Tag Archives: Sheriff Street

Before there was Effin

The name Effin Bridge has been given, in jest, to the lifting railway-bridge that crosses the Royal Canal just below Newcomen Bridge in Dublin. Here is an article about the bridges that preceded Effin Bridge at that site.

“Ireland has no inland waterways …” says Minister for Transport

Those very words came from Leo Varadkar [FG, Dublin West], Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, in a written answer to a Dáil question on 3 December 2013.

I have, of course, quoted him selectively and out of context. The full sentence was

Ireland has no inland waterways within the definition of the EU legislation as Ireland’s inland waterways are not navigable for commercial traffic and we do not have any interconnected inland commercial transport for the purposes, or on the scale, envisaged by EU proposals in this area.

The poor man was responding to yet another question from the Pest of the Royal Canal, Maureen O’Sullivan [Ind, Dublin Central], who was continuing her misguided campaign to get public money from anywhere at all to replace Effin Bridge, the lifting railway bridge at Newcomen Bridge over the Royal Canal in Dublin 1. I reported on her campaign here, here and here, with the last of those showing that current demand for passages is less than the (admittedly restricted) supply. That being so, I cannot see how any expenditure on replacing Effin Bridge could be justified, especially in the country’s current situation and with Waterways Ireland desperate for money. I would, of course, have no objection to any voluntary fund-raising campaign that Ms O’Sullivan might initiate.

Ms O’Sullivan questioned two ministers on 3 December. She asked Leo Varadkar:

…  if his attention has been drawn to Inland Waterway Transport Funding, the Funding Guide for Inland Waterway Transport in Europe published by the European Commission’s Directorate General for Energy and Transport in 2008; the reason the 19 countries’ inland waterways systems referenced in the publication does not include Ireland; if he will ensure that any future edition of the guide will contain a country profile for Ireland including information on major inland waterways and ports together with an overview on the national inland waterways transport funding policy, funding programmes and institutions; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

The saintly and erudite minister replied:

The Funding Guide that the Deputy refers to was published following the launch of the 2006 NAIADES Action Programme, a multi-annual programme on the promotion of inland waterways transport. The Commission has recently decided to update and renew this programme until 2020. Ireland does not have a country profile in the Funding Guide as, in general, Ireland is exempt from EU inland waterways rules and proposals since they relate to waterways of a greater size and carrying a greater capacity of goods than exist in Ireland. The European Union’s inland waterway network spans 20 Member States with about 37,000 kilometres of inland waterways. Every year, these transport around 500 million tons of cargo, in particular in the densely populated and congested areas of Germany, the Netherlands, France and Belgium.

Ireland has no inland waterways within the definition of the EU legislation as Ireland’s inland waterways are not navigable for commercial traffic and we do not have any interconnected inland commercial transport for the purposes, or on the scale, envisaged by EU proposals in this area.

My Department is responsible for licensing all commercial inland craft in Ireland. There are no commercial cargo craft on Ireland’s inland waterways, apart from some small workboats. There are a number of domestic passenger boats and ships operating locally as tourist excursion vessels.

Ireland keeps a watching brief on EU inland waterways matters, mainly to ensure that any proposals do not conflict with, or overlap, the existing maritime safety regimes.

I expect that Ms O’Sullivan will be back shortly to propose the setting up of a horse-drawn barge fleet on the Royal Canal, returning Ireland to the late eighteenth century, to which the Irish left (and republicans) seem so devoted.

Her other questions were to Jimmy Deenihan [FG, Kerry North/West Limerick], Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. She asked:

… if he will identify the various State agencies whose operations bear upon the management of the Royal Canal and the steps they are taking, individually or collaboratively; if he will increase commercial-leisure use of the Royal Canal since the reopening of Spencer Dock to navigation in 2010; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

… if the European Regional Development Fund has been considered as a possible source of funding towards the costs, estimated at over €5 million, of overcoming obstacles to navigation, namely, the lifting bridge and the fixed Spencer Dock bridge on the sea level of the Royal Canal; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

The patient and polite minister said:

[…] Waterways Ireland is the navigation authority for the Royal Canal and is responsible for the management, maintenance and development of the Royal Canal, principally for recreational purposes. Waterways Ireland undertook the work to re-commission the Royal Canal prior to its reopening in 2010 and continues to develop the canal and its facilities, and promote its use for recreation.

I am advised that Waterways Ireland has not sought funding to redevelop the lifting bridge referred to by the Deputy and has no plans to seek such funding at this time. Ongoing operation of the bridge continues to be kept under review with Iarnród Éireann, while Dublin City Council remains responsible for the operation of the Spencer Dock Bridge at Sheriff Street.

And rightly so.

Note that the €5 million figure referred only to Effin Bridge; replacing Sheriff Street Bridge would be another kettle of fish.

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.