Seanad Éireann - Volume 157 - 12 November, 1998

Rail Safety Report: Statements.

Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke): I am very grateful to you, a Chathaoirligh, for agreeing so promptly to my request to address Seanad Éireann on the very important subject of railway safety. I asked both the Dáil and Seanad if they would hear me this week and only the Seanad [117] replied in the affirmative. I will address the Dáil on this matter next week. Therefore, the Seanad is first into the fray, so to speak. I welcome this early opportunity to outline to the Members of the House the findings, conclusions and recommendations of the independent consultancy review of the safety of Irish railways.

Senators will recall that following the derailment of a passenger train at Knockcroghery, County Roscommon, in November 1997, I commissioned, with Government approval, an independent review into all aspects of railway safety.

Over the years, various safety reports have been carried out but there has been no Government sponsored, Dáil and Cabinet approval for an absolutely independent international study on rail safety. I wanted such a study to be undertaken.

I drove to Knockcroghery on that Sunday in November 1997 and saw the rail crash in which, thankfully, no lives were lost. It has now been 15 years since there was a fatality on a passenger rail service. Sadly there have been fatalities involving people who have chosen through great depression to seek a way out of life by committing suicide on the railways, but that is a separate matter.

In comparison with European railways, we have a very safe line. The study shows that the safety standards of Irish railways are high in comparison to other European rail networks. It is important to recognise that and to state it. When a report such as this is published there are “shock, horror” reports around the country, along with worry and disturbance. I hope, however, that everybody who gets the report will read it carefully. It warrants such consideration and people should read the report, not the review. In saying that there is no point in reading only the review of the report, I know I will sound like a school teacher, a profession I share with the Acting Chairman, Senator Costello.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Costello): There is nothing wrong in sounding like a school teacher.

Mrs. O'Rourke: Absolutely not, but some people use it as a denigratory term when they are speaking to women. “School ma'am” can be a sexist term. There is, however, no point in reading the review like one would read the potted précis or critique of a poem without reading the poem itself. People should read the main rail safety report itself. Luckily it is written in a jargon-free, lucid, highly interesting and objective manner.

When I drove to Knockcroghery that Sunday evening, I said to my husband, Enda, that I could not let this continue. I decided then to request an international study on rail safety. I could not genuinely live with the premise that I did not know the exact extent of safety needs on the railways.

Many of us come from railway towns. I was born and brought up within 50 yards of the railway [118] station in Athlone. As children we grew up with the family of the late lamented station master, Mr. Lally. The shunting noises of that major railway station are the sounds that linger in my memory.

The crash occurred on that Sunday and I brought a report seeking this study to Cabinet on Tuesday. Deputy Yates of the Fine Gael Party asked if it would be a detached, international study, not a CIE study. I was glad that my thoughts and his coincided. From time to time CIE undertakes its own studies but I wanted this study to be done in a certain way and it was.

This report was undertaken by a consultancy team led by International Risk Management Services. The commissioning of this independent study was supported by the Opposition and welcomed in a Dáil resolution in December last year. Therefore, the report has the imprimatur of the Dáil, the Government and the Cabinet. Following the derailment at Knockcroghery, I made a statement in this House commissioning the report and laying out its terms.

I have sent copies of the consultants' report to Members of this House and of Dáil Éireann and it has also been published. I will also be making it available to every worker in Iarnród Éireann. This is not a report for top or middle management; it is for everybody who works on the railways. I want its ownership to comprise those who work on the railways and through them the people who travel by rail.

The report is clear and unambiguous in its analysis and I urge Senators to consider it very carefully. The report is very detailed and it would be impossible to cover every aspect of it here today. I will, therefore, concentrate on providing Members with an outline of the main findings of the report and the Government's response to them.

There are probably few issues on which we will find greater unanimity in this House than that the avoidance of death or injury should be the paramount guiding principle of all railway operations. I am satisfied that Iarnród Éireann is committed to this principle. It is important to acknowledge at the outset that Iarnród Éireann's safety performance over the years compares well to other national railway systems. That is not just my view, you will find that statement made by the consultants in the first sentence of their conclusions. The good safety record of the Irish railway is due in large measure to the skill and experience of railway staff over the years; a point also acknowledged by the consultants.

Nevertheless, it is clear from the report the consultants have concluded that there is a need for significant improvement in the safety of the railway. The task, therefore, of the Government and of the boards, management and staff of CIE and Iarnród Éireann is to use the analysis, findings and recommendations of the report as a springboard to create the conditions for a major improvement in rail safety.

[119] Railway transport has an enviable safety record worldwide and in Ireland, especially when compared to the competing mode of road transport. The last major railway accident in Ireland was in 1983 at Cherryville when seven people died. Yet, sadly, similar numbers are killed on our roads every week and sometimes over a single weekend. However, we cannot allow ourselves to become complacent. We must never lose sight of the fact that, although the nature of rail travel makes it inherently safer than road travel, rail safety ultimately depends on safety conscious railway personnel working with safe infrastructure and rolling stock and relying on rigorous safety management systems and procedures. Even then we cannot take rail safety for granted. No matter how good the infrastructure or how vigilant the staff of the railway, it is a sad fact that even on the best railways accidents will occur.

Ultimately, absolute rail safety can never be guaranteed. In this regard I am mindful of the recent high speed train crash at Eschede in Germany, which occurred on a state-of-the-art railway system and resulted in over 100 people losing their lives.

The consultants' brief required them to consider the adequacy of Iarnród Éireann's existing safety policy, systems, rules and procedures and the adequacy of the company's arrangements for implementing these rules and procedures on the ground. They also considered the adequacy, from a safety viewpoint, of the existing railway infrastructure and facilities including track, signalling systems, rolling stock, bridges, embankments, telecommunications systems, level crossings, etc. They carried out their work in a very rigorous way and looked at best railway practice worldwide. They inspected over 60 per cent of the network. Their examination was very thorough and they looked in detail at samples of all the infrastructure including track, signalling, structures, level crossings and rolling stock.

They interviewed many Iarnród Éireann staff and, of course, talked informally to many others as they travelled in locomotive cabs with drivers or visited signal cabins. They sent a questionnaire to all Iarnród Éireann staff. One in eight replied across all departments and grades in the company. The consultants were full of praise for the unstinting co-operation which they received from the company and all its staff. Very interestingly, just as a cigire inspects a school, they did not make prior announcements of their visits. I think this was the right way to do things.

