in the Irish Indo

In late November 2022, disappointing news started to filter out that the Barrow Railway Bridge opening span was to be pinned open because of an operational issue. It came following an earlier threat to pin it open because of the cost of the operation- a decision that was postponed following negative community, media, and political reactions. But the rationale for the move seemed plausible to many (the timing close to Christmas was excellent I must say from the company perspective), and the opening span has been pinned open since December. But is this the end of the Barrow Bridge?

The Barrow Railway Bridge was opened as part of the works to connect the South of Ireland via Waterford to the new port of Rosslare in 1906. The last commercial train to use the line was in September 2010. The line’s viability is now being examined as part of an All-Island Strategic Rail Review. The review might potentially reinstate the railway, but there were also plans to create a greenway along the route. The opening span allows ships to access and egress from the inland port of New Ross via the River Barrow.

A screengrab of the vessel (one of the Arklow Shipping craft) that collided with Pier 3 of the Barrow Bridge on February 26 2022. Photo: Iarnród Éireann

On February 26th, 2022, a ship manoeuvring inwards through the span struck the central protective dolphin. In November Iarnród Éireann (IÉ) put out a press release covered by the Waterford News & Star. The subsequent article explained that “the span will need to be held open for marine traffic as there’s an increased risk of it becoming inoperable, thus preventing vessels from traversing through it.”

Some of the damage to the dolphins protecting the opening span

Because of the collision, IÉ stated that there was a “… real risk that in the course of movements of the swing span, the span could move and strike a passing vessel” It sounds nasty, although a bit far-fetched surely! Other points were raised, although it made no more sense to me. But please read the New & Star article yourself to make your own decision.

A forelorn sight over Christmas of the bridge pinned open, the glowing lights to illuminate the channel and the red and green flashing navigation lights showing the access point. The new bridge at the Pink Rock is seen in the background.

According to IÉ the repairs could cost between €5 million and €10 million. The funds will need to be sought from the ship’s insurers…So that probably won’t be any time soon, given that almost 11 months have now passed? The South East on Track campaign group called on Iarnród Éireann to carry out the repairs in advance of monies it’s hoping to receive from insurers, but to date, this call has fallen on deaf ears.

From Cheekpoint this January 2023. A forlorn sight to see it

The opening span of the bridge was a crucial factor in alleviating the concerns of the New Ross Harbour commissioners when the bridge was originally constructed. It’s kind of ironic that the potential death knell of this magnificent piece of Edwardian industrial heritage should be sundered by IÉ on the pretext of maintaining access to the port.

To see the skill required in transiting the bridge here’s a short video I shot in 2021

Edit March 2023: – although there is still talk of the bridge reopening to cater for, initially, freight to and from Rosslare, there is no sign of work commencing on the bridge. In fact a local chap who knew the workmen who were involved in the recent pinning opening says that all papers etc have been removed and the sense given was that this was the end as far as they knew. I got excited on the 12th of March when I saw a Belgian ship called the Pompei coming in. Obviously a work boat, I hoped that it might be about some repairs. Alas, it seems not, and worse, it struck the bridge on the way up too. Later it emerged that the ship was to be stationed off Baginbun for works associated with the new interconnector between Wales and Ireland…works are ongoing at Great Island to receive the power!

Pompei inbound

July 2023: On the week of the anniversary of the opening in 2023, Deena and I took a trip over to view the bridge, It’s now securely locked up, still pinned open, and rusting away. No further information on repair work to the opening span, or to refurbishing the line…or indeed a greenway. It’s hard not to be pessimistic about its future. See the images below of the rust.

August 2023: Publication of the draft report of the All-Island Strategic Rail Review -gave a mention to the SW Wexford line and that it is to be upgraded by 2030 to provide freight a least…I’m no expert but it all sounds a bit wishy washy

Pinned open, Tues 18th July 2023
One of four new gates – the only investment on the bridge in many a year

January 2024: In late January 2024 Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh was interviewed after a Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport session in which the Waterford Green Party TD questioned Jim Meade, the CEO of Irish Rail on the company’s plans around the damaged bridge and the reopening of the rail line. Here’s what Jim Meade was quoted as saying in the Irish Independent:

“There’s no argument about liability because we have CCTV,” said Mr Meade in response to Deputy Ó Cathasaigh’s question about the bridge. “So, it’s very clear and both insurers are not just waiting for us to come back to them to say that’s the cost”.

Irish Rail intends to enhance the bridge as part of repairing it by automating it so it can be controlled centrally rather than by personnel on the bridge. “We want to automate it in the process and bring it back to our national train control centre,” added Mr Meade.

“We have outlined a whole series of works some time back. We have been working through it and we are substantially complete. We have some residual GI survey works to do but nothing major in the grand scheme of things”.

Irish Independent, 29th Jan 2024

The automation makes sense from a cost-saving point of view, but from a heritage perspective this is very disappointing to hear. It’s good to hear that the insurers are just waiting for the bill to come from IE for repairs, but why is this taking so long?

I heard the discussion and although Jim Meade talks a good talk, and makes it sound like a lot is happening behind the scenes, there is little evidence that I can see of preparation works. And what would any automation etc have to do with insurers, their liability is simply about reinstating the timber supports surely.

As much as I want to believe Jim Meade’s statements, from where I sit, watching the bridge daily it appears to be left to rust away into the river. I will keep you posted.

May 2024 – Irish Independent reported that Green Party Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh met with the CEO of Irish Rail, Jim Meade and Minister Eamon Ryan this week to discuss rail capital investment in the South East. “The reopening of the Barrow Bridge was a particular focus of discussion with Deputy Ó Cathasaigh requesting that the Department of Transport provide the upfront costs for the repair and reopening of the bridge with a view to recouping the costs when the insurance claim is paid out to Irish Rail by the insurance companies involved in the ship strikes which damaged the bridge. Capital repair costs to the bridge are estimated at €5m to €6 million”.

Although I do personally like Marc and in fairness he has kept the topic on the political agenda, I don’t see this as being in any way positive or offering a glimmer of hope. This time they are talking about waiting on money from insurers, in January it was the insurers were waiting to hear from IE about the cost… I might sound pessimistic, but the bridge is rusting into the river while IE waffles on. Meanwhile in Cork –

The same week in Cork – multi million euro investment in rail. Tell me you don’t care about me, without telling me!

I occasionally write small pieces for my own record that I publish on the blog. These are a way of keeping a record for myself and a very different style to my monthly heritage blogs. So if you came across this and wondered what the heck…please look at my normal stuff before rushing to judgment