Road improvements sound death knell for former railway bridge

One of the landmark structures along the N63 Galway-Roscommon route – the Ballyglunin Railway Bridge – was removed last weekend as part of ongoing road improvement works in the area.

Local people gathered last Saturday morning to say farewell to the bridge that has been both a friend and foe to them over the past number of decades.

The sound of trains going by at Ballyglunin was part of the daily routine from 1860 until the mid-1970s, when regular services came to an end along the line, due to a rationalisation programme being carried out by Irish Rail.

Although a number of special trains continued to use the track into the early 1990s, the Tuam to Athenry line went completely out of commission over 20 years ago, despite the spirited efforts of rail enthusiasts to restore a service there.

For local people though, the bridge will also be remembered as the location where many lorry drivers had to bring their vehicles to ‘a full stop’, due to the 4.14 metre height limitation of the structure.

The situation was especially bad for lorry drivers approaching from the Abbeyknockmoy direction as they often had to reverse for nearly a mile to access an alternative route via the ‘New Line’ road to Monivea, Crumlin and then back to Ballyglunin Cross. Occasionally they managed to turn their vehicles with the co-operation of local landowners.

On numerous occasions down through the years, the bridge was damaged as some lorry drivers tried to edge their way under the structure and nearly four decades ago, only the alertness of a local man helped to prevent what could have been a disastrous train derailment.

Willie Rabbitte, who lives literally a stone’s throw from the bridge, recalled on Saturday morning last,how back in the 1970s, he had noticed that the bridge was seriously damaged by a truck that had jarred the rail track out of place.

He notified Irish Rail of the problem and all trains were immediately cancelled along the route until full repairs were carried out, leading eventually to a replacement bridge being put in place.

The bridge removal took only about four minutes to complete on Saturday morning last, shortly after 10.30, but weeks and months of planning had gone into the logistics of the project.

The N63 road between Abbeyknockmoy village and Finn’s Cross was closed from 8am on Saturday morning and was not due to re-open again until 8am on Sunday – however, works proceeded ahead of schedule and the carriageway was re-opened by about 4pm on Saturday.

TII (Transport Infrastructure Ireland), Harringtons, Maveric and Walsh Crane Hire were involved in the bridge removal operation – shortly afterwards the bridge was dismantled and removed for scrap.

Site Agent for Harringtons, Gerry Fahy, told the Connacht Tribune that the removal was carried out by a 220 tonne crane, and that concrete slabs within the structure had first been broken up, to take some of the weight from the bridge.

“We had opted for a 24-hour road closure but thankfully the bridge removal operation went like clockwork and we were able to re-open the road in time for the evening traffic coming out from Galway city on Saturday.

“I would also like to thank everyone involved in the project for their professionalism and also to thank road users and local people for their co-operation,” Gerry Fahy told the Connacht Tribune.

Prior to the bridge being removed, sections of the old track between Ballyglunin and Crumlin had been taken up by Irish Rail – the likelihood of any rail service being resumed between Tuam and Athenry in the short to medium term is regarded as remote by most observers.

However, TII have given a commitment, that in the event of Irish Rail proposing to restore a train service between Tuam and Athenry, the bridge will be replaced.

A number of local councillors and outdoor enthusiasts have proposed that the now disused Tuam to Athenry rail route should be converted into a Greenway for pedestrians and cyclists, with a ‘light weight’ bridge to be put in place at Ballyglunin.

For now, though, commuters along the N63 will now just see two clay embankments on either side of the road where the bridge used to be, as work continues on the €8 million Abbeyknockmoy to Brooklodge road revamp project that’s due to be completed around this time next year.