The consultants concluded that the condition of much of the track, signalling and other infrastructure was poor while the condition of the rolling stock was, on the whole, satisfactory. They also acknowledged that a shortfall in investment in recent years was impacting on safety. They found that recently laid continuous welded rail track was in excellent condition although in need of a safety management system to ensure its continuing [120] safety over time. They concluded that large sections of the older jointed track was in poor condition, particularly on the secondary lines. They found eight serious safety failures on the signalling system when they would have expected to find none. This finding was particularly disappointing and very shocking. Much of the mechanical signalling was in an unacceptable condition and much of the telecommunications equipment was in poor repair. They also identified some problems with level crossings, such as inadequate braking distances from the signals protecting the crossing to the crossing itself and poor signposting and road surfaces. They noted the lack of formal systems for preventive maintenance and inspection of structures. Fencing was poorly maintained in many areas. The condition of the rolling stock was largely satisfactory with no major safety concerns noted.

Contrary to the impression created by some media reports, the DART was found to be in reasonably good condition but concern was expressed about some aspects, such as the need for greater attention to the electric power supply system as it gets older.

While safety related investment in the railway infrastructure is necessary it will not be enough in itself. The consultants found that Iarnród Éireann needs to urgently tackle the management aspects of safety as well. Indeed, IRMS went so far as to say that the benefits of infrastructural investment would be transitory if not accompanied by a programme to improve safety management systems.

If we are to take one lesson from this report it is that we must distinguish hard and soft safety issues. The hard issues relate to the condition of the infrastructure including the permanent way, level crossings, rolling stock and so on. The soft issues relate to management, safety training, continuous monitoring of safety measures and the daily implementation of good safety practice. The report makes the point very cogently that an investment of many millions of pounds in railway infrastructure will be useless if what I refer to as soft safety issues are not tackled. Both aspects of safety must be dealt with.

The most serious safety management deficiency that the consultants found was a lack of a systematic approach to identifying safety hazards and prioritising and implementing remedial action where this is necessary. They stressed the importance of improving the company's approach to safety management on the railway and of instilling a safety culture throughout the organisation from general operative to top management. They emphasised the value of better training and improved documentation and procedures. They acknowledged that an encouraging start had been made at senior management level in implementing a systematic approach to addressing safety on the railway but stressed that much more needed to be done, especially to ensure that the systematic approach applies at all levels in the company.

[121] Senators are aware of the complexity of the rail service. It involves locomotive drivers, service engineers, track maintenance teams, level crossing operators, station staff and many others. The service will not work satisfactorily if these elements do not co-operate perfectly and this too is one of the report's most important messages.

The consultants estimated that a 15 year safety investment programme costing of the broad order of £590 million will be required. This overall expenditure requirement includes about £230 million for a programme of improvements to rectify safety deficiencies in the railway infrastructure, including track, signalling, bridges and level crossings. Of that £230 million, about £60 million is earmarked for improved management of infrastructural safety.

The consultants suggested the expenditure of a further £60 million to improve safety management systems generally throughout the railway and £20 million per annum over the same 15 year period for ongoing renewal of the permanent way. About £23 million of this £590 million needs to be spent immediately and about half the total should be spent in the course of the five year plan. The plan lays out what must be spent immediately on urgent safety measures and the systematic follow through over the course of the five year plan.

The programme for improvement is carefully mapped out. The programme for the first three months is broken down month by month and thereafter on a six monthly and yearly basis. It presents a challenge to this and future Governments. Successive Ministers will be obliged to regard this report as the bible of rail safety. It will be extremely difficult to find the money to implement the findings of the report but it will be even more difficult to maintain the present momentum and to continue with the safety plan as time goes on. However, the report was commissioned by the Government and must be implemented by this and future Governments.

I intend to commission an annual audit of the safety programme and to publish those audits so that the public, those who work and travel on the railway and those who govern it will see clearly what is being done by Government and by CIE to implement the safety measures proposed in the report.

IRMS concluded that this investment programme would be sufficient to restore the railway to a condition where it could operate at existing timetabled speeds and with a substantially reduced risk to the safety of passengers, staff and the public. The report has pointed out what must happen now. Iarnród Éireann must get the £23 million immediately. The Minister for Finance has said the company can increase its borrowings which are currently at £150 million. The £23 million will come from an immediate increase in borrowing.

The report also provides that a high level group must within three months — that is, by the end of January — produce a detailed plan for how the [122] remainder of the money should be procured over the following years. I cannot predict what will happen after the first three years because my term of office will have expired. However, the group will lay out a plan for how the money will be secured in the next five, ten and 15 year periods and how it is to be used. A detailed implementation timetable will be required.

Despite Deputy Yates's remarks to the contrary, I did not suggest a timetable of three months to produce the plan. The IRMS report recommends that the implementation forum complete its work within three months and I have insisted on that. Two weeks of that three months will be taken up by Christmas but that is too bad. The group is due to have its first meeting next Monday. It comprises officials from Iarnród Éireann, the Department of Public Enterprise and the Department of Finance. This is consistent with the consultants' recommendation that implementation plans should be agreed within three months of the publication of the report.

In the meantime, CIE has been requested to begin implementation of the report's recommendations, giving particular attention to the immediate safety needs identified by the consultants. Pending consideration by the Government of the task force report, CIE will be authorised to undertake borrowings to finance the implementation of the immediate safety measures.

The consultants also paid particular attention to the role of the railway inspecting officer within the Department. The inspecting officer, Mr. John Wesley, is in the House today. He is essentially the Government's railway safety regulator and currently that job is done by just one person. The consultants recommended a significant expansion of the functions of the inspectorate and called for additional staff to meet both existing and future commitments. My Department will immediately begin the process of recruiting two additional railway inspecting officers, as recommended by the consultants. They will obviously have support staff when required.

I am determined to make progress on improving railway safety. With that in mind, I have asked the CIE board member who chairs the company's safety committee to report to me directly at regular intervals on progress. I have also decided there will be regular independent audits on the progress being made on implementing the safety measures. This is in line with the consultants' recommendations and I will publish the results of the audits.

The consultants have clearly identified what must be done to address railway safety. Responsibility for the implementation of the bulk of the recommendations rests with Iarnród Éireann but it will have the full support of the Government in that task. At the Cabinet meeting on Monday the report was formally presented to each member. I met the CIE board on Monday to discuss the outcome of the review and I met 18 CIE unions on Tuesday. I intend to tour the country and to participate in a number of regional workshops [123] over the next few weeks at which the findings of the review will be presented to staff at all levels in Iarnród Éireann.

