Dáil Éireann - Volume 560 - 06 February, 2003

Railway Safety Bill 2001: Second Stage (Resumed).

  Question again proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

  Mr. Kelly: Even to the present day, most legislation applicable to rail safety emanates from inquiries into accidents or, if we are lucky, near misses. Of course, a network our size would not [1321] have the same potential for accidents as the bigger UK network. This has created a major problem in that fewer accidents lead to fewer inquiries. In the absence of regular independent inquiries into rail accidents, there has been no dynamic presence in these Houses to prompt updating of legislation.

  That is why I welcome the new rail safety commission. The Rail Safety Bill 2001 imposes stringent new procedures for rail safety, including giving rail companies the power to test staff for drink or drugs. The proposed rail safety commission will have up to three members and will be completely independent of the Department of Transport. It will have powers to monitor and inspect railway infrastructure and investigate and publish reports into railway accidents, and it will be able to enforce its decision.

  As well as Iarnród Éireann, the commission will police safety on the Luas, the proposed metro and various heritage railways around the country. Any company failing to co-operate with the commission can be fined up to €500,000. Each company will have to outline its safety management systems in what is called a safety case and will not be allowed to operate unless the commission is satisfied with its plans.

  One major area of the Bill relates to intoxicants, drugs and alcohol. In consultation with staff and unions, each company will have to draw up codes of conduct for the use of drugs or alcohol and will be able to require what are called safety critical staff to provide samples for testing for intoxicants, whether through breath tests or blood and urine samples. It is recognised that there was sustained under-investment in the railways for many years. It is a credit to the staff and management of Iarnród Éireann that they have managed to operate the railways safely over those difficult years. I am confident that the new regulatory framework, together with the major investment this Government continues to make in our railways, will lay the bedrock for safe railway travel in the future and will give assurance to the travelling public that safety will continue to be of paramount importance to this Government.

  I was pleased to learn recently that Iarnród Éireann now has a total of 187 carriages on order for its entire fleet, which includes suburban, arrow and inter-city trains, and further orders are planned. These included a €115 million order for 80 new carriages for suburban services in the greater Dublin area, which will enter service in mid-2003, and a €117 million order for 67 new inter-city carriages, which will enter service in 2005. The new inter-city trains will represent the first new carriages on the inter-city fleet for more than 20 years, with the exception of the Enterprise service to Belfast. I also welcome the news that the 7 o'clock train from Longford to Dublin will have an entire set of new rail cars at the end of this year.

  Mr. F. McGrath: I would like to share time with Deputy Trevor Sargent. I am grateful for the [1322] opportunity to address this important legislation. The Railway Safety Bill 2001 is about ensuring the protection and safety of all citizens and about planning for the future with the proposed Luas and metro lines and the essential strategies of ensuring public safety. It is important that this Bill be implemented in full and maximum effort is put in to making our railways safe. Many trains are death traps; we should not shy away from this fact and we must urgently deal with this public safety crisis to prevent loss of life and serious injury. It is not good enough that dilapidated trains travel to our cities each day with thousands of commuters at risk. Neither is it good strategic planning to put workers' lives at risk as they travel to work. People cannot be expected to travel to work from Killester, Clontarf, Fairview and Marino in overcrowded trains and DART services. They are crammed and dangerous and I urge the Minister to follow up on the orders for new trains.

  This Bill provides for the establishment of an independent rail safety commission with wide-ranging powers of inspection, investigation and enforcement and the transfer of railway safety functions currently held by the Minister. I warmly welcome the establishment of a rail safety advisory council with membership drawn from all areas of the railway sector, including persons representing the public interests and the interests of mobility impaired persons. This is a positive section of the Bill and I urge the Minister to give a proper voice, not a token one, to the public interests and disability groups in the advisory council. If we are serious about social inclusion and disability rights enough places on this council must be guaranteed for these people. The customer and the taxpayer must be heard. This will ensure a quality rail service.

  There are examples of good practice regarding inclusion of people with disabilities. Dublin City Council has exceeded the 3% public service quota and its work force now includes 257 people with disabilities, that is 4.3% of the total. We should use examples of good practice when services are being planned.

  We need urgent investment in passenger and freight railway services. This will ease congestion on our roads and save lives. Why do we not look at this as a strategic part of overall traffic management plans? We must be radical and creative in order to improve quality of life.

  Section 20 provides that a commissioner will cease to hold office where he or she accepts a nomination of Seanad Éireann or is elected to the Dáil or European Parliament. I strongly agree with this important section as politicians cannot hold such an important independent position. I also approve of section 19 regarding ethical behaviour. Public trust and accountability must always be a priority.

  Section 41 provides that a railway undertaking must implement a safety management system; this will lead to good practice in safety issues. The recent incident at Clontarf with subsidence connected to the construction of the Dublin Port [1323] Tunnel showed the clear need for workable safety measures and the urgent need to be on guard regarding risks on our railways. It also demonstrates the very serious threats posed by tunnel collapse and fire. Many tunnels around the world have collapsed and we have seen serious fires in others that resulted in many deaths. The people of Marino, Fairview and Santry have constantly warned the authorities on safety issues and their views are represented by some of the sections in the Bill. I hope we all pay attention to their serious concerns. Ramming through projects without proper safety measures will inevitably lead to loss of life.

  Section 39 deals fairly with the threat posed by drugs and alcohol. Under no circumstances should a person be allowed to carry out duties while under the influence or drugs or alcohol and all staff should be made aware of this from the outset. Staff programmes should be instituted for people with alcohol or drugs problems. Under no circumstances should people with drug or alcohol problems be allowed to take responsibility for trains.

