After more than a century and a half of continuous operation, there is growing optimism that the railway line crossing the region is about to experience a new lease of life.
The Limerick-Ballybrophy railway line, via Birdhill, which also serves Castleconnell, Nenagh, Cloughjordan and Roscrea, is now singled out as one of the potential lines for further improvement and use.
The listing of the railway line by political and infrastructure groups stands in stark contrast to the line’s threat of closure in recent years. Eamon Ryan, Leader of the Green Party and Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, urges greater emphasis on rail travel as a measure to reduce traffic congestion, reduce emissions and reduce the cost of travel.
There has been considerable expenditure by Iarnród Éireann for track renewal and extensive fiber optic cable work on the line in recent years.
The Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications, in a submission to the All-Ireland Rail Strategy Review, cited the route as one of many that need to be made more user-friendly.
The submission recommended reviewing existing timetables and “investing in necessary improvements to lanes, speed limits, level crossings and potential new stops to make the route attractive to commuters traveling from Tipperary to Limerick City. “.
The North Tipperary Community Rail Partnership has called on Irish Rail, the National Transport Authority and the government to further improve current journey times on the line.
Nearly 1,200 people have now signed a petition, organized by the partnership, to submit to the authorities, calling for more immediate action to provide faster journey times and an improved timetable.
“For too long, this section of the national rail network has been left in a state of decline. More than 23 million euros of taxpayers’ money was spent upgrading the line last year and despite this there has been no improvement in the frustratingly slow journey times,” they said.
“Extensive work has been carried out on the line to replace the old articulated track with continuous welded rail (CWR). 80% of the track has now been upgraded to CWR, but speed limits on all sections remain exactly the same as before this work was completed,” they added.
They are seeking additional support from communities in the respective areas, served by the line, for the online petition which is still ongoing.
It is understood that Irish Rail is engaging with the Department for Transport on possible funding to address level crossings and other improvement works which would reduce journey times on the line.
A few years ago the line was identified as operating at a substantial annual loss and threatened with closure unless there was an increase in the number of paying passengers using the service.
The line through Birdhill has been in service for over 160 years.
In 1858 the line from Limerick to Castleconnell was opened and soon after it was decided to extend the line to Killaloe. Birdhill was just an accidental stopping point on the way.
A sum of £37,000 has been allocated by Act of Parliament for this extension. The line finally reached Birdhill and was opened on July 23, 1860.