It is their safety report and it is not right that it should be given to just a select group and not to every worker on the railways. I particularly look forward to hearing the views of individual staff members. They, more than anybody else, will be critical to the success of this venture.

I see this consultative process as a first step in bringing the CIE board, Iarnród Éireann management, the trades unions and every member of the railway staff together to work, with a sense of urgency and common purpose, to fully implement the recommendations of the consultants. The IRMS report provides a clear framework within which we must all work to improve the safety of the Irish railway network.

When I and my husband, on Sunday, 8 November 1997, drove away from Knockcroghery, I gave a great deal of thought to this issue. It was then I decided to commission an international study independent of CIE, although I am sure its studies on this subject are also valuable. I was anxious to have a detached and professional study of the railways. Within two days of that decision I brought it to the Cabinet and it was agreed.

Many of my colleagues told me I was storing up a great deal of trouble for myself. They predicted that the report would cost a great deal of money and wondered what I would do with it. I am glad to have this independent and comprehensive report. I will ensure that its recommendations are implemented during my term of office. After that, the task will fall to other Ministers and Governments. I will rest easier, as will the public, with this charter for action.

Having received the study, the onus is on all politicians to ensure that the annual timetable of work is completed and that the audits are published, debated in the House and disseminated throughout the country. There are about 5,000 workers on the railways and each will be given a copy of the report. I hope to meet as many as want to meet me. I cannot force them to meet me. Eight meetings are scheduled — two in Dublin and one in Cork, Limerick, Galway, Waterford, Athlone and Sligo — at which I will speak with, not to, the workers. Ownership of this process must be vested in those who work the railways.

This is a major challenge not just for this Government but for all Governments. It would have been easier for me to claim that the legislative responsibility for safety rests with Iarnród Éireann. It runs a good system which has good safety measures that are comparable to those in Europe.

Nobody can guarantee safety, much as one might wish it. The German example is amazing. The Germans spent thousands of millions of pounds on the most advanced rail system in the world and, within three months of it being operative, [124] 100 people were killed as a result of a signalling failure. We have put a great deal of emphasis on the permanent ways but the report makes it clear that signalling is potentially far more important than defects on permanent ways. That is right; a signalling failure can plunge everything into chaos.

When the railways were first constructed, great excitement gripped the country, even during the Famine years. Great work went into building the system. The railway gauges in Northern Ireland and the Republic are the same and that will allow transport to be one of the implementation bodies the Northern Secretary, Dr. Mowlam, and I will pursue. The excitement of those years and the tremendous work in consolidating the system is due to be relived. At present, our roads are crowded and are causing environmental and safety concerns but there are more hazards attached to private transport. I believe a love affair with the railways is beginning again and I want to encourage it. I wish everybody in the land who aims to travel on the railways would read it.

I thank the House for giving me the opportunity to speak on this matter. I wrote to both the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip asking for Dáil and Seanad time and the Seanad replied positively immediately. I thank the House for that. I recommend the report to the House and look forward to the debate on it.

Mr. O'Dowd: I welcome the Minister to the House. I agree with her that this is an important report. As the Minister stated in her final remarks, the reality is that there is a major change taking place in Ireland. The road transport system is practically collapsing. In major cities like Dublin, Drogheda and Cork the roads are clogged up. People are voting with their feet and moving to what Iarnród Éireann can offer them. This report is a good audit of the date and time at which it was carried out. It gives us a picture of what needs to be done and, as the Minister said, where the money must be spent now.

There is increasing frustration among the travelling public at the dreadful conditions which they must face on some trains. In particular, the overcrowding on the Drogheda-Dublin train on the east coast is utterly incomprehensible, unbelievable and highly dangerous. There is a need for immediate changes in the transport system and the way in which we manage the train service. Let us take, for example, the matter of overcrowding on an early morning train from Drogheda to Dublin. When it leaves Drogheda there are some hundreds on it but by the time it gets to Dublin there is absolutely no space anywhere. People are crowded in like sardines. It is unbelievable. Trains are late because they are trying to crowd the people on board. The trains cannot keep to the schedule. That is the biggest danger facing Iarnród Éireann today.

What will happen if there is an accident where there are hundreds of people standing in a trains? There is no facility for those people standing to [125] hold onto structures in the train as they can on the DART. I am worried about that. The public is getting worried and angry about it. The public want action now. This report is a start but a great deal more needs to be done.

How many of the safety features of the trains are intact? For instance, if there is an accident and a passenger wants to knock out the window, where is the special hammer which is supposed to be in each carriage? In many carriages it is not there. There is a need for a more vigilant system of ensuring safety in transport by clearly identifying the safety facilities. The company should make sure these facilities are on every train. If they are stolen, the company should get more of them. They must be in every carriage. That is where they are needed and that is where they must be.

Longer trains and longer platforms are needed. There is a need for new rolling stock. These are major issues which must be addressed to increase the efficiency and safety of the transport system. Some of the mainline stations are under review and are being improved. However, at Connolly Station, which I accept is under reconstruction at present, the platform is extremely dangerous when it is wet. I have seen people slip and fall on it. This needs to be addressed immediately because that is a safety risk before one gets on the train. There is a need to look at all the platforms and all the stations to make sure they are safe for people to walk on.

In Connolly Station there is a sign indicating that somewhere there is a lift while the station is under reconstruction. Elderly people have to carry large pieces of baggage up and down stairs and they are not able to do so. Iarnród Éireann needs to have a more vigilant, attentive and customer oriented policy towards people when such changes are taking place. It is a disgrace that that is happening. There should be much greater clarity about these matters and there should be many more visible signs to indicate locations.

Iarnród Éireann operates a two-tier system. There is the Enterprise Express, which is a first class train from Belfast to Dublin and Cork to Dublin, and then there is what I call “the Tralee train experience” which I encountered on travelling from Dublin to Tralee not too long ago. There is some excellent rolling stock on the east coast and some poor rolling stock such as that of the train to which I referred. Certainly the carriages were clean but there was no catering service available. One could not even get a cup of tea.

There is the question of dirt on the outside of the trains. If we are safety conscious, the cleanliness of the vehicles is important. I cannot understand why the outside of trains and the windows are filthy. To have these cleaned is a simple matter and it is not being done. It indicates to me that there is a need for a policy or charter of rights for people who travel on trains. Safety must be the number one issue, but a quality service must be provided to the individuals and groups who use the trains.