  The Department of Finance has given sanction to the creation of nine posts on the commission. These posts should not be filled by party hacks, rather they should be filled by people with the relevant experience and qualifications and a genuine interest in safety on the railway system. The total cost of the commission will be approximately €2 million. I hope costs never become an issue when public rail safety and good safety practices are at stake.

  Did I understand the Minister correctly when I heard him say companies such as Dublin Bus will not be privatised? Yes. I welcome that and his comments on Dublin Bus. Dublin Bus has made great efforts to improve its services in recent years. It is an excellent organisation but it must be helped. Many of its staff positions would not be filled were it not for the non-nationals working for it. I commend them on the excellent public service they provide. They are taxpayers living in this State and make a massive contribution to our city.

  There are many positive aspects to this Bill. It will lead to a quality rail service that has safety at the top of its agenda.

  Mr. Sargent: Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil le mo chomhghleacaí, an Teachta Finian McGrath, as a chuid ama a roinnt liom. This Bill is very welcome and much needed. The formation of a rail safety commission will make an important statement as well as doing important work. I support Deputy Finian McGrath's comments about the need to involve people with disabilities at the earliest planning stages of development work, particularly work that has safety in mind.

  From experience, I have found Iarnród Éireann has a mixed reputation on safety for people with disabilities. There is no doubt that the ramps it installed are helpful and necessary but they are not always available. One finds that [1324] lifts across the track are out of order for long periods. Using Iarnród Éireann can be a most frustrating experience for someone with a buggy, an elderly person, someone with a broken leg or somebody with no leg. The waiting time for repairs to lifts is often very long. The lift at Balbriggan was repaired and worked for one day before it broke down again. The Minister needs to look more closely at the arrangements for keeping facilities in good repair.

  The wider issue of safety is related not only to the durability and repair of the tracks, but to issues such as overcrowding. Strictly speaking, this does not come within the remit of the Bill. I take the train from Balbriggan that runs on the northern suburban line. People frequently faint on it; others are squeezed when the doors close while others fall out when the doors are opened. These issues must be taken into account when dealing with safety. I know people that have had to stay at home due to illness arising from travelling on the train. I consider this a safety issue. I hope this does not become more serious and result in fatalities.

  The northern suburban line claims to be seeking a 40% increase in capacity, but there is an unreality about the claims that this will be the end of the matter. The population in towns along the line such as my town of Balbriggan is due to increase 200% in the next ten years.

  We have all seen the advertisement on television to the effect that we are not there yet but are getting there, and the young fellow getting to the finishing line. The finishing line is moving faster than the young fellow is running. I see him getting very tired if reality was to be reflected. There is need to grasp the nettle in regard to mass commuting. We must reduce the need for mass commuting, rather than allowing it to increase and then trying to meet the demand for it, which we will not be able to do. We are not meeting that demand now and we certainly will not be able to meet it in the future.

  Having heard of a factory closure in Youghal today and my colleague, Deputy Boyle, speaking on the Order of Business about the increasing number of factories closing nation-wide, brings to mind the crisis people will face commuting in the future. They have two choices; they either get thrown on the scrap heap of unemployment or they must travel by rail, bus or join the queues in their cars. The pace of travel by rail as well as by car is slowing down. In response to questions concerning the time spent commuting, we are generally told that a consultant has been engaged to examine the matter, but in this case time is not on our side to wait for the consultant's findings, and the Minister realises that.

  The closing of rail lines will worsen the standard of rail safety. A concentration of people will be pushed onto already crowded lines where development will take place. The ghost of Todd Andrews seems to be roaming when we look at the list of line closures. They include: Ennis-Athenry-Claremorris; Limerick-Foynes; Limer[1325] ick-Ballybrophy; Limerick Junction-Rosslare Harbour; Gorey-Rosslare Harbour; and the Navan-Kingscourt line which was closed last November when the freight line from Navan to Kingscourt closed after gypsum freight carried on trains to Limerick was transferred to road. With the phasing out of timber, cement and fertiliser freight by rail, it is estimated that 1.25 million tonnes of freight is being transferred to road transport. We are dealing with rail safety under this Bill, but we should not forget the reality that rail safety is related to road safety if increasing numbers of rail commuters are being pushed to travel by car. We are not specifically dealing with road safety, but it must be borne in mind that it will be affected by such rail closures.

  Instead of subventing the cost of freight, which would have been the proper way to proceed and in the long-term would have been more cost effective, it seems that we are prepared to charge the taxpayer more for building more motorways. The national development plan provides for the building of some 750 kilometres of new motorway and the laying of only 23 kilometres of new rail track. The cost involved is not only the cost of laying tarmac and engineering costs, there is also the related cost which still has not been generally faced up to in this House or by the Government, namely, the Kyoto Protocol and what will come after it. The Kyoto Protocol is only a taste of what is to come. From listening to discussions at European Commission level, I understand that the EU penalties for exceeding what is set down in the Kyoto Protocol will be augmented by a required payment in respect of exceeding what is set down in the protocol. Flooding and related climate change costs are additional, which make the cost of subventing freight, which would be a far lesser figure than people would think, pale into insignificance.

  Rail safety requires not only making the existing lines safer but the putting in place of additional lines. I travelled from Belfast by train today. The Belfast train holds up the suburban rail service. Rail traffic on the line is congested due to the fact that there are only two lines which were laid in 1844. Those rail lines were intended for the transport of people and for horses, which boarded at the Rush and Lusk stations, where there was a horse farm nearby. Times have changed radically since then. We are still expecting the 1844 rail infrastructure, scaled down after all the rail closures, to satisfy current commuter needs. An extra northern line is required to ensure there are three northern suburban lines, with the Dublin to Belfast line being the middle line, as it would not need to stop at platforms. Trains on that route currently have to stop and start because of congestion on the line due to the suburban rail service.

