I thank the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Colm Brophy, for coming in to take this Topical Issue matter. I am glad to raise it on behalf of my constituents.
The Barrow railway bridge is a historic structure connecting the counties of Wexford and Kilkenny along the currently disused Rosslare to Waterford railway line. It opened in 1906 and it closed to passenger traffic in 2010. The maintenance arrangement with Irish Rail was to maintain the line for ten years after closure. Last winter, I asked in a parliamentary question if the maintenance arrangement for the line could be extended until a decision had been made on its future. I am pleased to report that in 2021, a weed spraying train passed along the line from Rosslare to Waterford, across the Barrow bridge. I hope this maintenance will continue.
For the benefit of those who are not familiar with the bridge itself, it has a section in the centre that can turn 90 degrees to open the bridge to allow boats to pass through. There has been much debate, particularly in recent times, about the future of the line and what that will be. Some people would like to see a return to rail services linking the south east with the rest of Ireland and a proper service while others would like to see the line turned into a greenway to connect to Waterford and to the Dungarvan greenway. The third option is to develop a greenway alongside the rail line.
The result of the rail review will help inform the next steps in that regard, but regardless of which of the three options are chosen, it will be necessary for the Barrow bridge to be maintained and remain in operational condition. It cannot be allowed to deteriorate and it should not be left in the open position, if it is not designed as such and if that has the potential to damage the mechanism.
Given the fact there is an ongoing review, which is examining the potential to reopen the railway line, can the Minister of State commit to ensuring that the bridge is left in the closed position until the results of the rail review have been completed and a decision has been made on the rail line’s future?