[126] The windows in trains in America are easily removed. If there is an accident, one is told the window can be opened completely and people can get out. If there is an accident here, how will people get out of the train? The trains are crowded, with hundreds of people in the carriages and one may not even be able to open the window because the implement is not there. I worry greatly about that and the public are very angry about it.

We are asking the public to move from personal transport to Iarnród Éireann and buses. A representative of Iarnród Éireann told me that the company cannot cope with the hundreds of people on the east coast who are travelling by train and the system is about to break down. Like everybody else, people want to make the move to public transport but the facilities do not exist. I agree with the Minister that investment is urgently needed now.

On the Continent there are the equivalent of double deck trains in which passengers are carried at two levels within a carriage. This morning I asked an Iarnród Éireann rail inspector about this and he was not sure whether that can be done here. The demand is so great on the east that there is a need for new modern European-style carriages, provided they can be carried and bridges do not pose a problem. That is a technical question which I cannot answer.

The people will wait no longer for an improved service. People going to work by train are utterly frustrated. The system is breaking down. I accept that Iarnród Éireann now has a mandate to improve the rail service.

I welcome this important report. It is important that Iarnród Éireann executives pay attention to its contents. I accept that the Minister is being proactive in bringing it before us. People are very angry and I must listen to them. As I am not a Minister yet, I must travel in a different mode of transport, and I am not being facetious.

Mrs. O'Rourke: I know, but I use trains also.

Mr. O'Dowd: Every day thousands of people are complaining and are angry that they cannot get to work on time. When the people on the east coast — my colleagues will deal with the west and the south, etc. — go to Iarnród Éireann, that is the issue. This is part of the answer but it is not enough. There is a need for a further debate as soon as possible after the Minister has consulted with Iarnród Éireann. I want to know what Iarnród Éireann will do about this matter. In particular, I want to know how it will tackle the clear issues which I raised. These are essential matters which need to be addressed now.

Mr. L. Fitzgerald: I welcome the Minister to the House. I commend her for the fact that when this report was published she immediately notified the Seanad, indicated her willingness to address the House and gave us a forum for debate on this important report entitled “A review of [127] Railway Systems in Ireland.” This report is an indictment of our national railway system and the way it is run. The public transport service is charged with the onerous responsibility of carrying thousands of people to and from work daily. While the report describes the network as fairly safe, it highlights glaring inadequacies in its strategic management systems which suggest a malaise had set in. It is reassuring to hear the Minister say that is no longer the case and that things are changing.

The report states there is no systematic approach to identifying safety hazards. The failure to prioritise and implement remedial action points to a failure by the company to instil a safety culture. The efficacy of a safety management plan is eroded by the fudging and blurring of roles and responsibilities. The disappearance of scarce expertise exacerbates an already weakened system. It is disconcerting to read in the report examples of the fire fighting role of management in its daily response to major emergencies or failures in the system. I agree with the Minister that a total change of culture from top to bottom is necessary to ensure that new structures work and bear fruit in the interests of promoting safety.

When the Minister took office there was a record of fatalities on the railways and a number of derailments and near misses. She reminded us that early in her term of office she confronted the task of commissioning an independent report on the railway system. This job was given to International Risk Management Services in April with a ministerial directive to complete it at an early date. Within months the Minister received the report, brought it to Government, published it and informed management of the Government's response to its recommendations. She has taken swift, decisive and comprehensive action to establish a culture of safety from top to bottom in the company. That is her immediate term strategy.

CIE has been instructed to start implementing the report's recommendations and to give priority to the safety needs identified in it. The company has been given authorisation to borrow £23 million to start upgrading its services. The high level task force set up by the Minister, comprising officials from her Department and CIE, must report to her before the end of January with a programme of implementation. She has authorised the immediate recruitment of two additional railway inspectors and she has asked the company to submit a safety report to her annually which she will publish.

Most important of all is the Minister's decision to participate in a number of regional workshops which will involve workers at all levels. That will inevitably engender a complete change in the safety culture of the company. It will promote a sense of common purpose and urgency among the workforce to fully implement the report's recommendations.

The report states that the DART is in good [128] overall condition but that major faults have been identified on a local basis. It points to serious problems such as missing bolts and insufficient servicing of equipment. It will not be possible to retain the high level of quality, service and reliability if the current structures are not improved. The DART service only came into operation in 1982, so it is worrying that split sleepers are decaying and the coarse stone on the line is nearing the end of its useful life. If this report had not been commissioned by the Minister, we would not be aware of these danger signals. The staff of the company were not aware of them or, if they were, they did nothing about them.

Other problems highlighted in the report are the number of missing bolts and the absence of broken bolts, which suggest they are not of recent origin. According to the report, a number of deficiencies in the welded rail track present a safety risk. The ballast was found to be inadequate over lengths of up to 15 metres. The slab track, which is bedded in concrete, had failed in several locations between Sandycove and Dún Laoghaire. Other locations were also identified where similar problems arose.

The report expresses concern about the long-term safety of overhead conductor lines. It states that overhead lines are inadequate and appear to be deteriorating. It highlights the fact there is no formal overhead line inspection and maintenance programme. The report emphasises that the DART has neither the level of skilled manpower nor the safety access equipment for the maintenance staff to cope with a system as it degenerates with age. It recommends a thorough revision of all DART electrification safety documentation.

The Minister said that overcrowding was not mentioned in the report as a cause of concern.

However, there are glaring examples during peak rush hour, particularly on the DART line from Howth to Westland Row where overcrowding is a serious issue. Many commuters are worried about overcrowded carriages. Concern has been expressed about the manner in which thousands of people on suburban and DART trains converge on the station platforms at Tara Street and Westland Row and then try to make their way through the narrow exits to the streets. I have received many complaints from constituents about this, but no significant action has been taken to address it. I will leave it to my colleagues to refer to the rural rail network.

Mr. Burke: I propose to share my time with Senator Coogan.

Acting Chairman: Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Burke: I welcome the publication of the report on rail safety. My party's spokesperson, Senator O'Dowd, covered many of the general issues relating to rail safety. Therefore, I will confine my comments to the western rail route.

[129] On several occasions, in both Houses, the problems surrounding the Athlone-Westport-Ballina line have been debated. I welcome the report but the summary the Minister issued to accompany it does not refer to the Athlone-Westport line.

Mrs. O'Rourke: I did not issue the summary, it was published by the consultants.

Mr. Burke: I am aware of that. I stated that the summary that was issued does not refer to the inadequacies of the Athlone-Westport line.

Mrs. O'Rourke: The report refers to them.

