Tag Archives: Irish Rail

Effin mensuration

Statue of Dr Johnson near his birthplace in Lichfield

Statue of Dr Johnson near his birthplace in Lichfield

The learned readers of this site will not need to be reminded of the sapient advice of the late Dr Samuel Johnson:

[…] no man should travel unprovided with instruments for taking heights and distances.

There is yet another cause of errour not always easily surmounted, though more dangerous to the veracity of itinerary narratives, than imperfect mensuration. An observer deeply impressed by any remarkable spectacle, does not suppose, that the traces will soon vanish from his mind, and having commonly no great convenience for writing, defers the description to a time of more leisure, and better accommodation. […]

To this dilatory notation must be imputed the false relations of travellers, where there is no imaginable motive to deceive.

Samuel Johnson A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland W Strahan and T Cadell 1775

The good doctor would, I think, have welcomed the invention of the digital camera with inbuild chronometer. Equipped with just such a device I arrived yesterday at the first lock on the Royal Canal to witness the lifting of the railway bridge and the passage thereunder of fleets of boats. I thought it would be interesting to record how long each stage took.

I have written before about this bridge: reporting a question by Maureen O’Sullivan TD in October 2013 and another in November 2013 and providing statistics on usage a few days later:

  • only 58 boats went through in 2013
  • the bridge was lifted on seven dates
  • two other scheduled lifts were cancelled as no boats wanted to travel
  • Irish Rail charged Waterways Ireland €1200 per weekday lift and €2000 per weekend lift.

The first 45 minutes

A lift scheduled for early July 2014 was cancelled; yesterday’s lift catered for just two boats, whose passage was assisted or monitored by eight Irish Rail staff and four from Waterways Ireland. Four of the Irish Rail people may have been in training as others seemed to be demonstrating things to them, but that’s only a guess. Three of the WI staff travelled together in WI’s stealth van and operated the first lock; the other, who travelled separately in a 4WD vehicle, visited from time to time. As far as I could see there was no contact between the Irish Rail and WI teams.

The bridge was scheduled to be lifted by 1100.

Before the lift 0945

Before the lift: 0945. The lifting bridge is on the right of the photo

Before the lift 0946

One minute later: 0946. A separate group of workers, perhaps contractors, is going down the west side of Spencer Dock with equipment

Before the lift 0949

Four men still on the bridge 0949

Before the lift 0951

Two minutes later

Before the lift 0956

On the bridge 0956

Before the lift 0958

Still there 0958

Before the lift 0959

One minute later

Before the lift 1006

The bridge 1006

Before the lift 1012

The bridge 1012

Before the lift 1015

The bridge 1015: another person approaches

Before the lift 1020

Six men at the bridge at 1020

Before the lift 1028

A seventh man approaches at 1028

Preparing to lift

The preparation stage, presumably involving the unlocking of some mechanism, took about five minutes altogether.

Preparing the bridge 5 mins 03_resize

One man worked on the far end while another walked to do the same at the near end

Preparing the bridge 5 mins 06_resize

An eighth man, behind the fence on the right, seemed to summon two of the men on the bridge

Preparing the bridge 5 mins 14_resize

They went to this building, which I guess houses the controls for the bridge

Preparing the bridge 5 mins 15_resize

Meanwhile work continued on the bridge itself

Preparing the bridge 5 mins 19_resize

Almost done

Preparing the bridge 5 mins 22_resize

A final check

Preparing the bridge 5 mins 25_resize

Everybody was off the bridge by 1033


The lift itself took just over nine minutes; the bridge was up before 1044, in good time for the arrival of the boats.

The lift 9 mins 02_resize

After about one minute

The lift 9 mins 08_resize

Another minute later

The lift 9 mins 11_resize

Another minute (or so)

The lift 9 mins 15_resize

About four minutes have elapsed

The lift 9 mins 18_resize

After five minutes. The sides are clear of the water in which they usually rest; they are dripping on to the canal below

The lift 9 mins 20_resize

Six minutes in

The lift 9 mins 23_resize

Seven minutes

The lift 9 mins 24_resize

The men behind the fence may be controlling the lift

The lift 9 mins 28_resize

Not much further to go

The lift 9 mins 32_resize

Eight minutes

The lift 9 mins 40_resize

It’s up

The bridge up 16_resize

One of the jacks

After the boats passed_resize

Side view (taken after the boats had gone through)

The bridge up 13_resize

Water under the bridge

Boats go through

It took just over three minutes for the two boats to go under the bridge.

Boats approach 12_resize

Cruiser approaches; steel boat visible through the bridge

Cruiser goes through 03_resize

Cruiser about to enter

Cruiser goes through 04_resize

Heads down

Cruiser goes through 06_resize

Half way through

Cruiser goes through 07_resize


Cruiser goes through 08_resize


Steel boat goes through 12_resize

Steel boat entering

Steel boat goes through 20_resize

Almost through

Steel boat goes through 22_resize

Looking ahead to the lock

Steel boat goes through 25_resize



I did not record the lowering of the bridge, which I presume took much the same time as the raising.

