Regular readers will be aware that I think the proposed canal to Clones is a bad investment. I thought it might be useful to look for information about other Irish canal restorations to see what they cost and what the return on investment has been. I understand that there was a study of the Shannon–Erne Waterway, but I can’t find a copy on tinterweb (if anyone has one to lend, please get in touch).
I therefore asked Waterways Ireland about the restoration of the Royal Canal:
I would be grateful if you could tell me the cost of the restoration of the Royal Canal, the annual cost of running it and the revenue it generates.
The reply (for which I am, as always, grateful) said:
Restoration of the Royal Canal commenced in 1987.
€37m Capital Expenditure on the restoration project funded through (1) Operational Programme for Tourism 1994-1999 (2) National Development Programme 2000 – 2007 and (3) National Development Plan 2007-2013.
The Maintenance Cost for 2012 is €2.46m.
The revenue generated by the canal in 2011 is not available.
I didn’t really expect that there would be a meaningful figure for revenue. A full assessment of the benefits would cover far more than the (probably minimal) direct revenue; I think such an assessment should be done, but that’s not what really got my attention.
According to Waterways Ireland, the Main Line of the Royal is 146 km long and has 46 locks and many bridges, some of them newly built as part of the restoration. Harbours have been improved, slipways have been provided and service blocks have been built. And all of this was done for €37 million (I don’t know whether that’s in constant prices and, if so, at which year’s rates: I’ve asked a supplementary question).
A canal to Clones would be 13 km long and, according to WI’s final restoration plan [PDF], would have one double lock (staircase pair). Some dredging would be needed on the River Finn and a new canal 0.6 km long would have to be provided; the work at the Finn end would cost €8.5 million altogether. On the line as a whole, work would be required on up to 17 bridges, some major and some minor or private bridges. And there would be a cost for land acquisition, although the Updated Economic Appraisal put that at a mere £1,268,280, a very small portion of the total cost. And then there would be the pumps and pipes to take water from the Erne, pump it to Clones and let it flow back down; it is not clear whether WI would have to pay for the water. And the total cost of this lot would be €38m + VAT, which I am told is about €45 million altogether.
Now, even allowing for the facts that there had been some voluntary and FÁS scheme work on the Royal, that no land had to be acquired and that parts of the canal were in water, I still find it difficult to see how a 13 km canal with one double lock can cost more than a 146 km canal with 46 locks. I have asked WI for a comment, but perhaps readers — especially if any of them are engineers or accountants — would be able to help to explain the mystery. Maybe it’s something simple like a mistake in the figures or maybe I’m missing something about the nature of restorations …. Enlightenment welcome.