Mr. Burke: I accept that. However, the majority of people will only read the summary which does not refer to the inadequacies of the Athlone-Westport line. The Minister and the Government have failed miserably to deal with problems on that line.

Mrs. O'Rourke: This is a safety report. I am presenting it to the House.

Acting Chairman: Senator Burke without interruption

Mr. Burke: I am aware of that. I am discussing safety on the rail line in question. In 1992, the Government of the day, of which the Minister was a member, put together a structural funding package for the period 1994 to 1999 but it neglected to make funding available for repairs to the Athlone-Westport-Ballina line.

Mrs. O'Rourke: What action did the Senator's party take during the two and a half years it was in Government?

Mr. Burke: To add insult to injury, when the Minister had the golden opportunity to decommit Luas funding she did not see fit to allocate any of that money to facilitate repairs of the rail line in question.

The Athlone-Westport-Ballina line is the slowest rail route in the world and the trains are never on time.

Mr. Finneran: The west Clare train is slower.

Mr. Burke: The Minister and the Government have failed people living in the west. The Government is not committed to repairing our rail line.

Mrs. O'Rourke: Has the Senator ever read his party's document, “Building on Reality”?

Mr. Burke: When the £114 million of Luas funding became available, the Minister — contrary to statements she made in recent articles about her commitment to the western rail route — did not take the opportunity to make any of that money available.

There is no early bird train on the Athlone-Westport-Ballina line at present. Will the Minister [130] ask the management of Iarnród Éireann to provide such a train, even if only on Mondays?

Mr. Coogan: I hope the Minister will give me the opportunity to speak without interruption. I welcome the publication of the report which is easy to read because it is couched in layman's terms and does not require in-depth analysis. I am glad the Minister took on board the Opposition recommendation in the Lower House that the report should be an independent report.

I did not have sufficient time to read the entire report but I was struck by one glaring fact. In dealing with limitations in data collected, the report states that as the review progressed it became apparent that there were major shortcomings associated with the data collected and collated by Iarnród Éireann. It also states that these shortcomings related primarily to the absence of information as to the extent of injuries incurred, double counting of incidents across different databases and a failure to break down the data into meaningful categories. As a result the consultants concluded that the results obtained from the analysis are subject to a large degree of statistical uncertainty. This indicates that the analysis carried out by Iarnród Éireann was extremely deficient.

I am glad the report includes many recommendations, the introduction of which will not require the provision of excessive amounts of money.

Mrs. O'Rourke: That is true.

Mr. Coogan: Will the Minister ensure that a financial package will be put in place in the near future to fund some of the urgently required risk reduction measures?

Chapter 4 of the report refers to value for preventing fatalities. In this chapter the consultants make an excellent comment which shows that it is not immediately necessary to expend the £500 million required for repairs. They state that the cost of a project must be in excess of £2.1 million for a 50 per cent reduction. That is not a large sum to include in the Estimates to ensure that the first step is taken. We could then make projections into the future.

The Minister will note that I have not referred to specific rail lines. That does not mean I am satisfied with the Dublin-Galway line but I will not open a debate on that matter now.

If one alights from a subway train in England, one will notice a sign which states “Mind the gap”. On the first two occasions I saw it, I thought it was an advertisement for a clothing shop. I later realised it referred to the gap between the station platform and the train which in England is only four inches. In Ireland, however, the gap between trains and station platforms can be anything up to 18 inches and, as a previous speaker pointed out, those platforms can become dangerous in wet weather. There must be [131] some way to reduce the gap between trains and station platforms.

The Minister referred to the rail accident at Cherryville in 1983. One would have thought that a major investment would have been made to improve facilities there following the fatalities in 1983. However, the report only recommends that such improvements be made. Those improvements should have been made immediately after the accident.

Mr. Walsh: I compliment the Minister on this initiative on rail safety. Members on all sides have already acknowledged the wisdom of her approach in having an independent survey carried out. Following the accident in County Roscommon, the Minister took immediate steps to ensure that a blueprint will be put in place to address rail safety requirements. I welcome that she has a broad view in terms of implementing the policy by having all employees of Iarnród Éireann accept ownership of it. That is a good management principle and it will bear fruit. If everyone subscribes to the necessity to improve the plan, progress will be accelerated. That is a welcome development, as is the suggestion that there should be an annual public audit of progress regarding the recommendations in the report.

A number of Members, particularly Senator Burke, criticised the lack of investment in our railways over the years but their arguments could relate to all forms of transport infrastructure. Within the last week we have discussed the road network and the need for an improvement in public transport. There has clearly been a dearth of investment but it is disingenuous of Senator Burke to suggest that is the responsibility of any particular Government. It is fair to say that successive Governments have not put the required investment into the road or rail networks.

It is interesting that this report was carried out against the background of the European common framework for establishing risk criteria. One of the principles, that risk should be as low as is reasonably practical — the ALARP principle — is being implemented and was part of the backdrop to constructing this risk study. It is noted that if we are above the upper levels of tolerability where the risks are identified as unacceptable they must be reduced irrespective of cost. There is an inherent commitment being made within that to address deficiencies which are at an unacceptable level. The intolerable level is 1:4,000 for passengers and public and the acceptable level is below 1:400,000.

Some of the rail lines are in excellent condition but there was a wide variation in standards. As the Minister said, the main body of the report specifies where the lines will need to be improved and expenditure will be necessary. I noticed that the Waterford-Rosslare route is identified as the one in worst condition. It is not above the level of tolerability, but at 93 per cent it is closest to [132] that level. One would hope that line would be utilised to carry much of the tourist traffic entering the country. It is a line with great potential but it needs investment.

On the same line there are many complaints from the public about signalling and level crossings. People in the vicinity of level crossings find themselves waiting for 30 minutes while the level crossing is closed because the system is not sufficiently modern to enable a closer timing of the opening and closing of the crossing. As a consequence when the train leaves Waterford the level crossings are closed and remain closed until the train passes. Often from the time they get the signal to close the level crossing until the train passes, there are delays. This is a nuisance and should be addressed from a public relations point of view.

Without a doubt signalling and level crossing systems are the two areas which require real attention according to the report. Many accidents in the past have been caused by them. Where there is a braking distance which is not acceptable between the signalling and the level crossing, there is an accident waiting to happen. I have no doubt the Minister and Iarnród Éireann will address that area.

Another area of concern is structure. Senator Coogan mentioned the gap between the platform and the train. Things can be done to highlight that and lessen the risk involved.

The control of contractors within the vicinity of the railway line is a weak area according to the report and there have been accidents arising from that in the past. That needs a management initiative which could be implemented without spending a large amount of money.

