The South East Greenway connecting New Ross with Waterford is 'on track' to be completed in late 2021; the project being one of only a handful not to have been impacted by the Covid-19 health crisis.
A detailed update on the 24km project was provided at the New Ross Municipal District meeting on Thursday, where chartered engineer with consulting civil, structural, mechanical engineering company, Malachy Walsh & Partners, Seán Breen announced that Irish Rail has acceded to a request to abandon the rail line, meaning it will be leased for the coming years.
Mr Breen said: 'The abandonment will occur in June. That is very welcome progress and marks a key milestone in the project.'
The main trail head for the €14m Greenway will be at Rosbercon, where signage will direct hundreds of thousands of walkers and cyclists into New Ross across O'Hanrahan Bridge.
Cyclists and walkers will be enjoying the stunning scenery along the disused railway corridor stretching from Mount Elliott to Ferrybank at Abbey Road in early 2022.
Mr Breen said drawings have been completed outlining accommodation works, including agricultural crossings, culverts, while contact is being made with all landowners on the route.
Sinead Casey of the council's special projects team said there have been several business queries made regarding opening everything from cafés to bike hire businesses once the greenway opens.
She said a public information session, which was due to be held this summer, has been postponed.
Virtual meetings have been taking place between Kilkenny Local Partnership, Wexford Local Development and other relevant business bodies.
Ms Casey said Wexford Local Development has had several expressions of interest, which they are working on a one-to-one basis.
'We are stepping in, where required, with assistance, so there is some momentum happening.'
Plans are at an advanced stage for signage along the route, including animation.
To this end Wexford County Council have been linking in with a local partnership group and Kilkenny County Council to develop story ideas for the greenway.
Ms Casey said: 'The current situation hasn't stalled us. We are still progressing with the works and with the contract so everything is going ahead at the moment.'
She said the lifting of the Covid-19 restrictions, along with the abandonment of the railway line falls neatly into place for the council and a contractor to begin working on removing the railway tracks and sleepers.
'The contractor has been approved and has been recommended for the works. The contractor has previously done work for us on the flood protection works. Everything is progressing very well.'
As Wexford County Council don't own the 650m Mount Elliott tunnel - which forms a key part of the Red Bridge route - it will have to be bought by the local authority.
'We are in negotiations to buy the tunnel. Conveyancing is ongoing,' Ms Casey said.
Cllr Michael Whelan asked if the council will own the route once it is abandoned by Irish Rail. He also asked if anyone had been appointed to the role of Greenway business development officer, as planned.
Cllr Michael Sheehan said he was delighted to see the progress and called for the Local Enterprise Office to row in and support entrepreneurs planning on seizing on the greenway's potential.
Cllr Anthony Connick asked who will maintain the route adding that he was delighted to see the greenway project moving forward.
Cllr Bridín Murphy asked if the growth of weeds along the route over recent months will delay the project.
Ms Casey said: 'Once abandonment takes place it means no railway company can operate with a further statutory process down the line. Irish Rail or CIE will still own the land so we will have a long lease.'
She said it was always envisaged that the removal of the railway tracks and sleepers would begin in June.
'It's still on track. We're expecting with the lifting of restrictions and with health guidelines, work can continue. It would be one of the optimum projects in this respect and is on schedule for the end of 2021, which is still the completion date.'
She said all of the landowners have been communicated with and there are no significant issues.
'The tunnel is in private hands therefore it's not open to the public at the moment. The greenway will be maintained by the local authority. It hasn't been thrashed out how that will happen.'
She said the greenway business development officer hasn't been appointed yet as all recruitment is delayed due to Covid-19, but is planned for June.
Ms Casey said the public meeting would be economic development led. 'Wexford Local Development are involved because they have the funding that fits very well in for possible business expansion and development in the area.
'We've had expressions from everything from catering to water based activities, to bike hire and repairs. I can't divulge who [has expressed interest], but it's wide ranging.'
She said anyone with a business idea connected with the greenway can still discuss it with the council.
Ms Breen said any growth that has occurred over late Spring, early autumn will be pushed down by machine, adding that the removal of sleepers and tracks remains unaffected by Covid-19.
'There is no impact to the program of works. Work will start at the end of this month as from May 18 we have access to these sites so that has dovetailed nicely for us. If restrictions had been in place for a prolonged period it could have had an impact on us.'
He said workers will be on site by the beginning of June.
'We don't know how this is going to play out and what further aspects we have to factor into this program but we don't envisage any issues with delay.
Cathaoirleach Cllr John Fleming said: 'I think it's great that its on track, if you pardon the pun and that the greenway will gradually evolve.'
New Ross Standard