Preparation 5 minutes, lifting 9 minutes, passage 3 minutes, lowering and locking say another 14 minutes: say 45 minutes altogether, allowing some margin. But a large number of boats would take much longer as the rate at which they could move on from the bridge would be limited by the time taken to work through the lock.




Effin stats

I wrote here about Maureen O’Sullivan’s questioning of ministers about Effin Bridge, the lifting railway bridge below Newcomen Bridge on the Royal Canal in Dublin. It seems that she would like a drop-lock to replace the bridge, thus enabling boats to pass under the railway at any time without interfering with the operation of the trains. Which would be very nice, but that it would cost over €5 million and cause significant disruption to the railway during construction.

I was distressed by Ms O’Sullivan’s failure to make any sort of economic case for the drop-lock or for any other measure that might allow for free movement of boats on that section of the Royal Canal. I said:

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.

Ms O’Sullivan’s position might be described as favouring an increase in the supply of possible passages along that section of the canal, but I thought it might be interesting to know what the demand for such passages was, so I asked Waterways Ireland how many boats had passed under Effin Bridge in 2013.

I was wrong about the number of days on which the bridge was lifted: nine lifts were available altogether. Six were on Tuesdays, two on Saturdays and one on a Sunday (to facilitate the Dublin boat rally):

Tuesday 16 April 2013:           0 boats
Tuesday 30 April 2013:         10 boats
Sunday 5 May 2013:            24 boats
Tuesday 21 May 2013:           0 boats
Saturday 1 June 2013:           8 boats
Tuesday 18 June 2013:           2 boats
Saturday 20 July 2013:          3 boats
Tuesday 13 August 2013:       7 boats
Tuesday 17 September 2013:  4 boats

So that’s 58 boats in a year.

I asked what the cost was: I was told that Irish Rail charges €1200 per weekday lift and €2000 per weekend lift. I presume that Waterways Ireland itself incurs other costs, perhaps overtime at weekends, but I don’t know what they are. The cost per boat for each lift was:

Tuesday 16 April 2013:           0 boats: lift cancelled as no boats wanted it
Tuesday 30 April 2013:         10 boats: €120.00 per boat
Sunday 5 May 2013:            24 boats: €83.33 per boat
Tuesday 21 May 2013:           0 boats: lift cancelled as no boats wanted it
Saturday 1 June 2013:           8 boats: €250.00 per boat
Tuesday 18 June 2013:           2 boats: €600.00 per boat
Saturday 20 July 2013:          3 boats: €666.67 per boat
Tuesday 13 August 2013:       7 boats: €171.43 per boat
Tuesday 17 September 2013:  4 boats: €300.00 per boat

The total charged to Waterways Ireland (not to the boaters) by Irish Rail was €10800.00.

Suppose that a drop-lock had been built for €5000000. Would it be worth investing that amount to save an annual expenditure of €10800? I suspect not, although I am open to correction by anyone capable of calculating NPVs or other relevant measures.

It seems to me, though, that the case for any capital expenditure is weak while demand for passages is lower than supply. Perhaps Royal Canal enthusiasts might work on attracting more boats to the Dublin end, whether from the Shannon end or from the Grand and Liffey.


Maureen O’Sullivan and Effin Bridge

A knowledgeable written question [h/t KildareStreet.com] from Maureen O’Sullivan [Ind, Dublin Central] about the Effin Bridge over the Royal Canal at Newcomen Bridge:

To ask the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if he will identify the parties concerned with the operation of the lifting bridge which occupies the site of the original first lock on the Royal Canal Newcomen Bridge, Dublin 1; the factors that contribute to the status of the lifting bridge; if he will convene 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; and if he considers the lifting bridge could be re-engineered as a dropping bridge.

The minister, Jimmy Deenihan [FG, Kerry North/West Limerick], responded:

I can advise the Deputy that the parties concerned with the operation of the lifting bridge over the railway line close to Newcomen Bridge are Irish Rail and Waterways Ireland. The bridge carries the rail line from Connolly Station to the lower line link to the docks area. The bridge was procured and installed by Waterways Ireland’s predecessors. The bridge is operated by Irish Rail staff on a request basis at Waterways Ireland’s expense. The option of introducing a drop lock to replace the need of the lifting bridge has been considered but not deemed viable due to the cost estimate involved.

Note that the question was about a “dropping bridge” but the answer was about a “drop lock”.

The answer suggests that the number of lifts each year is a function of the number of requests made by Waterways Ireland; it would be interesting to know whether that it actually so. If it is, then WI’s budget [cut again] is probably the ultimate determinant; if Irish Rail has a say in the matter, its operational needs may influence the decisions.

I cannot think of any cost-effective solution. I am not convinced that the bridge in itself discourages navigation.