I welcome the fact the DART and the rolling stock have come out of the report well. While this report deals with the equipment we should remember that there is a need for driver training. The report itself says that it did not address the issue of human error. The equipment can be in pristine condition but if someone makes a mistake there can be many fatalities. The training of drivers should be examined.

In fairness to Iarnród Éireann, the report, particularly the study of the adequacy of the safety management systems, concluded that the overall score arising from the management audit was 64 per cent, a score representative of an organisation which is starting to manage safety proactively, albeit with much room for further improvement. It has been acknowledged that a start has been made and hopefully this will provide the framework for a much improved reduction in the risk area.

Mr. Costello: I welcome the Minister to the House, the alacrity with which she has come to present the report to us and the alacrity with which she commissioned the report from the International Risk Management Service after the potential disaster at Knockcroghery. The fact that [133] the report is by independent consultants is to be welcomed.

Iarnród Éireann has an enviable record on safety. It is a quarter of a century since there has been a fatality on the railway and it is unlikely that could be equalled by many other western countries. That being said, however, any fatality is to be avoided and this report indicates that there could be a fatality at any time.

The report points to many areas in which there are failings of investment and management and serious matters are raised in it.

It is incredible that there should be eight serious safety failures on a signalling system when none would be expected. It is too much that such a situation should exist and it is a serious deficiency on the part of management in not ensuring that a system is in place. It was also discovered that there was no formal system of inspection or remedial work on safety or preventative maintenance. The combined lack of any of these is dangerous in terms of what might happen in the future in a disaster. The safety failures were discovered by the consultants because there were no systems in place to determine them adequately. That gives rise to the potential for disaster at any given time.

I was surprised and disappointed to hear that only one in eight of the staff responded to the questionnaire.

Mrs. O'Rourke: The level of response is comparable to the levels of response in other studies. I was aghast at that myself.

Mr. Costello: I do not disagree but we are talking about an in-depth study in which the management team went out and examined 60 per cent of the network. That must have engendered enormous interest among the staff. Everyone must know there are problems. That was the reason for the study in the first place. There had been complaints about the lack of investment in terms of rolling stock and infrastructure. I am worried that this reflects a lack of morale. It was mentioned that Iarnród Éireann employs around 6,000 workers. That is a large and important workforce which should be well motivated.

Without dwelling on the deficiencies discovered, the report's recommendations are comprehensive and the manner in which the Minister proposes to proceed with them is laudable. A high level task force has been established and this will determine an implementation process by January. There will be regular independent audits of the implementation and the unions and CIE staff will be consulted by the Minister who will take their views on board.

There is a problem with funding. The Minister has only indicated from where the first £23 million will come. That will be immediately borrowed within Iarnród Éireann's remit. Approximately half the money, £250 million, will have to be front-loaded for the 15 year programme. It would be appropriate to plot that period. It is unlikely [134] the Minister will be in office for the next 15 years——

Mrs. O'Rourke: I do not think so — not that I would not be able for it.

Mr. Costello: — regardless of whether her party is in Government. A plan for the first five years would be a good legacy as well as earmarking from where the £250 million will come, whether it will be borrowed, financed by a joint venture or funded by the EU. The Government is proposing a new regionalisation policy and Objective One status will remain in certain counties which have the worst rail infrastructure. The east coast has better quality rolling stock and rail-tracks — from Dublin to Cork and Dublin to Belfast. Perhaps the Minister will include that in her implementation strategy.

I am pleased with the report which is desirable and necessary at this stage. Its contents are serious and it is important that we deal with it in the short term so the current failures, which should not be there, are addressed in the very near future.

Mr. Chambers: I apologise I was not here to hear the Minister's speech. I welcome her to the House and I am grateful for the opportunity to address the report. I welcome the announcement of the £56 million investment in public transport which is an indication of the Government's firm commitment to a better public transport system. I welcome the report which contains a great deal of information on breakdowns in the system and on a company which has not come to grips with the needs of the public. Its transportation policy needs to be attractive from the point of view of competition and long-term sustainability.

The report highlights the total lack of investment for many years and over many Governments. This report which was initiated by the Minister is opportune and has presented a fait accompli to the Government to do something about the national rail system. The report indicates systems and procedures breakdowns, a complete lack of maintenance and management in the working conditions at ground level and the lack of a system for the appraisal and provision of investment in safety. The publication of the report provides an opportunity to set out a plan for the development of the rail system.

I wish to highlight the Westport to Athlone line. The report states that the safety of those travelling on that line is not a major issue. However, this is because of the slow pace of the train. The service is used a great deal by the public and I used it on a monthly basis prior to this year. The train is always packed. It normally arrives in Westport at 11.30 p.m. and recently there have been nights where it has not arrived until 12 midnight. Unless there is some investment in this service it will no longer be attractive for people to use. I welcome the Minister's interest and her positive approach. She has indicated [135] her commitment to implement plans within three months, which is positive.

The rail network should be supported by semi-State agencies such as Coillte. They should invest in the rail service, particularly in the west. Transportation policy should be looked at as a result of this report and we should investigate how we can transport bulk loads, particularly from the west where there has been substantial State investment. The Minister is preparing proposals for Europe as regards Cohesion Funding. This should be used to support the Department's investment in the rail system. We will be able to identify the shortfalls in funding in the long term and the Government may be able to use Exchequer funding to invest in those areas.

I welcome the Minister's quick and decisive action in response to the report — the appointment of two safety inspectors and her instructions to Iarnród Éireann to fund the necessary initial investment. I question the role of Irish Rail in the implementation of policy. There is a huge commitment involved in modernising rail transport. An investment policy across semi-State bodies would help long-term investment. I thank the Minister for her commitment and her speedy response to the publication of the report.

Mr. Caffrey: I also welcome the Minister to the House. She has shown determination and vigour in attacking the problems of the railway system. It is regrettable that the Government as a whole does not share the same sense of commitment and purpose in bringing our rail system into the new millennium. As Senator Burke pointed out, it failed to invest any of the Luas money in a system badly in need of investment. I also commend her for this report before the House today.

The consultants who examined the system used the ALARP principle which is defined as “As Low As Reasonably Practicable”. This principle states that above a certain level, known as the upper level of tolerability, risks are unacceptable and must be reduced irrespective of cost considerations. If on the other hand risks are already broadly acceptable, then no further precautions are required. Where the risk lies between these two extremes, it is necessary to seek means to reduce risk towards the broadly acceptable levels so long as the costs are not grossly disproportionate to the benefits gained.