  How committed is the Government to the platform for change programme 2002 to 2006? Will priority in funding be given to the rail system if it comes to a hard decision between rail and road funding? If rail safety is given priority, will that mean that the pace of travel by rail must become [1326] slower and slower? That seems to be what is happening. The Enterprise from Belfast this morning had to stop at quite a numbers of points and the word “express” or “Enterprise” did not seem to fit the experience, just as the word Luas seems to be a ridiculous name for a system for which we are waiting for so long. We are making a farce of the names we give to such projects because they do not meet people's expectations.

  Customers need a rail charter. When one goes to a railway station, one sees timetables and various other notices, but one does not see a charter which would put pressure on customers and the staff to follow a code of practice and to have certain valid expectations. In terms of serving and representing the public interest, I ask the Minister to ensure there is a charter for Iarnród Éireann passengers which would ensure that they would not only travel in safety but with expectations of punctuality, efficiency and services being available, such as lifts and toilets in proper working order. The toilets in Limerick station last weekend and in Heuston were a disgrace. The disabled toilet at Heuston Station was locked and there was nobody around to open it, if it had been needed.

  A customer rail charter is badly needed because there is low morale concerning rail travel. That low morale affects customers far more than it seems to affect the Government. I ask the Government to bring itself up to date with the type of turmoil and trouble customers face on the rail system to ensure that, in future, customers will be encouraged and will feel welcome to use the railways. Unfortunately, that is not the case in many instances, where customers are merely tolerated and have to board a train one way or another and sometimes they cannot board it. For example, commuters in Donabate can be left behind because of overcrowding on the train. The train may stop at the station but no commuters can get on it. That is the ultimate frustration. It makes a mockery of all the talk about encouraging people to use public transport. When they try it and it fails them, they have to go back to using their cars and they are told again to try public transport, which they have already tried and found it does not work for them. I ask the Minister to ensure that a customer rail charter will be put in place which will be realistic and will guarantee the service that he expects, but he needs to ensure that.

  We should also examine the Iarnród Éireann belief that if a train is 15 minutes late, it is not actually late, that such a delay is within an acceptable margin of error. That contrasts strongly with the degree of punctuality on rail services on the Continent in any country in which I have travelled, be it Italy, Switzerland, Germany or France. One can see the train driver looking at the clock and waiting for the second hand to hit the hour, which is the time that the train physically moves out of the station. We need to introduce that level of discipline and to ensure that rail passengers have that level of expectation not only to ensure safety, but also to ensure the ser[1327] vice is efficient. Staff who are frustrated and among whom there is low morale will not be the best in terms of ensuring safety. Quite a number of times when I am catching a train, the notice displayed is not that the train is coming, but that we apologise for the delay. That results in everybody being in a bad mood boarding the train and the driver must also be frustrated by the fact that an incoming train has been delayed.

  This Bill is important, but it is also important that we have a debate on how we can improve safety by reducing the demand for mass commuting and mass transit. If we did that, we would be doing everyone a favour, as well as the environment.

  Mr. Eoin Ryan: I wish to share my time with Deputies Callanan and Carty.

  An Ceann Comhairle: That is agreed.

  Mr. Eoin Ryan: I welcome this important legislation. We are all aware that legislation cannot guarantee complete safety. Unfortunately, accidents happen and we have all seen pictures in the media of the horrific aftermath of recent serious accidents in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. We need to ensure that systems are in place in Ireland to minimise the risk arising from railway operations. I am sure the Bill will result in a balanced and effective approach to the regulation of rail safety.

  The new framework set down in the Bill, combined with genuine commitment and the will to buy into it from railway companies and their employees can certainly make a significant contribution to the enhancement of safety on our railways. The Bill should also give members of the public confidence that the Government is committed to providing safe and reliable railway transport.

  The Minister outlined the substantial improvements made to date throughout the rail network under the rail safety programme. In addition to improvements to the existing network, we will soon see the opening of two new light rail lines to serve the capital.

  It is important that we look at the history. I am sure everyone agrees that the railway system has suffered from chronic lack of investment for many decades. Fortunately, that has changed and we have undertaken a major investment programme in recent years. While much of this has concentrated on addressing shortfalls in such areas as track, signalling and stations, we have also begun to increase capacity, especially in the Dublin area.

  Some of the progress made includes the renewal of 325 miles of track, the replacement of 200 bridges, the upgrading of 400 level crossings, the extension of the DART to Malahide and Greystones, bringing 38 new DART carriages into service, the upgrading of the Maynooth line with double track and new services, bringing 47 [1328] new diesel rail cars into service, the redevelopment of Heuston Station and the construction of the Drogheda maintenance depot, which I hope will be completed this year, the delivery of 80 diesel rail cars to be put into service in the middle of this year, and new stations at Clontarf, Grand Canal Dock, Drumcondra and Monasterevin. We are about to see the ordering of 67 inter-city carriages, the commencement of the increase in the size of DART trains to eight car capacity, the upgrading of stations to accommodate such trains and the placing of an order for 40 new DART carriages.

  This investment has brought much needed safety improvements and increases in capacity. By the end of 2003, lines to Cork, Tralee, Limerick, Waterford, Galway, Westport, Sligo and Belfast will be renewed with continuously welded rail. Peak capacity in Dublin has been increased by 40%. This level of investment must be sustained if the railway is to continue to expand to meet the demands being placed on it now and into the future.

  It is important from a safety point of view that one of the first actions of the previous Minister, Senator O'Rourke, was to ensure the track was continuously welded, and along with the money invested in signalling, this was the most responsible action to take. She could have bought new carriages but it would have been the wrong way to go because we would not have had the infrastructure on which they could be run properly and safely. Senator O'Rourke needs to be commended for taking what was not in many ways the easiest public relations option but was the right thing to do. She ensured in the long-term that the new carriages would run on safe lines.

