Not so long ago passengers travelling by rail from the west of Ireland to Dublin had their train journey slow to a snail’s pace as they crossed the Shannon at Drumsna in Co Leitrim.
The original railway bridge had aged so much that trains were forced to reduce their speed to a crawl to cross safely.
“The existing bridge was old and in need of constant repair, so trains could only travel at a speed of 10 miles per hour in the vicinity of the bridge,” says specialist structural engineer with Irish Rail, Aidan McAdam.
Reconstruction had been considered numerous times, but the cost was too high. It finally got the go ahead in 2008 thanks to the European Regional Development Fund, which supported the bridge’s renewal as part of a rail safety program.
“Now trains can travel at a speed of 75 miles per hour for the entire journey, which makes a huge difference to the lives of regular passengers,” McAdam says.
The location of the railway bridge – it crosses the River Shannon from Leitrim to Roscommon at a spot that cannot be reached by the road – meant that engineers needed to construct a temporary road to safely reach and work on the bridge.
“One of the world’s largest cranes was hired to lift out the old spans, lift in the new bed stones, and put in the new spans before laying a new track across the bridge and connecting to the existing track,” explains McAdam.
All of the initial preparation work was done out of train operating hours to minimise the disruption to passengers and then the track was closed for 10 days while the works were safely carried out.
The reconstruction, which cost a total of €5.5 million, has resulted in a more reliable bridge structure that has improved train journey times from Sligo to Dublin. The new structure is expected to last for 120 years.