A crowded passenger train departed Waterford’s Plunkett Station on the 18th of September 2010, bound for Rosslare Harbour Station. Such was the interest this special journey, Iarnród Éireann doubled capacity by providing a four car train set instead of the usual two car set. This was the last public passenger journey to take place along this route.
The route in question is the South Wexford, Rosslare Strand to Waterford railway line, which meanders through the South Wexford countryside, with stations situated at Killinick, Bridgetown, Duncormick, Wellingtonbridge, Ballycullane and Campile. The Killinick and Duncormick stations closed in 1976, while the other 4 stations continued to deal with passenger trains until 2010.
Now, ten years on from its closure, the future of the line remains uncertain. During the summer of 2020 an inspection car, track recording machine and weed-spraying train all passed along the route from Rosslare to Waterford, possibly for the last time.
The only passenger train to cross the line since closure in 2010, was a privately operated railtour in 2014. Other than this, the only activity seen on the line over the last ten years was the occasional journey of an Irish Rail inspection car, track recording machine, the annual journey of the weed spraying train and a train with replacement tracks.
This line was part of the commonly referred to ‘boat train’ route between Limerick/Cork and Rosslare Harbour. Since the closure of the Waterford to Rosslare section of this line, trains now run between Waterford and Limerick Junction, with passengers able to get connections there to Dublin, Limerick, Cork, Tralee, Galway and everywhere in between. It was possible to buy a ticket from Paddington station in London to Limerick or Cork. The fare included train journey from Paddington to Fishguard, ferry from Fishguard to Rosslare and train from Rosslare to Cork or Limerick.
Interestingly the line is unique among the State-owned railway lines. It is the only line in the Irish mainline system that is not fully owned by the state. The line is owned by the Fishguard and Rosslare Railways and Harbours Company, which is a 19th-century joint-venture company, consisting today of Iarnród Éireann on the Irish side and Stena line on the Welsh (Fishguard) side, which is the same company who own Rosslare Europort.
Why was the line closed?
Put simply, the line was closed because passenger numbers were so low and Iarnród Éireann decided it was no longer feasible to continue running loss making trains. However, when one examines some of the circumstances surrounding the operation of the line, it is not difficult to see why passenger numbers were so low.
Firstly at the time of its closure, the line was served by only 2 trains per day, Monday to Saturday. There was no Sunday service.
The first of the two trains departed Rosslare Harbour at 7am, and arrived in Waterford at 8.20am.
The second of the two trains departed Waterford at 5.20pm and arrived in Rosslare at 6.35pm.
That is the extent of the service which existed on the line prior to its closure.
In addition to the inadequate timetable, the route from a passenger perspective also suffered from:
- A lack of connecting trains at both Waterford and Rosslare
- A reduction in the number of ferry passengers travelling by foot
- Poor facilities at the stations along the route
- Lack of online booking facilities
- Lack of a direct service from Gorey/Enniscorthy/Wexford to Waterford
- Manually operated level crossings
- Significant safety works needed on the Barrow Bridge crossing
- Old tracks
- Speed limits were lower than other parts of the Irish rail network. The journey time of 1hr and 20 minutes was very competitive at the time when compared to road journeys and would still be competitive today, but this could have been so much faster if investment had been made in automating the level crossing barriers and improving the standard of the track itself.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, in 2006 the last sugar factory in Ireland closed its doors. This factory was located in Mallow, Co.Cork. The South Wexford railway line played a very important role in the sugar beet industry due to the presence of a sugar beet processing plant in Wellingtonbridge. This meant, during every sugar beet season the railway line between Wellingtonbridge and Mallow was a hive of activity with beet being ferried to the Mallow plant, and empty trains returing to Wellingtonbridge to collect their next load. This constant freight activity meant that the line was not fully reliant on passenger numbers to justify its existence. Although Wellingtonbridge was the main point of the sugar beet activity, the other stations on the line also saw busy periods with the loading and unloading of sugar beet.
However, sometimes strengths can also be weaknesses, and while sugar beet traffic was clearly a strength of the line, it may also have been a weakness. It is possible that the beet traffic was relied upon too much, while passenger traffic was neglected and not marketed to reach its potential.
If we look at the potential of the line for passenger traffic, it is obvious. But it didn’t seem obvious to Iarnród Éireann. The only apparent target market they had in mind was those in the South Wexford community who needed to be in Waterford for 8.30am on a weekday morning and who were happy enough to wait all day until the only return train departed. This, naturally enough, is a pretty small target market.
