Wednesday 22 November 2017

Can we trust an operator that loses track of safety?

THAT no one was killed when the Malahide viaduct collapsed into the sea in August last year is a miracle.

That the reason it failed was because Iarnrod Eireann didn't know how the line was constructed beggars belief. Some 10,000 commuters use the country's busiest rail corridor every day and assume it's safe.

But scores of passengers could have been killed had the 18.07 Balbriggan to Connolly train arrived just as the ground beneath the track began sliding into the sea. Lurking underneath the Broadmeadow estuary was the problem: an eroding foundation, constructed in the 1840s and reinforced with rock in 1967 but largely left alone since.

Since then, information about how the structure was built and should have been maintained had been lost -- an astonishing situation for the operators of a busy rail network to find themselves in.

All the visual and structural inspections didn't matter if the underlying foundations weren't being looked at.

This is borne out by the fact the viaduct had passed at least four inspections, two in the days leading up to the accident.

So should the state rail company be trusted with passenger safety?

If fatalities are one measure, then it's safe. Ireland has not had a multiple rail fatality since 1983, when seven died and 55 were injured after a Galway train ploughed into the rear of a Tralee locomotive at Cherryville, Co Kildare. Excluding suicides and trespassers, between 2000-2008 four people have died during "normal" operations.

The internal report also says all emergency procedures worked as planned. The Iarnrod Eireann of today is a vastly different organisation than the one that operated pre-1999.

Decades of under-investment meant critical safety work could not be carried out, a situation only addressed in the past 10 years, during which €1.1bn has been invested in a safety programme which included replacement and upgrading of 230 bridges and structures across the network.

Hard-hitting as the internal report is, the group behind it was only tasked with determining the facts and causes of the collapse. It is a separate report from the Railway Safety Commission, which will decide if safety standards were followed.

By law, that must be completed within a year of the incident, meaning it could be August before the public will know if this incident was a one-off or systemic failure -- and whether Iarnrod Eireann can and should be trusted.

Irish Independent

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