Rail engineers 'did not know' how to inspect faulty viaduct
Published 12/03/2010 | 05:00
IARNROD Eireann engineers "misunderstood" a crucial warning which could have prevented the collapse of the Malahide viaduct.
The revelation came after the Irish Independent yesterday published details of an internal investigation into the incident which put the lives of 10,000 commuters at risk.
It concluded that one of the country's busiest rail lines fell into the sea because the semi-state company forgot how it was constructed.
The report also found engineers failed to inspect the foundations of the structure -- despite a warning received just days before the viaduct collapsed. Local sea scouts reported that rocks at the base of the viaduct had been washed away.
But instead engineers inspected support pillars which were in no danger of collapsing.
They looked for cracks or missing stones in the pier structure just days before the Malahide viaduct fell into the sea, the internal company report into the accident found.
"During the week before the collapse, a group leader of Malahide Sea Scouts observed that a rock at the base of pier 4 had been washed away and contacted Iarnrod Eireann on August 17 to report this," it said.
"A misunderstanding appears to have developed so that the engineer delegated to inspect the viaduct was looking primarily for cracks or missing stones in the pier structure rather than in its foundations . . . therefore this visual inspection did not lead engineers to question the stability or the structural integrity of the viaduct."
The report also revealed workmen carrying out safety checks did not know how to properly assess the structure because the knowledge had been lost over time -- because safety inspectors had retired or moved to other positions.
This information was also not passed on to colleagues, despite 10,000 commuters a day using the line.
On August 21 last year, erosion caused a supporting pillar -- pier 4 -- to collapse into the sea as a packed commuter train passed over it.
Massive potential loss of life was only averted because train driver Keith Farrelly used his emergency training to coast the train over the embankment.
For more than 40 years, maintenance had been carried out on the pillars holding up the track rather than on the causeway it was built on.
Grouting work had been carried out on the causeway in 1967 to "bind" the structure together, and since then the focus has been on maintaining the support pillars.
The revelations led to accusations last night that the company had put passenger safety at risk. Fine Gael transport spokesman Fergus O'Dowd accused the company of a "deliberate cover-up".
"Iarnrod Eireann is guilty of a serious cover-up," he told the Irish Independent. "The company told the Oireachtas Transport Committee that the viaduct had been given a clean bill of health in 2006. This was not true.
"How are we supposed to have faith in the rest of the rail network, when Iarnrod Eireann's excuse for this fiasco is that key staff members had retired?"
Labour Party transport spokesman Tommy Broughan called on Transport Minister Noel Dempsey to urgently publish the full report into the collapse. "The near-disastrous event raises serious question marks about the safety procedures and culture at Iarnrod Eireann and, in particular, at the Railway Safety Commission," he said.
Iarnrod Eireann last night said its investigation had uncovered the true extent of the erosion.