Major probe launched into rail safety over 'lost' records
A MAJOR probe into safety on the country's rail network has been launched amid concerns that key information is being lost as Iarnrod Eireann staff retire.
The Railway Safety Commission (RSC) wants to find out if critical information relating to safety systems is being documented by the state rail operator -- or 'lost' as staff leave the company.
The move follows the collapse of the Malahide viaduct into the sea last August because the company had "forgotten" that its foundations needed to be maintained.
This was because the knowledge was not formally recorded, and had been lost as staff retired or moved to other positions in the company.
Catastrophe was averted only because a train driver spotted that the track ahead had been washed away. Repair work closed the line for three months, and forced 10,000 daily commuters to find alternative ways to travel to work.
The RSC is now seeking consultants to investigate the "extent of the informal corporate memory", where safety information is not being formally recorded by the company.
The probe comes despite a similar audit in 2007 which gave the company the all-clear -- although information concerning the viaduct had not been recorded.
The RSC is charged with ensuring that Iarnrod Eireann and other operators perform to the highest safety standards.
Iarnrod Eireann is required to submit a list of all documents regarded as "necessary to achieve and maintain the levels of safety on the railway" as part of its licence to operate. This includes technical documents, and those setting out procedures.
The RSC now plans an in-depth trawl of safety systems to ensure they comply with best practice.
Tender documents state: "We require an assessment of the management information systems (safety) as they exist currently and as they have existed since 1990 in Irish Rail.
"We need to identify the extent of the informal corporate memory which is not codified or formally recorded. We need to know what status that memory is accorded, if any, in the forums of Irish Rail."
The RSC said the tender was published in advance of more stringent EU requirements in relation to documenting management information systems due to come into force next year.
"The request for proposals relates to the recertification of Iarnrod Eireann's safety management system which the RSC must carry out every four years," it said.
"It includes a detailed examination of how Iarnrod Eireann retains vital management information, in this case, information in relation to safety.
"In this case, we believe our work would benefit from the input of specialist expert advice in the field of organisational behaviour, specifically as it relates to the retention of vital safety information."
The RSC said Iarnrod Eireann's safety record was "generally positive" and that continued investment in safety was delivering "significant benefits".
Some €1bn has been invested since 1999 under the Railway Safety Programme, but the RSC previously said that critical safety checks were not carried out for three years because it did not have enough staff.
Iarnrod Eireann also said its inspection regime covering 1,200 bridges would be reviewed after the collapse of the viaduct.
The company said the probe was a "standard part" of the RSC's role to ensure safety.
"We provide any information or assistance they require in any audit. Such audits assist in our joint goal of maximising safety in all aspects of our operations," a spokesman said.
Since 2001, 82 people have died on the Irish rail network, with some 74 deaths resulting from trespass, suicide or suspicious deaths.
There is no comparison available on the safety records of individual railway operators across the EU.