  Track capacity will be increased to allow continual increase in DART capacity at peak times. The objective is to achieve an increase in capacity of up to 75% over the next five years. Other objectives are to provide eight new stations, upgrade Tara Street Station and provide a new station at Spencer Dock.

  Some 67 new carriages will be purchased for inter-city trains to be in service by 2005. These will replace all carriages whose life has expired. Some 50% of the fleet will be more than 30 years of age by 2007. I am sure we all agree that some of the carriages are in an appalling condition and should not be in use.

  The safety programme will continue. There will be a complete resignalling programme, redevelopment of Cork, Galway and Limerick stations, provision of new booking and reservation systems and increased frequency of services on main corridors.

  This huge investment will cost €2 billion to €4 billion but it needs to be carried out. The goal is to increase the number of passengers from 34 million per annum to 44 million within five years. That is a significant growth project in the Dublin commuter market and the prime inter-city routes. CIE has a huge challenge ahead and I hope it meets the targets it has laid down.

[1329]   The strategic rail review should also provide us with a strategic policy framework for the future development of the railway throughout the country. It would be foolhardy to face into such a period of change on our railways without also updating the legislative framework to oversee the safety of staff, passengers and the general public. Creation of an independent railway safety regulator will provide a means by which this change can be managed in an effective and coherent manner.

  Railway undertakings will be required to have a safety management system in place that will ensure that the railway company can carry out its operations in a safe manner. I also note that under section 41, the railway companies will have to describe their safety management systems in a document called the safety case. This will have to be accepted by the Railway Safety Commission before the company can get a safety certificate.

  I welcome the fact that from now on there will be independent acceptance of the means by which railway companies manage safety. The safety case will facilitate this and will also provide a means by which the Railway Safety Commission can monitor the operations of a railway company to ensure that it carries out its activities in accordance with its safety case.

  The strong enforcement powers that are being given to the Railway Safety Commission will give it the necessary teeth to enable it to carry out its work effectively. I note that the commission will have discretion to investigate any railway incident. While I do not doubt Iarnród Éireann's commitment to safety, independent investigation by the commission will greatly reassure the public that the true cause of an incident will be established and made public and that similar incidents will be avoided in future.

  If we ask people to use public transport, it is important that they feel safe using it. If we are to achieve the targeted increases in rail passenger numbers, people must feel confident about the handling of the aftermath of an accident when it occurs. Safety is primary in allaying people's fears and ensuring they use the rail system.

  I am glad the Bill recognises that all risks to the safety of our railways are not just in the hands of railway companies or their employees. The Bill places a duty of care on members of staff, passengers and the public. Passengers have a role to play in behaving responsibly while travelling on a train. Likewise, members of the public have a responsibility not to endanger themselves or the railway while they are using a level crossing or a bridge over the railway. Builders and others carrying out an activity near a railway should also be expected to take care not to endanger the railway. The Bill places statutory duties of care on all these parties and this is very much to be welcomed.

  I welcome the provision establishing a railway safety advisory council. This body, comprising representatives of a cross-section of groups with an interest in or a role to play in railway safety, [1330] will be an excellent forum for discussion and examination of railway safety issues. What could be called neutral players, that is, people not representing railway companies or their staff, will also be members of the council and that is to be welcomed.

  I urge the Minister to examine the idea of a rail users group. It is important to have an independent statutorily funded body, as exists for instance in parts of Australia and England and other countries where it works extremely well, that would be independent of the rail companies, Dublin Bus or anyone providing public transport. It would be able to represent the users of public transport. It is important that they have a voice, something they do not have at present. If we are trying to encourage people to use public transport, such a body would highlight issues that affect passengers every day, whether they use bus, rail or whatever. It would be imaginative and would help the Minister in his work, as it would highlight issues that exist relating to the providers. It is the correct way to go on this issue especially if we are trying to get people out of their cars and into public transport. The Minister should consider this idea, which has been extremely successful in other parts of the world. I welcome this Bill and I wish the Minister success in implementing it.

  Mr. Callanan: I welcome this Bill and especially the establishment of an independent commission to look after safety on our railways. We must do everything in our power to ensure railway road crossings are made completely safe. Many of the signalling controls at these crossings need upgrading to avoid accidents. When safety measures and new signalling are introduced in future there should be consultation with other public bodies in the area.

  A few months ago there was disappointment when, without any consultation with anyone, Iarnród Éireann removed a junction on the Dublin to Galway line at Athenry, which cut off rail access from Athenry to Tuam and Claremorris. Although this line is not used at the moment, Galway County Development Board is actively promoting the upgrading of this line to create a commuter train service linking Galway to Tuam and Athenry and also linking Limerick to Claremorris. Iarnród Éireann was informed of these proposals a long time ago, but made no effort to consult the board. Safety improvements at this junction were necessary but could have been done in a different way to allow the line to remain open. This was done in the past at Athlone, Drogheda and Limerick Junction. Following the enactment of this Bill I look forward to there being better consultation when safety developments like this take place in the future.

  The new safety commission should look at railway bridges across small country roads where fencing is poor and side walls are low as these are dangerous for children. Iarnród Éireann should review the timing of trains travelling to and from [1331] Galway in order to facilitate workers using the train to get to work. Our railway lines are underused at the moment, but suitable train times would take much traffic off our roads. I congratulate the Minister on introducing this Railway Safety Bill so that Iarnród Éireann's passengers can travel in safety.

  Mr. Carty: Railway safety legislation has not been properly updated since the foundation of the State. This has resulted in Ireland's rail operating company, Iarnród Éireann, being responsible not only for all financial and economic elements of the company, but it is also solely and completely responsible for operational rail safety. I welcome this legislation, which will see the formation of an independent regulatory body for rail safety in Ireland for the first time. All EU countries have independent safety bodies.