There was no service available for:
- Anyone who wished to arrive in Rosslare for the 9am ferry sailings.
- Anyone from Wicklow or North Wexford who wished to travel to Waterford (their only option was to drive to Rosslare for 7am)
- Students who wished to return to college in Waterford on a Sunday evening. (Surely a Wicklow town to Waterford via Arklow, Gorey, Enniscorthy and Wexford Town – Sunday evening student special would be packed, with a similar return service on a Friday afternoon/evening)
- Anyone who wished to go to Waterford to do some shopping on a Saturday or Sunday.
- GAA Specials. If Wexford playing a match in Thurles or Limerick or Cork special trains departing Gorey and calling at all stations in Co.Wexford (bar Rosslare Europort) would surely prove popular among match-goers.
- Tourism – The line is very scenic. The Barrow Bridge and Dunbrody Abbey are attractions which could be incorporated in Sunday rail excursions.
Some lateral thinking on behalf of Irish Rail, and some reasonable investment could have seen this line prosper. The chance is still there, but it appears that neither the political will nor the will within Irish rail is there to make a success of this line as a railway.
Most of the infrastructure needed is already there. Trains can pass each other in opposite directions at Wellingtonbridge due to the double track there. Each of the stations has the potential for ample parking facilities with minimal works.
‘South East on Track’ is a group which advocates the need for improvements in rail services currently offered across the South East by better time-tabling and strategic investment in infrastructure. The group is also campaigning to ensure that the South Wexford Railway line is retained as a railway and not compromised by the proposed greenway, so it can be reopened to both passenger and freight to improve regional connectivity:
“A greenway option in South Wexford has already been surveyed and costed that would allow both transport options to exist concurrently. We have seen from other examples about how difficult it is to get rail infrastructure reinstated once it’s removed – the Old Harcourt Street Line, a rail line to Navan, Foynes, the Western Railway Corridor from Limerick to Athenry, Tuam and Claremorris, the north-west. Once rail goes, it generally never comes back. The new government has set very high goals in terms of emissions reduction. It is worth pointing out at this stage that Transport is by far the highest source of emissions in Ireland. A greenway is not a realistic attempt at emissions reduction, as the average commute in Wexford is 20km as the crow flies, and only the very fit could cycle 40km per day to and from work.
From an infrastructure perspective, the line has been identified in The Southern Regional Assembly’s Spatial & Economic Strategy – the strategic document to guide the South East region through 2040. The Strategy states: “Retention of the mothballed rail link from Waterford to Rosslare is vital for the future development of Rosslare Europort. Any proposals for a Greenway along this route should be configured to allow future use of the rail line.”
Rosslare Europort is set to grow and see significant investment over the coming decades. Any proposal that limits transport of passengers or freight to this vital link with Europe should be rejected.
On this significant anniversary we think it’s crucial to emphasise the importance of retaining this valuable public transport infrastructure in the south-east as an operational railway. As well as being a means of connecting the east coast with Waterford City, the line can also carry freight, which has been successful at Waterford Port/Belview.
South East on Track is asking that Minister for Transport Eamonn Ryan to recognise the potential of railway and to instruct Irish Rail and The National Transport Authority to retain and develop the route and ensure that railway is not compromised by the proposed greenway.
It is also calling for all public representatives in the South East and in particularly in Counties Wexford and Waterford to support this strategy.“
It was too easy for Irish rail to run this line into the ground and then use the neglect to justify its closure. We also have a railway line and a port, owned in part by Iarnród Éireann, yet we have no rail freight facilities at Rosslare port. The is potential there to make this line useful as a railway, either as a useful tool for local traffic, freight traffic or for tourist traffic, but the fear exists that state-sponsored vandals will tear up this railway line altogether instead of putting an effort into making successful.
Ballycullane Station Images: http://eiretrains.com/Photo_Gallery/Railway%20Stations%20B/Ballycullane/IrishRailwayStations.html
Bridgetown Station Images: http://eiretrains.com/Photo_Gallery/Railway%20Stations%20B/Bridgetown/IrishRailwayStations.html
Campile Station Images: http://eiretrains.com/Photo_Gallery/Railway%20Stations%20C/Campile/IrishRailwayStations.html
Wellingtonbridge Station Images: http://eiretrains.com/Photo_Gallery/Railway%20Stations%20W/Wellingtonbridge/IrishRailwayStations.html