Wednesday 18 August 2010

Irish Rail ignored viaduct warnings for over a decade

IRISH Rail's safety record has been castigated in a damning report into the collapse of a railway viaduct into the sea just moments after a train passed over it.

An independent inquiry into the collapse on August 21 last year has found that Iarnrod Eireann was warned in 1997 that the structure on the Dublin-Belfast mainline in Malahide was not safe, but had failed to act.

And it said that the company was warned in a series of safety reviews issued over a decade that structures running over water had to be checked for 'scour', a type of erosion caused by tidal movements.

The report from the independent Railway Accident Investigation Unit (RAIU) also criticised safety watchdog the Railway Safety Commission for not ensuring that Iarnrod Eireann put in place a plan to identify and tackle scour, which caused the viaduct collapse.

It also found that:

* Scouring was identified on the viaduct in 1997, with inspectors noting that the rock armour used to strengthen the structure was 'too light for the job'.
* The rail company had not developed a scour management plan at the time of the accident, despite it being recommended in 2001 and 2006.
* The Railway Safety Commission "closed" or dispensed with this recommendation in 2008. Closure of a recommendation meant it was no longer deemed necessary, or was deemed to have been done.
* Engineers were not appropriately trained for inspections.
* A training course undertaken was supposed to last for three days, but was cut to one and a half.

At around 6.20pm on August 21 last, Pier 4 of the Malahide Viaduct collapsed into the Broadmeadow Estuary, minutes after a train carrying up to 50 people from Balbriggan to Pearse Station crossed. There were no fatalities or injuries.

Transport Minister Noel Dempsey said: "This is an important report into a very serious event.


"Thankfully, due to the speedy actions of the train driver on that day and the effective operation of all post-accident procedures, there were no fatalities or injuries to any members of the public or staff.

"However, this report gives a detailed and worrying account of the inadequate maintenance and inspection regime in Iarnrod Eireann of recent years which failed to safeguard the viaduct structure from the impact of scour and erosion."

According to the report, "The immediate cause of the collapse of Pier 4 was as a result of the undermining of the weir that surrounds and supports Pier 4 through the action of scouring."

An inspection carried out three days before the accident, after concerns were raised by the Malahide Sea Scouts, did not identify the scouring defects "visible at the time".

"Contributory" factors included a lack of training for engineers, the lack of a formal inspection regime, and an "unrealistic requirement" to carry out annual checks.

The report contains 15 recommendations. Iarnrod Eireann said all were being implemented, adding: "We sincerely regret those issues . . . that led to this accident on August 21, 2009, and apologise to customers, who experienced significant disruption to services as a result," it said.

Paul Melia

Irish Independent

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