The truck being driven by Tim Walsh caused more than €115,000 worth of damage inside the Limerick Tunnel
A HAULAGE contractor who forced the closure of the Limerick Tunnel for three days is facing an insurance bill of more than €200,000 it has been revealed.
In the first case of its kind in Limerick and possibly the country, Tim Walsh, aged 58, of Kilruane, Nenagh has been prosecuted on indictment under the provisions of Section 138 of the Railway Safety Act.
At Limerick Circuit Court, the defendant admitted driving an oversized vehicle into the Limerick Tunnel at around 8.45am on September 11, 2016.
Sergeant Cathal O’Neill said Mr Walsh was transporting a load of straw to Crusheen, County Clare which was five metres in height – 35 centimetres above the maximum height allowed in the Limerick Tunnel.
During a sentencing hearing, he told John O’Sullivan BL, instructed by State Solicitor Padraig Mawe, the defendant had travelled around 100 metres into the tunnel before coming to a stop.
He said he would have been “confronted by a considerable amount of signage” as he approached the Limerick Tunnel alerting him to his oversized load.
“There were flashing signs informing the driver to divert, he chose to ignore those signs,” said Mr O’Sullivan.
Sgt O’Neill said there were lengthy delays and major disruption to traffic following the incident with thousands of cars being diverted through the city.
Around €115,000 in damage was caused to signs and lighting inside the tunnel and the operator of Limerick Tunnel had to pay more than €100,000 in penalties associated with the closure.
The Limerick Tunnel was closed for three days following the incident and had to be closed on two further days a number of months later to facilitate the completion of repairs.
During interview Mr Walsh, who has a number of convictions under the Road Traffic Act, told gardai he had never used the Limerick Tunnel previously and assumed it was the same height as motorway bridges.
When asked if he had measured the height of the load he told gardai he had “eyeballed it” before setting off.
Sgt O’Neill confirmed it was Mr Walsh who had called 999 on the morning of the incident.
Barrister Kenny Kerins said his client – a father of four – has been driving for more than 30 years and that there were no other issues relating to his driving on the day.
He said the tachograph on the vehicle was in order and that he was fully insured.
Mr Kerins said his client had fully co-operated with gardai and accepts what happened was an error.
“He was not driving recklessly,” he said adding Mr Walsh only realised there was a problem when he saw barriers coming down behind him.
“It is not a case of a flagrant disregard, it was a miscalculation,” said the barrister who added his client has learned a salutary lesson.
The defendant told the court he had collected the straw in Wexford the previous day and was transporting it to a farm in Crusheen.
He said there “were no signs as far as I am concerned” and that he was unaware that the maximum height of the Limerick Tunnel was 4.65 metres.
The defendant did not reply when Mr O’Sullivan put it to him there had been a “astonishing error of judgment” on his part.
Having been informed that the maximum penalties open to the court include a three year prison sentence and a €50,000 fine judge O’Donnell said he would need some time to consider the appropriate penalty.
While noting there was insurance in place, the judge asked for confirmation that there are no issues relating to liability of indemnity.
“I’m entitled to factor in the insurance aspect of things,” he commented.