Despite a long and bitter local campaign, the 30-mile long route from Rosslare Europort to Waterford, in the south eastern corner of the Irish Republic, was closed on Saturday, 18 September 2010 and now remains “mothballed”, with state rail operator Iarnród Éireann (IE) required to maintain the line, in the unlikely event of its future re-opening.
Seasonal sugar beet traffic had once been a mainstay of the South Wexford route, but this had disappeared when the Irish Republic ceased to be a beet producer in 2006, leaving only a single daily return passenger train, departing Rosslare at 07.00 on Mondays to Saturdays, and returning at 17.20 from Waterford.
At the time of its closure only around 25 people a day were said to be using the service, with ticket sales accounting for only 2% of operating costs. These were high due to there being more than a dozen manned level crossings along the line, as well as the famous Barrow Bridge, which takes the line across the River Barrow, is Ireland’s longest railway bridge (710-yards) and whose swing section is still opened regularly to allow vessels up river to the port of New Ross.
While this basic train service did at least provide some sort of a connection with the ferry to and from Fishguard, connections at Waterford were very poor, with a wait of more than four hours for an onward train to Limerick Junction. At the time of closure, services were in the hands of IE 2700 series two-car railcars, with the final departure from Rosslare Europort on 18 September 2010 being formed of vehicles 2726/23.
Having decided to travel on the last trains, I had reached Rosslare after a nocturnal journey to Fishguard Harbour, arriving at 01.34 on a single car Class 153 unit from Swansea, then boarded the Stena Europe, where I was forced sleep in one of the lounges for the three and a half hour crossing as there were no cabins available. We docked on time at 06.15, leaving plenty of time to walk to the rather basic and dismal platform that is the re-sited Europort station.
We set off on time with about 30 passengers on board, a number which has increased to 48 by the time of our arrival at Waterford Plunkett station. On the way I met campaigners Bernard Allan and Joe Ryan, the Mayor of Wexford, and heard in detail about their hard fought campaign to prevent closure of the line.
After a leisurely walk around the town and the chance to take photographs of the splendid signal box that spans the line at Plunkett station (now sadly closed) and its semaphore signals (now sadly gone), I took the 12.20 train to Limerick Junction, giving me the chance to take photographs of token exchanges at the three block posts on the route – Carrick-on-Suir, Clonmel and Tipperary – before a 14.12 arrival at Limerick Junction.
Having made an unsuccessful search for Guinness – the local pub rather appropriately being closed for a funeral – I returned to Waterford on the 15.10 from Limerick Junction, which then forms the last ever 17.20 service to Rosslare and comprises vehicles 2711/12 and 2714/13. On board I meet Mark Gleeson, who has come down from Dublin and who has been closely involved in efforts to develop a community rail partnership on the line and who claims to have serious interest from a number of rail operators.
Back at Waterford on schedule at 17.05, the four-car train fills up – there are just over 100 people on board for the final trip and Bernard Allan, who I had met in the morning, has returned from Wexford to join us. I am also introduced to Tanya Fenelon from Bridgetown on the route and who is Chairman of the action group fighting the closure. There are a considerable number of photographers out to see the train – particularly as it crosses Barrow Bridge – and there is time for photos when we pause at Wellingtonbridge, the only passing loop on the line.
After witnessing departure of the empty stock from Rosslare – there is some dis-quiet at the number of people being allowed on board for the return empty stock trip to Waterford – there is time to mark the closure with a visit to the lively and nearby Rosslare Hotel, where I am joined by Mark and Tanya for a couple of pints of Guinness, before heading off to board the Stena Europe and its 21.15 sailing to Fishguard Harbour.