An investigation has concluded that “blatant disregard for the Iarnród Éireann rule book” led to a near derailment of a train on the Dublin-Cork line 18 months ago.
A new report by the Railway Accident Investigation Unit (RAIU) details how an empty train narrowly avoided being derailed after striking track equipment that had been placed by a work crew who had not received clearance to start repairs to the railway.
The report also reveals that staff attempted to conceal the severity of what happened, while the RAIU said the level of supervision at the time of the accident was “not appropriate.”
The empty unscheduled train, which was travelling from Limerick Junction to Heuston Station, struck a clamp being used to replace a nine-metre section of defective rail.
The incident occurred shortly after midnight on August 27th, 2021, between Newbridge and Kildare near the old station at the Curragh.
The driver of the train, which had seven carriages, reported that he had struck something on the track, while also noting that a number of staff had to move off the line as the train approached them.
“Under slightly different circumstances, the events may have led to a serious accident due to the potential of a derailment as a result of equipment being clamped to the rail,” the RAIU said.
Although nobody was physically injured, some staff reported that they had suffered shock.
Significant damage was also caused to a small section of rail as well as a wheel on the locomotive and the clamp.
The investigation said measures used to prevent access by unauthorised trains on a section of track while engineering works are taking place, known as a “T3 possession”, had not been authorised before Iarnród Éireann staff and contract workers had begun work on the line near the Curragh.
It found an engineering supervisor had erroneously thought that the last train had passed through the worksite.
Although the supervisor had confirmed the last timetabled train had passed the location, he was unaware of the unscheduled train due to pass and had told the crew that they were “good to go.”
The RAIU said an absolute T3 possession of the line had not been granted at that stage which meant the line should not have been accessed.
It also revealed that none of the Iarnród Éireann staff rostered to work on the night of the accident were competent to carry out the works to replace the track, while equipment required for the work had been left near the worksite at the end of the previous night in contravention of instructions from Iarnród Éireann.
The RAIU also said a number of parties directly and indirectly involved in the accident were evasive in their evidence.
It noted an internal investigation carried out by Iarnród Éireann had reported that its progress had been hampered by “a lack of candour”, with some individuals providing “misleading statements” and “untruths.”
The internal inquiry also said it became apparent that the incident was far more serious than was first reported.
The RAIU said Iarnród Éireann staff had initially “downplayed” the incident and inferred that the train had struck a small bolt rather than a piece of equipment that had been clamped to the rail.
The RAIU said it had not been possible to publish its own report into the accident within the required 12 months because of late and wrong information being provided to it.
It concluded the supervisor had not followed “robust” principles and instructions about a T3 possession before allowing staff to access the track as well as failing to position marker boards, as required, prior to starting work on the rails.
“Had the instructions been followed the accident would not have occurred,” it added.
The RAIU said there was an element of “authority gradient” within Iarnród Éireann where staff do not feel empowered to challenge the suggestion of a superior to behave in an unsafe manner.
It noted some workers were refused their request to be stood down on the night after the accident as they were badly shaken by the near miss, while an inspector had not felt able to challenge a supervisor who stated testing for drugs and alcohol in the case were not required.
Following the incident, five Iarnród Éireann staff were suspended with some subsequently disciplined and sanctioned.
Iarnród Éireann also issued two safety alerts to remind staff of the importance of following rules and regulations.
The company said it was also examining the feasibility of introducing an enhanced confidential reporting system for staff and contractors to report safety-related concerns.
The railway safety watchdog, the Commission for Railway Regulation, said there had been “a small but not insignificant number of blatant rule book violations” during the incident.
The CRR said its findings meant Iarnród Éireann was non-compliant with the Railway Safety Act 2005 and needed to implement measures to prevent further violations of rules through improved awareness of the legal requirements of staff and adequate internal monitoring.