  Ireland has not had a multiple fatality derailment since the Cherryville Junction disaster in August 1983, when seven passengers died and the Buttevant disaster two years earlier. With increasing passenger numbers annually and a more frequent and extensive service planned under the national development plan, we must be ready to accept the increased potential for serious accidents if our infrastructure, regulation, training and safety systems are not up to standard.

  The Regulation of Railways Acts 1840, 1871 and 1889 were all introduced under British rule. The formation of the State created for the first time divergent legislation. The Railway Act 1924, which is archaic, is still the most relevant legislation for the operation of all aspects of Ireland's railways. It is ridiculous that we are still dealing with legislation passed 80 years ago. The Railway Safety Bill imposes stringent new procedures for rail safety including giving rail companies the power to test for drink or drugs.

  The proposed railway safety commission will have up to three members and be independent of the Department of Transport. Those three people should be experts in rail safety. The unions also have a role in this area. The commission will have powers to monitor and inspect railway infrastructure, to investigate and publish reports into railway accidents and to enforce its decisions. In addition to Iarnród Éireann, the commission will police safety on the Luas, the proposed metro and various heritage railways around the country. Any company failing to co-operate with the commission can be fined up to €500,000. Each company will have to outline its safety management systems in what is called a safety case and will not be allowed to operate unless the commission is satisfied with its plans.

  A major area of the Bill relates to intoxicants, drugs and alcohol. In consultation with staff and unions, each company will have to draw up codes of conduct for the use of drugs or alcohol and will be able to require what are called safety critical staff to provide breath, blood or urine samples for testing for intoxicants.

[1332]   It is well recognised that there was sustained underinvestment in railways for many years. It is a credit to the staff and management of Iarnród Éireann that they have managed to operate the railways safely over those difficult years. The Bill will introduce a modern and flexible means of independently overseeing the safety of our railways affecting not just Iarnród Éireann, but also the new Luas lines and the planned metro network.

  I congratulate Iarnród Éireann and the Government for the significant amount of money they have provided for railways in my area. This money went into the upgrading of the Athlone to Westport line. However, I would like to see the Collooney to Athenry line re-opened. This would open that part of Ireland for business. It would provide a good link between Sligo, Claremorris, Galway and Limerick and then on to Rosslare. We should have no dormant railway lines.

  New carriages are needed on the Dublin to Westport line. The line has now been upgraded but the carriages sometimes used are nothing short of a disgrace. I compliment the western railway committee for the good work it has done in keeping the Collooney to Athenry line in situ over the years. I thank the Minister for the positive attitude he has shown to this project in the past and I hope he will be even more positive in the future.

  Mr. O'Dowd: I wish to share time with Deputy Deenihan. Some good things have happened in recent years. There has been a significant improvement in railway safety and in investment in rolling stock. The quality and commitment of Iarnród Éireann staff is second to none. I welcome the fact that its management and safety systems have certainly been improved. I acknowledge particularly the improvement in the rolling stock generally.

  However, some important things need to be addressed. Two weeks ago the express train from Connolly Station to Belfast had carriages that were not fit to take cattle to slaughter. It was disgraceful that a ramshackle rattling, shaking train brought passengers at quite a frightening speed from Dublin to Belfast. The speed was normal for a train with proper intercity carriages, but the rolling stock was disgraceful and totally unacceptable to those who travelled on that train. For people who paid money, it was an unacceptable standard of transport.

  I frequently travel on the northern line and particularly on the Belfast to Dublin intercity express. This train is often late, often has less than its full complement of carriages and is generally not efficient. Many people in Drogheda who used to travel on that train have stopped because it is always late, which is unacceptable. The way Iarnród Éireann generates statistics for trains being on time needs to be changed. Iarnród Éireann will claim a train is on time if it arrives up to 15 minutes after the published arrival time. It is not good enough that commuters have to [1333] take an earlier train to ensure they arrive in Dublin on time. Last week, my son happened to travel from Dublin to Drogheda. The train on which he was due did not arrive on time and he arrived home two hours later. When we inquired as to what happened, it transpired that three trains had been held up outside Drogheda, one of them for more than two hours, due to a technical problem on the line. Neither is it acceptable that commuters who expect value for their money must endure cases such as those I raise.

  Railway safety is very important. While I acknowledge recent improvements in this area, I am concerned by the question of future capacity as the volume of people who want to travel on our railway system continues to increase, a development we all want to encourage and support. How safe is travel on our overcrowded trains, particularly commuter lines? Travelling from Drogheda to Dublin on the commuter line, one has to stand for the entire journey because of overcrowding and one is subject to extremes of temperature, which sometimes cause people to faint. This is completely unacceptable.

  I am not sure which Members have travelled on the stampede train, the 17.13 from Pearse Street to Dundalk. I am sure Deputy Sargent has taken it. It is by good fortune that people are not killed in the scramble to board that train. What do Iarnród Éireann and the Minister plan to do about it? I suggest the Minister takes time to watch the dangerous rush for that train, which is an unbelievable sight. People believe somebody will be killed in the stampede to board the carriages.

  I am also concerned about the facilities provided for people who want to travel on the railway. People who want to get off the road, but need to drive to their local railway station, face significant problems. In the case of my local station in Drogheda, parking is not available to hundreds of rail passengers. As the station is full, drivers park everywhere else in the vicinity in a manner which poses a danger. This issue needs to be addressed. I am aware of Iarnród Éireann's proposal for multi-storey car parking on its inter-city lines. However, it wishes to charge for this facility, which until now has been free of charge. Commuters pay enough for their tickets and should not have to pay for parking.

