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Wednesday 18 September 2019

Common sense could have prevented Luas being stopped in its tracks

Thousands of passengers suffered needlessly because of a flaw in disaster planning, writes Wayne O'Connor

OUT OF SERVICE: The Luas was out of action for two days
OUT OF SERVICE: The Luas was out of action for two days
Wayne O'Connor

Wayne O'Connor

That spare key most of us have hidden under a flower pot, buried in a hanging basket or tucked behind a stone provides a comforting reassurance that you will never be left locked out. The hardest part of having a spare key is choosing where to leave it. What's less difficult is knowing not to keep it on your keyring with the original.

Applying this logic would have prevented Luas operations from being cancelled last week. Instead, passengers were left in the lurch because of the decision to house a back-up control centre at the same facility as the main command post. It also meant that a part of the public transport network operated by a private company was the last to return to full service after Storm Ophelia had passed.

Equipment needed to operate trams through the capital is housed at three sites: the Red Cow depot on the Red Line, on the Green Line at Sandyford and the soon- to-be-opened Broombridge stop.

A final lick of paint is being put on the latter stop. The other two depots have all the desks, screens, computers and paraphernalia one would expect to find in a Luas control room. Crucially, however, only the Red Cow HQ has the necessary servers or 'technical room' needed to power the control rooms, so the equipment elsewhere is defunct. These servers are the real nerve centre of Luas operations. Without these servers, the control rooms cannot function. They drive the automatic vehicle location system used to monitor the whereabouts of every tram winding through Dublin. Servers also control the power supplies, passenger info, display systems, public address announcements, communications with traffic lights and CCTV systems. The technical room makes sure the service, relied on by thousands to get to work, college, school and other appointments, runs on time.

Sources said the privatisation of the tram service or an attempt at keeping costs down had nothing to do with the fact there is only one technical room. Instead, it appears the need to have a functioning Plan B off-site was overlooked.

As Ophelia raged up the M7 from the south and through the Red Cow on Monday, it damaged the roof on the Luas headquarters. Transdev, the private company responsible for running Luas services, made Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) and other relevant parties aware that the back-up control room had also been decommissioned by Ophelia.

"Obviously there should have been a facility away from the building at the Red Cow where the Luas could be run from but somewhere along the way it never happened," a senior source told the Sunday Independent. "Whether that happened in 2004, when the Luas came on stream, or since then is unclear but it should not have happened like this."

Officials at Transdev and TII were reluctant to accept full responsibility last week or apportion blame. They have a good working relationship but officials on both sides conceded the lack of an off-site server to keep Luas systems operational after a potential disaster at the Red Cow was "a serious flaw". They said privatisation had no role to play. However, the fact is someone will now have to foot a €2m bill if this infrastructure is to be created.

A serious incident at the Red Cow depot would result in the Luas being out of commission for between five and seven days. Officials said they have learned from Ophelia and TII is working on a three-step plan to make sure Luas services are kept on track. This includes building a new bunker near the Red Cow to house backup servers and eventually having a fully operational control room on the Green Line.

Sunday Independent

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