The Park Canal 07: another, er, exciting proposal

The Limerick Leader of 11 September 2013 has an uncritical account of another proposal for a “riverbus” to provide transport between the centre of the city and the University of Limerick. The proposal has been discussed on boards.ie.

The Leader‘s account is headed by a photograph of a chap who is wearing a lifejacket in an interesting way and who is travelling in a boat at a speed that would quickly destroy the banks of the Park Canal, were he to attempt it there. And it has a supportive comment from Ger Fahy, chairman of Limerick City Council’s transport committee:

Limerick is very fortunate to have such a major natural resource, and we should be taking advantage of it to ensure when people visit the city, they appreciate it.

What is now called the Park Canal is not a natural resource: it is an artificial waterway. There’s a clue in the name.

Most of the comments I made the last time this proposal came up seem to be equally applicable to this version, but there are some extra problems. The new proposal envigages picking up passengers at two locations in the city: at the Hunt Museum and at the Absolute Hotel.

The floating jetties at the Hunt Museum provide the only secure berths for visiting boats in Limerick. Basing a riverbus there would reduce the amount of berthage available, probably by designating the only barge-sixed berth, that on the outside near the weir, as the riverbus station. But there is a further consideration: those berths are secure because access is via a locked gate. If security is to be maintained, the riverbus operator will have to assign an employee to open and close the gate — and to deal with any malefactors.

It is not clear to me what demand there would be for a boat trip from the Hunt Museum to the canal harbour: it’s quite a short walk.

The next problem is that the riverbus will have to negotiate the Abbey River from the Hunt Museum to Abbey Bridge, probably the most dangerous stretch of inland waterway in Ireland. I described the hazards here. It can be negotiated safely, but only under certain conditions of tide, current and Ardnacrusha operation. I do not see how it is possible to run a frequent scheduled service given the restrictions.

The operator proposes to make a further stop, presumably above Abbey Bridge, at the Absolute Hotel, again at a place of strong currents, before crossing the stream to the lock entrance to the Park Canal. Assuming, that is, that there is enough water over the silt.

Given that the riverbus will have to stop in the lock, it is not clear why it would stop to pick up passengers at the Absolute Hotel: any such passengers could simply walk across the Abbey Bridge and a few yards up the road to the canal, saving themselves from having to sit in the boat while it ascends the lock into the canal harbour.

The trip I envisaged in my earlier piece started at the canal harbour; the new version adds two stops downriver, a dangerous transit of the Abbey River and a passage through a second lock, the sea lock at the entrance to the canal. It seems to me that a second crew member will be required to operate the lock; the lock passage itself will of course take time. And the amount of canal to be travelled is longer too: high speed might be possible on the Abbey River but not on the canal, so the total journey time will be longer than I envisaged and the number of trips per day will be reduced.

I have no objection to an entrepreneur’s risking his own money on an enterprise that does not harm others, but this proposal would impose significant costs on Waterways Ireland (and thus on the taxpayer), both in initial capital spending on Park Lock and on continuing dredging and maintenance for an enterprise that I do not believe can succeed. However, I am open to persuasion, and would welcome information about the business plan.

Happily, Waterways Ireland has little money to spare at present; unfortunately, any it does have will be diverted to the equally impracticable Clones Sheugh, about which I have written at some length on this site.

Addendum 28 November 2013: here’s another new idea, but this one might make sense.

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