This is a fine principle but it is very vague. I suggest Iarnród Éireann operates on the same principle but I would interpret it differently. I would say Iarnród Éireann exist on the principle of “As Long As the Ratepayer Pays”. It got £90 million of taxpayers' money last year and the system is creaking, especially in the west. I do not want to reiterate other Senators' statements on the line to the west but it is in a deplorable state and badly in need of investment.

The Minister has a golden opportunity to bring the railway system into the new millennium. It is only a few years ago since our telecommunications [136] system was archaic. It was a Third World system. After a few years with major investment, I would venture that the Celtic tiger is riding on the back of the telecommunications system in Ireland. It has been the foundation of all advances in information technology in recent years. We all remember the old black telephones and one would have to go to the local post office to make a call. In trying to telephone America, one could wait a week.

Mrs. O'Rourke: The local postmistress knew what everybody in the parish was doing.

Mr. Caffrey: The local postmaster or postmistress knew everyone's business. That is only a few years ago. The Minister should avail of the opportunity to bring our railway system into the new millennium. It will be a monument to her in the next century. It would be of enormous benefit to our road system and reduce congestion on it. As we know, the number of cars is increasing rapidly every year. We must get people to travel by rail. It would be a very acceptable way to travel if there was a guarantee that one would arrive on time and the journey would be reasonably comfortable.

The feel-safe factor has gone out of Irish rail. There was a time when one could board a train and feel as safe as at home by the fireside. However, now that has gone and it is a pity. It is a disincentive to travel. I know from travelling west, particularly on the lower end of the line, if the train speeds up, the carriage I am sitting in does a hornpipe while the one in front does a slip jig on the same line. That cannot be safe. I do not need to be an expert to decide there is something essentially wrong. The track has been there for 70, 80 or 90 years without being changed. The report has identified that there is now a high level of risk. That is unacceptable in this day and age. The Minister must convince the Government and get the money needed for massive investment. It will be well worth it in the long run.

It is a pity we are only talking about major things here. Iarnród Éireann cannot even get the small things right. I was in Heuston Station recently and the lady on the tannoy system may as well have been speaking Russian. Nobody could understand what she was saying. The system should be intelligible in any position within the precincts of the station. That is a very small and simple thing. CIE is notorious for getting the simple things wrong all the time. It would be part of the overall improvement in the system.

I am glad to welcome the Minister to the House. I know she believes in the system and is approaching this with a sense of commitment. I commend her for that. It is a pity the Government is not as committed as she is to the overall development of our railways.

Mr. Finneran: Senator Caffrey reminisced about the postmistress or postmaster and I remember that she or he could have been joined [137] by the parish priest at that time. Sadly neither are as well informed any more on what is happening.

I welcome the Minister to the House. I am impressed with her approach to the difficulties she experienced on 8 November 1997. It is the hallmark of the Minister for Public Enterprise, Deputy O'Rourke, to apply a structured approach. Other Ministers may have used small reports and addressed it on a piecemeal basis but she went about it in a very organised way and brought an international study on board. She has now published the study and has given instructions to CIE to raise £23 million to address the immediate problems. She has put in train the process of appointing two extra railway inspectors, demanded an annual audit from Iarnród Éireann and invested a quarter of £26 million in mainline rail for 1999. I consider that to be a very positive and structured approach.

She acted in the same way in other situations regarding both education and health when she had to deal with national problems. If I could make one decision tomorrow morning and it was within my remit, I would decide to have a minister for transport and I would have no doubt about who that minister would be. Inland transport should be co-ordinated between rail and road. We are one of few countries in Europe that does not have a department of transport. It would be in the best interests of this country to have such a department. Perhaps this could be considered by the Government. I welcome the report which clearly identifies that there are safety problems on the rail network.

Senator Costello thought that not enough employees of CIE had responded. If the figure given by the consultants of approximately one in eight is correct, we are talking in terms of up to 600 people responding. This is a sizeable number of people out of a workforce of approximately 5,000 people. These people had a great interest in the workings of the railway and felt it was their responsibility to make a submission in this regard. The Minister's response is also a hallmark. She has decided to set up eight regional meetings throughout the country to talk to the employees of CIE. Employees want to be involved in these decisions. The Minister's approach is very welcome and could be taken on board in other cases. The availability of a Minister to deal with employees in both the State and semi-State sector was not evident to any great extent in the past. Employees felt that decisions were taken over their heads and they had to implement them. If they had become part of the process, many of the difficulties that arose in the semi-State sector over the years would have been avoided. I compliment the Minister on her approach of involving the staff of Iarnród Éireann.

The report contains some disturbing statements. Someone mentioned that the Minister is not doing enough. I would say to people not to shoot the messenger, the Minister is doing what is appropriate. She has made public all the inadequacies and shortcomings of the rail system [138] through the international consultancy firm. In the past reports were put under lock and key in an office of a Department and there were calls to have them published. The Minister did not wait for that to happen; she published the report as soon as she received it.

The inadequacies and shortcomings of the system are all there for the public to see. The report is now the charter of Iarnród Éireann which must respond to the shortcomings contained in it. The Government must also respond to these shortcomings. I compliment the Minister on the great work she has done. I would like to say much more regarding this report but my time has almost run out.

On railway stations, some station masters take pride in their railway stations by painting them and so on but other stations are depressing. A little refurbishing, painting and providing comfort by way of a few seats would make them a bit more comfortable for the public. I compliment station masters who take pride in their railway stations. CIE should set up a competition for the best kept railway stations such as local authorities do for the best kept shop fronts, housing estates and so on.

There are two railway lines through north Roscommon from Carrick-on-Shannon to Boyle and into Sligo. Money has been committed for the upgrading of the line as far as Carrick-on-Shannon. I wish that would continue throughout County Roscommon and into Sligo. Hopefully this will happen during the Minister's period in Government. On the other line a major disaster could have happened near Knockcroghery, the line from Athlone through Roscommon town, Castlerea and into Westport. I am pleased with Iarnród Éireann's response this week that it will address the first 11 miles of this line which is dangerous. Some 84 miles of this line needs to be upgraded. I hope that the Minister's discussions with CIE and the Minister for Finance will enable the shortcomings of this line to be addressed. The line is not unsafe but that is as a result of the low speed of the trains. If that line was upgraded throughout, the speed of the trains would be increased and more people would travel on the trains rather than bringing their cars to Dublin.

Hopefully we will have another opportunity to discuss this matter, perhaps in three months time when the Minister receives the specialist report.

