Thursday 19 January 2017

Irish Rail defends safety record after watchdog queries series of incidents

Published 18/03/2016 | 02:30

Irish Rail chief executive David Franks
Irish Rail chief executive David Franks

Safety chiefs have expressed alarm over a series of incidents that took place on the country's railway network, including collisions, door failures and trains being derailed.

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The Railway Safety Commission (RSC) described as "worrying" 12 incidents involving Irish Rail trains which were recorded over an eight-month period.

On six occasions, trains were reported as having derailed at locations in Meath, Limerick, Waterford and Dublin.

And in two other incidents, trains collided with buffer stops in Westport in Mayo and Dublin's North Wall.

There were also operational incidents recorded by the RSC in Kildare and Dublin, including a door failure at Heuston Station.

In correspondence between the chairman of the RSC, Gerald Beesley, and Irish Rail chief executive David Franks, Mr Beesley questions whether the incidents indicate "fundamental problems" on the network.

"The RSC would be pleased to learn of Iarnród Éireann's strategic approach to dealing with the type of incident that is now occurring, and whether it is considered that such incidents are indicators of more fundamental problems," Mr Beesley wrote in a letter in August.

In response to Mr Beesley, Mr Franks said that the level of incidents recorded last year is similar to previous years.

Mr Franks said the company has carried out its own investigations and surveys into operational incidents and a number of initiatives aimed at improving safety are being rolled out.

"One of these is the introduction of the Iarnród Éireann safety campaign aimed at increasing safety awareness throughout the organisation," Mr Franks wrote.

"There has been widespread communication with all staff to implement the campaign under the banner 'Accident Free Depends On Me'. The key elements of the programme are geared towards showing how individual actions can help prevent accidents, improving close-call (near-miss) reporting, developing safety leadership skills of managers and safety representatives across the organisation, and expanding the engagement of staff through initiatives such as Safety Management System standards review and Operational Risk workshops."

The correspondence was released under the Freedom of Information Act.

Irish Rail only came under the legislation late last year, having previously been one of a number of public bodies exempt from FOI.

The details of the incidents are revealed just days after the six-year anniversary of the collapse of the Malahide viaduct, one of the most serious railway incidents recorded in decades.

And the concern over the incidents on the country's railway network has emerged just months after the Irish Independent revealed that Irish Rail staff were failing to report near-misses for fear of being blamed by senior management.

A safety audit commissioned by the RSC also warned of "poor morale" among workers due to recently imposed pay cuts.

Safety experts flagged a "lack of (trust) or a mistrust between frontline staff and management" and found that senior management appeared to meet with staff only to deliver "bad news".

The independent audit, which was carried out last year by a UK-based consultancy firm, called for significant improvements in the safety culture at Irish Rail.

Investigators found that so-called "near misses" - events with the potential to cause death, injury or damage - were not being reported.

Examples of non-reporting of near-misses included incidents of over-speeding and marker boards (which are erected to advise drivers about temporary speed restrictions) being out of position.

While pointing out that Irish Rail is "far from unique" in dealing with a lack of near-miss reporting, the auditors said trust needed to be built between management and staff.

Irish Independent

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