The only stretch of rail network that remains closed following last years storms is expected to reopen next week.
The Ennis to Limerick rail line at Ballycar, near Newmarket on Fergus in Co Clare, has been closed for almost 140 days following extensive flooding that began in late December.
Water levels, which also resulted in the closure of a local road, have dropped significantly in recent weeks while a test train was able to travel the affected stretch of rail line on Friday.
Iarnród Éireann is now hopeful that the line can reopen at the beginning of next week. The company has been providing an alternative bus service since flooding closed the line.
An Iarnród Éireann spokeswoman said: “The line flooded following a significant increase in water levels at Ballycar Lough due to the heavy rainfall in December and January, and the nature of inflows and outflows from the lough due to the karst landscape in the area.”
“While the intense rainfall ceased in January, inflows caused flood levels at Ballycar to peak in early March at 1.4 metres above the rail line with 1.75 miles (2.8kms) of track being flooded,” the spokeswoman said.
There have been repeated calls for all the relevant stakeholders to meet and try and resolve the problem which has affected the rail line and hundreds of acres of farmland for over three decades.
The Office of Public Work’s has repeatedly stated that its not their responsibility to resolve the issue.
As a result, Iarnród Éireann was forced to commission and fund a study into how best to address the flooding problems at Ballycar.
The ‘Ballycar Lough Flood Study’ was completed in October 2011 and concluded: “The cause of the flooding is the works carried out by the OPW in 1929 when they increased the catchment area.”
The OPW has said however: “Flooding on the line at Ballycar is an operational matter for Iarnród Eireann and is not the responsibility of the OPW. Ballycar Lough does not form part of a Catchment Drainage Scheme undertaken under the 1945 Arterial Drainage Act, therefore OPW has no responsibility for same.”
Despite raising the line by 60cm in 2003, rail services were suspended for seven weeks in February 2008, a further eight weeks late in 2009 and for 110 days in 2014.
A number of schemes have been proposed to alleviate the flooding in future, including raising the line over a significant distance, but funding has been unavailable for these works.
Iarnród Éireann has said however that raising the line again would only “exacerbate the problem in the area whilst offering limited benefits to Iarnród Éireann.”
Late last year, following a 30-year campaign, Clare County Council raised a section of road to ensure most families have access in the future.
The authority says it hopes to meet with the OPW to discuss the wider serious flooding issues in the area.