Bolshevism, boats and bridges

The balance bridge crossing the canal, near Newcomen-bridge, as designed and erected under the superintendence of Mr Bindon Stoney, engineer of the Dublin Port and Docks Board, has been completed, and adds considerably to the facilities for carrying on the traffic. This bridge has been erected in substitution of a lift-bridge, constructed in 1872, but to which an unfortunate accident occurred in February, 1878.

Ralph S Cusack, Chairman, in the report of the Directors of the Midland Great Western Railway, 19 February 1879, quoted in the Freeman’s Journal 27 February 1879

In mid-October I mentioned that Maureen O’Sullivan [Ind, Dublin Central] had asked the unfortunate Jimmy Deenihan [FG, Kerry North/West Limerick, and minister for waterways] about Effin Bridge, the lifting railway bridge below Newcomen Bridge on the Royal Canal in Dublin. The bridge is lifted, to allow boats through, on [IIRC] one Saturday each month in the summer, making five lifts a year. Waterways Ireland says on its website [click Bridges if necessary]

The Newcomen Lift Bridge in Spencer Dock is owned and operated by Irish Rail, and requires a rail possession to be lifted. It can only be lifted for boats at limited prearranged times organised with Waterways Ireland. For details of opening times and to arrange passage contact the Eastern Regional Office on 01 868 0148.

Maureen O’Sullivan wanted

… a meeting of interests concerned with the operation of the lifting bridge with a view to devising a management and operational system that is less hostile to the use of the waterway as currently it is an impediment and discouragement to navigation on the Royal Canal and an obstacle to navigation-communication between the Royal Canal and River Liffey and between Royal Canal and Grand Canal at their eastern reaches […].

Jimmy Deenihan said

The bridge is operated by Irish Rail staff on a request basis at Waterways Ireland’s expense.

However, he wasn’t giving any hostages to fortune by making rash promises or even by commenting on whether the bridge was an impediment to navigation. But Ms O’Sullivan was undeterred: she returned to the topic with two written questions on 5 November 2013 and a priority question, no less, on 7 November 2013 [for certain values of “priority”]. On 5 November she asked two questions of Jimmy Deenihan

To ask the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht further to Parliamentary Question No. 59 of 16 October 2013, the extent of railway track that needs to be closed by Irish Rail in order for a vessel on the Royal Canal, Dublin, to be given access between the First and Sea Levels of the Royal Canal; if there has been an assessment of whether the extent of track closure could be reduced to facilitate greater ease of navigation on the Royal canal; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

To ask the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht further to Parliamentary Question No. 59 of 16 October 2013, if the option of a introducing a drop lock to replace the need of the lifting bridge has been considered since the establishment of Waterways Ireland or if that assessment was made by Waterways Ireland’s predecessors; the level of use of the sea level assumed in relation to the assessment; if the impact of the Spencer Dock Greenway was taken into account and vice versa, was account taken of the impact on the Greenway were the sea level to be made accessible to navigation by replacing the lifting bridge; if the assessment includes analysis of whether the effective re-opening of the sea level of the Royal Canal to meaningful levels of year-round traffic would be consistent with the EU’s commitment to the ‘protection and preservation of cultural heritage, in view of the fact that Dublin’s waterway’s heritage is part of the cultural infrastructure of Europe, contributing to economic attractiveness, job opportunities and quality of life; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

The ever-patient Mr Deenihan replied:

I am advised that the option of constructing a drop lock to replace the need for the lifting bridge at the location in question has been considered by Waterways Ireland but it was not deemed viable due to the estimated costs involved, given that the minimum cost for a drop lock to replace the bridge would be of the order of €5m. Work to install a drop lock at this location would also involve considerable temporary works, the extent of which would be unknown until ground conditions were assessed in detail.

I am also advised that there have been no assessments or analyses undertaken by Waterways Ireland in respect of the level of use or impact on the Spencer Dock Greenway.

I can inform the Deputy that the length of railway track disconnected from the rest of the loop line from the station when the bridge is in the ‘up’ position is approximately 16 metres. However, as the control and operation of the railway line in the vicinity of the lifting bridge lies entirely with Irish Rail, only it can indicate the extent of the permanent rail line that needs to be closed when the bridge is opened.

He might also have pointed out that €5m is more than WI’s entire capital budget, which is under €4m for all southern waterways for 2014. And if he were an argumentative chap, he might have pointed out that there is no evidence of a demand for

… the effective re-opening of the sea level of the Royal Canal to meaningful levels of year-round traffic …

and no evidence that it would be of any economic benefit to anyone, least of all the residents of Dublin Central, even if boats were travelling that way every day of the week.

