Report slates Irish Rail for litany of safety failures
Published 22/07/2010 | 05:00
IRISH RAIL failed to provide any proper evidence that it had carried out checks on a viaduct before it collapsed last year minutes after a packed train passed over it.
The railway company's safety record was castigated yesterday in an official report which found major lapses in checks on the structure in Malahide, Co Dublin.
In a further damning indictment, the Railway Safety Commission (RSC) found that Irish Rail has failed to carry out safety checks across the network despite them being a condition of its licence to operate.
The probe into the collapse at Malahide by the RSC also found that the "vast majority" of safety checklists "have never been used" and the required number of inspections are "not being achieved".
The investigation report into the collapse of the viaduct last August also says there is a "lack of evidence" that Irish Rail checked for erosion -- which caused a pillar supporting the track to collapse -- because inspectors could not gain access to the bottom of the structure to complete an examination.
The RSC probe is one of three investigations being carried out into the collapse of the viaduct on August 21 last year.
Last March, the internal Irish Rail investigation found that the reason the bridge fell into the Broadmeadow Estuary in north Co Dublin was because the seabed was being washed away from at least 2006, undermining the foundations of a pillar that supported the track.
Engineers failed to realise that the foundations needed to be maintained because the knowledge had been lost as staff retired or moved to other positions in the company.
A second report, by the Railway Accident Investigation Unit (RAIU) -- an independent body attached to the RSC -- will be published next month.
The RSC refused to comment on its findings last night, saying it was "disappointed" the report was being made public, adding that it was prohibited from commenting on an accident that was being investigated by the RAIU.
However, its report raises serious questions about the safety culture in Irish Rail, which is obliged by law to implement a Safety Management System (SMS) and prepare a 'Safety Case' which must be approved by the RSC.
The Safety Case is a high-level document that describes the SMS and demonstrates how the company assesses and controls risk.
The RSC report identified four instances of non-compliance with the standards which relate to a failure to undertake inspections and checks, failing to use the correct form of inspections and failing to implement a "competence assessment" for safety staff.
It also found that safety staff had not been issued with job descriptions setting out their responsibilities, despite the company telling the RSC in 2006 that safety responsibility statements would be issued to staff in "safety critical positions" by December 2007.
"Clearly, this remains incomplete," the report says.
The RSC warned in 2006 and 2007 of the company's safety culture, while a high-level review of safety standards carried out by the Department of Transport in 2008 found that expensive safety systems were "difficult to use" and safety reporting arrangements were "fragmented".
The Irish Independent has also revealed that critical safety checks were not carried out on the rail network by the RSC because it did not have enough staff.
The safety body last week sought consultants to investigate if key safety information was being lost by the company.
Irish Rail has said that findings of the report "closely coincided" with its internal report, adding that 12 of the 16 recommendations made by the RSC had been implemented in full.