  Park and ride facilities are not available outside Dublin for those who drive into Dublin from a northern direction, for example, through County Meath. Such facilities would enable drivers to park at a station and connect with the city transport system, whether rail, Dart or other public transport. This issue, which affects the Greater Dublin Transport Authority more than the Minister, has not been properly thought out. People who live a distance from public transport routes need to be able to drive from the country towards the city and connect with the city transport service. This would be a useful and practical development.

  There is a question concerning the capacity of [1334] the northern line. Thousands of people are building and buying new homes along the line in Skerries, Balbriggan, Gormanston, Drogheda and so forth, yet the rail system does not have the capacity to meet demand. What plans does the Minister have to increase capacity on this line where the problem of extreme overcrowding is set to worsen? If he were to visit Drogheda, I would be happy to travel on the line with him to allow him to see what happens in some of the railway stations along the route. It is an unbelievable sight of panic as people push and shove as they try to squeeze on board a full train and this is a serious problem.

  Mr. Brennan: I travelled on that line about a month ago.

  Mr. O'Dowd: The Minister will have seen what I describe, which is unacceptable.

  Some years ago a proposal was made to raise the height of the railway bridges on the northern line. However, they were not raised sufficiently to allow double decker trains to run on the line. These trains are used in France and elsewhere on the continent and increase capacity by around 40%. I urge the Minister to consider the possibility of again raising the bridges on the line.

  Expensive fares are also an issue. The problem is that one has two types of fare, the inter-city fare, the cost of which Iarnród Éireann can increase without reference to the Minister, and the suburban fares, for which increases must receive ministerial sanction. Residents of Drogheda, which is effectively a suburban town and gets a suburban service, pay inter-city fares. This means a journey from Drogheda to Dublin costs twice as much as one from Balbriggan to Dublin, the difference being that the former is an inter-city service, which Iarnród Éireann controls at will, while the latter is suburban service which the Minister controls. Price adjustment is required.

  Passengers who get a seat on good rolling stock get value for money from Iarnród Éireann and capacity and quality are definitely improving. However, some antediluvian, dreadful carriages are still in use on the Belfast line, at least that was the case on the occasion I travelled on it.

  I return to the issue of punctuality. The Minister must take an initiative in this area. I acknowledge he has taken initiatives in other areas. It is not good enough that a train which arrives within 15 minutes of its arrival time can be considered punctual. We need monthly statistics providing information on the percentage of trains which are punctual or late, including the percentage which arrive exactly on time. More pressure must be exerted on the company to deliver that for which the consumer pays, which is to arrive at his destination on time. This applies particularly to those travelling to work.

  There are two management systems operating on the northern line, the suburban system, which runs as far as Balbriggan, and the inter-city sys[1335] tem which covers Drogheda and Dundalk. We need one boss, one management and one fare structure for everybody travelling from Dublin to the Border. This would be fair and equitable to everybody concerned. Having a division of responsibility is not acceptable. Passengers on the northern line face real problems.

  Mr. Deenihan: The purpose of this legislation is to upgrade and consolidate legislation going back as far as 1845 or thereabouts. Its primary purpose is to set up an independent statutory public body called the railway safety commission to replace the current railway inspectorate and I welcome it for a number of reasons.

  The issue of rail safety and investment came to the forefront with the Knockcroghery derailment in November 1997. It was only then that the Government was forced to respond with action. The RMS consultancy group was appointed to draw up a plan, as a result of which we now have considerable investment. I acknowledge the strides made by Iarnród Éireann in recent years, not least in the area of safety. The last rail accident passenger fatalities occurred 20 years ago in the Cherryville accident. Since then, despite chronic under-investment, our railway system has laid claim to the record of being one of Europe's safest. That was not down to the infrastructure or the funding available but to the people in the organisation at all levels. The IRMS report highlighted that vividly with its accounts of the age of rails, sleepers and the store of expertise which overcame those obstacles and ensured that millions of customers annually were safe. From all our experience it is fair to recognise the wonderful team of people who worked for Iarnród Éireann and CIE over the years, the great relationship they built up with their passengers and their extensive knowledge of the geography of different areas. They were the unsung heroes of transport.

  The 1999-2003 safety investment programme has changed the landscape dramatically. More than 440 kilometres of track has been renewed with numerous lines completely upgraded to modern, continuous welded rail. This year, work on the Mallow to Tralee line, which we feared would face closure a few years ago, will be completed with improved safety and speeds to provide strong competition to the private car. I acknowledge the improvement on that line because Kerry attracts approximately 2 million tourists every year, many of whom come by rail. Those tourists have not been impressed with the standard of the carriages or the many breakdowns on the line but people have noticed a vast improvement and I hope it will only be a matter of time before we have better carriages. I will refer to that matter later.

  There has also been record investment in level crossings, bridge renewal, fencing, embankments and signalling to strengthen safety. I appreciate the efforts of Iarnród Éireann staff in achieving [1336] that, aided by additional resources for safety training and safety management systems.

  Record passenger numbers nationally and on the Dublin-Tralee service highlight the potential of our rail network. In addition to safety investment, stations have received critical funding with Heuston and Connolly now unrecognisable compared to what they were a few years ago. Regional stations are also receiving support. That is backed up by the efforts of unheralded railwaymen and women. In Killarney, we are delighted to have the winner of the most recent best inter-city station award in the Iarnród Éireann station awards and the best staff effort from Michael Leahy and his team.

  The carriages on the Mallow-Tralee line are the Craven carriages which are approximately 45 years old. When the new rolling stock is obtained for the other lines, I hope improved carriages will be made available immediately for that line because that is vitally important in terms of the number of tourists coming to Kerry. I understand it costs approximately €2 million to buy a new carriage. Nevertheless, they are being bought and I hope this line will be prioritised for new ones in the future.