He might, if he were an impatient sort of chap, have pointed to the idiocy of the “cultural heritage” argument: with one or two minor exceptions, pleasure craft were not part of the “cultural heritage” of the Royal but, even if they were, such “heritage” wouldn’t be worth millions that might be spent instead on bringing soup to the deserving poor of Dublin Central.

Ms O’Sullivan was back with more on 7 November, this time trying to get Leo Varadkar [FG, Dublin West] to get the National Transport Authority to include Effin Bridge and the Sheriff Street non-lifting bridge (not a Scherzer) included in a National Transport Authority study of “the management and movement of people and goods to, from and within Dublin city centre”. Ms O’Sullivan’s rather confused and confusing case seemed to be that there was a greenway, and there were walking and cycling routes along the canal, so a road bridge (that works perfectly well for carrying a road) and a railway bridge (that works perfectly well for carrying a railway) should be included  in the study because the canal has navigational potential.

Or something. She even managed to bring water polo [does she mean canoe polo?] into the argument.

As far as I can see, walking, cycling, road travel and rail travel — and even water polo — are not in any way adversely affected by the current arrangements, while the canal is of negligible importance in the movement of people and goods. Boating on the canal is a leisure activity for a small number of people who are sufficiently well heeled to own pleasure-boats; I am rather surprised to find that their interests are a matter of such concern.

As the expenditure on reopening the Royal Canal is a sunk cost, I am all in favour of making its use easier — provided that it can be demonstrated that (a) there is a demand for increased use, (b) such increased use will have benefits that outweigh the costs of any improvements and (c) no alternative investment offers better returns. As far as I can see, Ms O’Sullivan has demonstrated none of the three: indeed I see no evidence that she has even considered them.

What’s depressing here is the absence of any indication of a rational approach to capital spending on waterways. They’re still cargo: a magical source of wealth, that will bring peace and prosperity as long as we all believe in fairies and avoid facts, thinking and analysis.

No wonder the country is in a state of chassis.

Update 15 November 2013: some information about demand for passage under Effin Bridge.

5 responses to “Bolshevism, boats and bridges

  1. Pingback: Effin Bridge – Update? | Canals of Dublin – Tourism Information for the Inland Waterways of Ireland

  2. Pingback: “Ireland has no inland waterways …” says Minister for Transport | Irish waterways history

  3. Pingback: Effin mensuration | Irish waterways history

  4. The Effin Bridge story is a great read, so many thanks for maintaining the archive. But I am curious about your quote “As far as I can see, walking, cycling, road travel and rail travel — and even water polo — are not in any way adversely affected by the current arrangements, while the canal is of negligible importance in the movement of people and goods.” As a regular user of the towpath – both running and cycling – I am confused as to how the cyclist or walker gets from Croke Park to Spencer Dock (ie, the original canal towpath route) whilst the railway bridge is in the way. It is indeed the lack of pedestrian and cycle traffic that has led to the location becoming a home of antisocial behaviour, as has been amply demonstrated by the Davitt Road and Lucan cycle path developments. Therefore I cannot agree that the route is “in now way adversely affected” . It appeared to me any time I tried the route that the route is simply blocked. Is there an hidden or underground towpath that I don’t know about?

  5. Charles

    Greetings. Thank you for an intelligent question. If Ewan Duffy sees this, he might join in.

    I think the answer is that, after Spencer Dock was rebuilt, there was no towpath on either side below Newcomen Bridge (and the railway bridge). Look at the 25″ OSI map here,716884,735465,12,9: there are railway tracks on both sides, pretty well all over the place.

    My understanding is that the turf boats did not go beyond Charleville Mall. I call in evidence J Joyce:

    “Moored under the trees of Charleville Mall Father Conmee saw a turf barge, a towhorse with pendent head, a bargeman with a hat of dirty straw seated amidships, smoking and staring at a branch of poplar above him. It was idyllic: and Father Conmee reflected on the providence of the Creator who had made turf to be in bogs where men might dig it out and bring it to town and hamlet to make fires in the houses of poor people.”

    There wasn’t much other traffic. Willie Leech said that they manhauled their boats, carrying bog ore, down Spencer Dock: men can haul where horses can’t. Steam tugs might have been available for those who could afford them.

    Another question: how did horse-drawn boats cross the mouth of the Broadstone branch?

    Incidentally, I have another piece about Effin Bridge in preparation.


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