Flooded railway track to reopen despite locals’ concerns

Iarnród Éireann’s Ennis to Limerick line has been closed since last winter’s storms

Video footage from Iarnroad Eireann showing the flooded section of the Limerick to Ennis rail line at Ballycar. Video: Iarnroad Eireann

 

A 25-mile stretch of railway track closed since last winter’s flooding will reopen this week, but there is little jubilation among locals who believe it is just a matter of time before it is submerged again.

Flooding on the Ennis to Limerick line is common, leaving commuters discommoded for months at a time and having to take bus transfers.

A relatively small two-mile stretch at Ballycar, near Newmarket-on-Fergus in Co Clare, will have been under water for about five months when it finally reopens.

It is the longest in a run of extended line closures over the last 10 years, although the problem stretches back to the 1920s.

Iarnród Éireann has spent millions on efforts to keep the track above water – notably a 2003 project to raise it by 60cm – but nothing seems to prevent what locals now regard as inevitable.

“It’s a summer track,” laments Shannon-based Independent councillor Gerry Flynn, who says the route has been beset with closures.

“Nobody is really jumping up and down [at its impending return to service]. Why would you? From a viability point of view people vote with their feet and they would have alternative arrangements.

‘Piecemeal’ remedies

Mr Flynn believes the viability of the line should be reconsidered and possibly shut down indefinitely until a durable engineering solution can be found in place of “piecemeal” remedies.

For Iarnród Éireann, however, there is the issue of serving the 100,000 commuters who use the Ennis to Limerick service every year.

At its peak in March water levels rose to 1.4 metres above the track, even though the flooding began in December.

It is a symptom of wider drainage problems in the area, which some trace back to flood works carried out almost a century ago.

“If nothing is done it’s inevitable that it will close again,” admits Barry Kenny of Iarnród Éireann, alluding to more severe weather events in recent years.

The line closed for about four months in 2014, three in 2010 and two in 2008.

What is achievable

“You can raise the track level [further] but is that the long-term solution? Or is a more general flood relief scheme the solution? It depends on what is achievable.”

Long-term options include major flood reliefs, possibly undertaken by the Office of Public Works (OPW), or a substantial and gradual rise in gradient of the track’s banks on either side. Each would cost about €10 million.

The OPW has no plans to carry out works and says line flooding is an issue for Iarnród Éireann.

Rita McInerney, chief executive of Ennis Chamber of Commerce, says the closure has an economic impact on the region as it restricts ease of access not just for commuters, but for tourists.

“This sort of thing could happen again when we get inclement weather,” she says, “which is very unpredictable.”