  We all want to see fleet improvements and it is a measure of past neglect that more than half of Iarnród Éireann's fleet is now more than 30 years old. In December Iarnród Éireann confirmed a €117 million order for new inter-city carriages and further orders are planned for regional rail cars to boost services on routes such as Mallow-Tralee as well as improve comfort and customer service.

  With the strategic review we are into a new age of rail. For our citizens and our tourism industry, that development must continue. The Railway Safety Bill will strengthen regulation of safety on our railways in an environment where Luas and other projects will have to be subject to regulation and where the fine traditions of safety in our rail network must be emulated. I also look forward to the successor of the rail safety investment programme which is about to be devised by Iarnród Éireann with the Department of Transport. Safety is a race which is never won but we must ensure the resources are provided to Iarnród Éireann and other operators in the future to maintain our record and standing internationally.

  The Bill also refers to heritage railways. The Minister and I turned the sod on a unique heritage railway in Kerry about two years ago which will be ready to roll shortly. It is called the Lartigue monorail which ran between Listowel and Ballybunnion between 1888 and 1924 and was the only one of its type in the world. I am glad we have the locomotive and the carriages which are exact replicas of the originals. This will be a very exciting project, not only from a local tourism point of view but from a heritage railway point of view. It has attracted interest from all over the world even before it is officially launched.

  The people involved in the project will also [1337] have to make the safety case and we are currently working on that for the train but it will be complex. In that regard I would like the Minister to expand on the safety case for a heritage railway which may run over a short distance at low speeds – the maximum speed at which this locomotive will travel will be approximately 20 miles per hour? Will the committee have to make the same safety case as would be made for, say, the main line from Dublin to Limerick or Dublin to Cork? Perhaps the Minister would refer to that point in his reply.

  As someone who uses our railways on a regular basis, I very much support railway transport. The people who decided to close several railways throughout the country made a bad decision. Kerry probably suffered more than most in that respect. The Killarney-Cahirciveen, TraleeDingle and Tralee via Listowel-Limerick connections were abandoned. If those railways were in place, they would be tremendous tourist attractions and the areas that became isolated as a result of them being abandoned, like Listowel and Cahirciveen, would have a major connection to the outside world, which would address the problem of roads.

  I welcome the Bill and ask the Minister to refer to the obligations on those who undertake to provide a safety case for a heritage railway as opposed to mainstream railways.

  Dr. Fitzpatrick: I wish to share my time with Deputy McGuinness.

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Agreed.

  Dr. Fitzpatrick: I listened to Deputy Deenihan talk about the Lartigue railway and the fact that the south-west suffered disproportionately from railway closures in the cutbacks in the 1960s. We must remember that the railway building mania occurred from the mid-1800s to the beginning of the 20th century when the population was more than eight million. That figure halved over the years up to the 1960s removing from the railways a major source of revenue. Up to the 1960s, and even up to today, the roads were not adequate to take the passenger numbers using them. We have to take a fresh look at the railways and see where they can be positioned in terms of our transport infrastructure.

  The jury has been out for a long time on the role of railways in freight transport but there is no doubt the rail network must be upgraded to transport passengers safely, speedily and in comfort. In the last ten years the Irish economy has grown by 110% and the Government is committed to improving the transport infrastructure as that growth has led to transport congestion. Rail transport has become a focus of Government attention and major plans for improvement have been announced recently.

  The biggest ever rail investment programme in the history of the State will be implemented over the next six to ten years. Iarnród Éireann has an [1338] investment programme called On Track which will see over €1.3 billion invested in the rail service. This covers track improvements, station renovations and reconstruction, new carriages, bridge renewals, level crossing upgrades, safety studies and signalling. There will be an upsurge in many key areas and Ireland will remain an attractive market in the short to medium term. The market will be increased further by the stringent new safety procedures announced recently by the Government, the setting up of a rail safety commission, the announcement of a major study to pinpoint routes for the expansion of the country's rail network and a suburban rail inter-connector study.

  However, much of the regional network needs upgrading to bring it up to modern standards. We should draw attention here to the Rosslare-Limerick line, where it takes four hours and 32 minutes to get from Rosslare to Limerick and the return journey takes three hours 52 minutes. How do they manage that?

  The investment of €117 million will provide 67 new carriages for the company's inter-city service although they will not all be in service until autumn 2005. The air-conditioned carriages will be deployed on all Dublin-Cork services as well as key Limerick and Galway routes. More than half of the company's current fleet is over 30 years old and it hopes this announcement will be followed by further commitments to fleet replacements. It is hoped to have new high-specification carriages available for the remaining lines by 2007 at the latest.

  The announcement puts the company ahead of its national development plan target, which foresaw just 20 new inter-city rail carriages. The new carriages, which have been ordered from Spain, are to be the first new inter-city carriages for Iarnród Éireann in 20 years, with the exception of the Dublin-Belfast Enterprise service. They will offer Enterprise levels of comfort and customer facilities, adjustable seating, in-seat radio and music, reading lights and table lamps in first class. They will be formed into nine-carriage trains, comprising six standard class and three first class carriages. There will be seating for 499 passengers and trains will be fully accessible for mobility-impaired customers. Some 47 new diesel rail cars for suburban services have also entered service since 1999. Iarnród Éireann has also renewed 325 miles of track, replaced 200 bridges, extended the DART to Greystones and Malahide, built new stations at Clontarf Road, Grand Canal Dock, Monasterevin and Drumcondra and doubled the track to Maynooth since 1999. Ongoing investment includes 80 new diesel rail cars and the redevelopment of Heuston Station, both of which are due to be completed this year.

  This legislation lays the foundation for secure rail travel in the future and will give a guarantee to the community that security will continue to be of supreme significance to this Administration. Last year road vehicles crashed into rail bridges 105 times. Almost all these incidents involved lor[1339] ries hitting overhead rail bridges and in most cases the lorry was too high to pass under the bridge. There is a danger that such incidents will cause train tracks to lift, leading to a derailment. I am particularly worried about East Wall in my constituency, where the railway bridge over the East Wall Road has been struck by trucks over 100 times in recent years. Little attention is paid to such incidents although there is huge potential for calamity involved.

  Overcrowding on the DART system is also reaching dangerous levels and I am already aware of accidents which have occurred on the system. There should be a complete review of this very good service as I am particularly concerned for my constituents, who face claustrophobic travelling conditions on the DART from Connolly Station. One can also travel from many stations to Bray for nothing on Sundays as the stations in various satellite towns are closed and there is no one at Bray to collect fares or tickets.

  Rail safety legislation has not been properly updated since the foundation of the State, leading to an untenable situation where Ireland's rail operating company, Iarnród Éireann, is responsible for all financial and economic elements of the company but is also solely responsible for operational rail safety. I welcome the forthcoming Bill, which will see the formation of an independent regulatory body for rail safety in Ireland for the first time. The Bill imposes stringent new procedures for rail safety, which includes giving rail companies the power to test staff for drink or drugs. The proposed rail safety commission will have up to three members and will be completely independent of the Department of Transport. It will have powers to monitor and inspect rail infrastructure, to investigate and publish reports on railway incidents and it will be able to enforce its decisions. I welcome the Bill.

  Mr. McGuinness: I compliment the Minister on his appointment and on the many initiatives he has taken. I look forward to his contribution as Minister and I welcome the Bill which is just one of many steps which must be taken if Iarnród Éireann is to be brought into the 21st century and its rail infrastructure is to be improved for both passengers and freight. A modern economy cannot progress without investment in rail infrastructure. Regrettably, our rail infrastructure has been neglected over many years and we cannot satisfy a range of customers and deliver services all over the country. We lose out continually in terms of freight carriage with services being closed. We must introduce new policies to deal with this area but the Minister is making a new start. He can overhaul the existing service by focusing investment. We see many advertisements nowadays outlining what Iarnród Éireann intends to do and the proposed changes are very impressive. However, that investment should be taken from the advertising budget and put into customer care and development of the rail infrastructure.

[1340]   I accept that successive Governments neglected the rail lines but that is no excuse for the deplorable carriages now in operation. Many of them pose safety risks and customers who use the Dublin-Kilkenny service complain on an ongoing basis about overcrowded carriages and trains which break down. I received a letter recently from a Fr. Fingleton in Carlow which stated that during a rail journey the carriage broke down, the lights and heating went and no information was given. Those are the kinds of basic issues any business must address to satisfy its customers. Customer care is being ignored by Iarnród Éireann as no effort is made to ensure information is given to passengers when a breakdown occurs. That is not good enough from any company but particularly one that offers a service to the public.

  The recent growth of the economy has put a focus on the development of the rail network. Those using either passenger or freight services saw old lines and a management system which did not have the vision for railway infrastructure that exists in other European countries. That must change and the Minister should set down policy in this area.

  The Bill provides for the establishment of a railway safety commission but there is something else that is fundamentally necessary to the company's approach to the issue. Currently, if a local authority wants to cross a railway line, as is the case in Kilkenny where the council wants to construct another leg of the ring road, it must go through many procedures with Iarnród Éireann. In Kilkenny the project has been held up for five years and little or no action has been taken by Iarnród Éireann because it demands a railway works order. There are safety issues but also issues of planning. The company has refused to enter negotiations with the local authority to resolve the issue and give it the priority it deserves so the ring road around Kilkenny city could be completed. The Minister should examine the refusal of Iarnród Éireann to deal with the matter because it is unacceptable.

  Almost all of O'Loughlin Road is now complete except for one small section. Since 1996 the local authority has tried to resolve the issue with Iarnród Éireann but nothing has happened. It is an issue of public safety and it has not been resolved. How will the Bill overcome such problems and make Iarnród Éireann more flexible in its approach to solving such issues to enable projects to be completed?

  The IAP site in Kilkenny city is one of the biggest developments in the region but it involves Iarnród Éireann. The transfer of land and the granting of access to the site is being held up by Iarnród Éireann. This is a multimillion euro development in the centre of the city that would help the economy but Iarnród Éireann is sitting on its hands.

  In just one city we find three examples of Iarnród Éireann sitting on its hands, preventing millions of euro from being spent, an economy [1341] from developing and safety issues from being addressed. That cannot continue. The Minister should bear that in mind when dealing with Iarnród Éireann.

  When the company appeared before the Joint Committee on European Affairs, I raised the issue of improving the carriages and passenger access on the Dublin-Kilkenny service, and that a commuter service be established. The Iarnród Éireann representative said that as soon as it was possible in the receiving station in Dublin, which he envisaged would be a short time, the service would be established. When I followed that up with officials of the company, I was told that I was mistaken and that the service could not be provided. The company had conducted a survey that indicated the service would not be supported. Anyone visiting any city in the State will see there is significant demand for such services.

  It is appalling that the railway lines have not been developed over the years to give easy access. Travellers from Kilkenny must go up the country to go back down. That is incredible. There has been no forward thinking or vision in the development of the railways. I hope this Bill means we will see the vision that exists in Europe, where countries have recognised the importance of travel and the use of railways for the dispersal of freight, and have developed their economies based on railways that serve the public and freight operators.

  The points I have raised may be parochial but they stand in the context of the discussion on railways services across the State. They make sense in terms of developing the railway service for freight and passengers. Many visitors to Ireland are baffled by our neglect of the railway lines. The Minister mentions many issues in this Bill in terms of the development of services and safety, but I hope he will take on board the issues raised by Members and that we see an improved service soon.

  Debate adjourned.