Mr. J. Cregan: I welcome the Minister to the House and congratulate her on taking statements here this evening. I also congratulate her on commissioning the report on rail safety in Ireland. As other speakers mentioned, it is the first such independent report to be compiled. It is a most comprehensive report dealing with every aspect of rail safety. It is realistic in the manner in which it outlines the shortcomings, problems and difficulties of the rail system. The realistic timescale outlined for the necessary improvements is achievable. It is encouraging to know that as we speak some of the recommendations in the report have [139] been implemented. In the past some reports have lain on shelves and gathered dust in Departments, local authority offices and so on. This is a most encouraging first step.

It is worrying that the report found eight serious safety failures in the signalling system. I welcome the proposed improvements to some of the highest risk areas in the signalling system, particularly on the Limerick Junction to Mallow line. I travel on this part of the rail network on a regular basis. Many people from the west Limerick area travel on this section of the rail line because Charleville is the most convenient station. Charleville station, which was once threatened with closure, has been extensively upgraded in recent months. This is most welcome from the point of view of the convenience of the travelling public and the staff. It is important for the travelling public to be able get a cup of tea and use the toilet facilities on the train.

The report states that within three months of publication agreement must be reached between the Minister's Department, CIE and Iarnród Éireann on the capital and revenue costs necessary for the full implementation of the plan, thereby making the rail network acceptably safe. This is very important because without the necessary finance and co-operation nothing can be achieved.

The report goes on to prioritise all other recommendations and timescales. I know it is the Minister's intention to oversee the implementation of these recommendations during the coming months and years. I commend the Minister on the inclusive manner in which she has initiated discussions on this report in both Houses of the Oireachtas. Her discussions with trades unions and planned meetings with the employees of Iarnród Éireann at various locations throughout the country are very welcome.

It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the contribution of the entire workforce of Iarnród Éireann under extremely difficult circumstances over the years. When people have to work under difficult and trying circumstances, it is not always easy to be pleasant and courteous. From my experience, I have found the vast majority of the workforce to have these characteristics in abundance. Something which should not go unnoticed is that the rail network, given its shortcomings, compares very favourably to its European counterparts.

Our rail network is a tremendous asset, economically and socially, and it is incumbent on the Government to ensure that, in co-operation with Iarnród Éireann, the necessary investment is made for the travelling public. I know from having spoken to the Minister how serious she is about fully implementing this detailed and comprehensive report and that she will not leave it on the shelf to gather dust.

The report mentions that the condition of rolling stock is satisfactory but I am sure it is recognised that more is needed. I have noticed the [140] serious overcrowding on trains, especially at weekends when large numbers of people travel, or on match days when large numbers of supporters travel. It is worrying. I listened recently to the Liveline programme and a passenger, a GP, on board a train leaving Heuston Station contacted the programme and spoke live on air. His outline of the situation was very frightening. He spelt out in great detail the difficulties he and other passengers and staff were experiencing. It was a Friday afternoon and the reason given for the overcrowding was shortage of rolling stock. The sooner the problem is tackled, the better because, in the short-term, it could lead to a catastrophe and a tragedy. I hope it does not and I know the Minister thinks likewise. CIE has an excellent record on rail safety comparable to the rest of Europe and it is to be commended on that. I compliment the Minister for taking the initiative in commissioning the report and attending the debate on it here. I wish her well in its implementation.

Mr. Glynn: The Minister is like a good doctor; she has diagnosed and prescribed. There has been a great deal of rí rá about the rail system but this is the first time significant account has been taken of its deficiencies. These have been appropriately addressed by the Minister by way of substantial investment.

Between 1955 and 1983, 35 people died in rail accidents but it is because of a series of incidents and near misses in recent years that the Minister, Deputy O'Rourke, commissioned the current report on Iarnród Éireann. In the wake of those incidents, serious concerns were expressed. The report pinpointed the outdated nature of the signalling system of Ireland's neglected rail network as the most likely cause of accidents. When the report was published, the Minister said, and I appreciate the responsibility she felt, that unless she did something, she would not sleep. I am told the railway compares favourably to other rail networks throughout Europe, but that is no case for sitting back and doing nothing. In 1984 the situation was going from bad to worse. The review stated that while Irish railways have historically been safe, a shortfall in recent years was impacting on safety. It also said it was realised that the skill and expertise of staff members was being undermined as many of the older generation left the service through retirement or company downsizing.

The damning independent consultants' report has highlighted the massive underfunding of Irish rail which has resulted in major safety implications for the travelling public. The report contains a number of alarming findings including serious faults in the signalling system and some tracks being in an unacceptable condition. The consultants acknowledged that, while the condition of much of the track signalling and structures was very poor, the condition of rolling stock was on the whole satisfactory. However, the most serious shortcoming was the lack of a systematic [141] approach to identifying safety hazards and prioritising and implementing remedial action. That is what this report is doing and what the Minister has done.

The report also made clear that, if safety management was not adequately addressed, the benefits of safety investment in the infrastructure would be useless. The consultants recommended that £590 million be spent over the next 15 years and that £230 million of this should be spent on tackling safety deficiencies. It is estimated that, if this sum is spent on safety measures, risk levels to the travelling public could be reduced by 50 per cent over a 30 year period. That is a huge reduction and everyone should recognise that. Approximately £60 million is required to improve safety management systems and £20 million per year over 15 years for ongoing renewal on the permanent way.

The Minister has responded with alacrity following publication of the report. She announced CIE is to begin an implementation of the recommendations of the review immediately, paying particular attention to the immediate safety needs identified by the consultants. The Minister also met the CIE board following the publication of the report and gave it permission to borrow £23 million towards the cost of tackling safety deficiencies. As recommended in the report, a high level task force comprising officials of the Departments of Public Enterprise and Finance and CIE is being established which will report to the Government by the end of January. This will prioritise recommendations to address the issues identified in the consultancy review. Pending consideration by Government of the task force report, CIE is to be authorised to undertake borrowing to finance the implementation of safety measures.

The recruitment process for two additional railway inspector officers in the Department of Public Enterprise will begin immediately. This is a step in the right direction because it was frightening to discover that only one inspector was responsible for rail safety throughout the country. In 1998, that of itself speaks volumes and it is clear why the Minister said if she did not do something about it, she would not sleep. If I were in her shoes, I too would suffer from suitable insomnia. I am delighted she has provided the money.

I will be parochial for a minute. The Mullingar to Carrick-on-Shannon line is a particularly bad stretch of railway. The delay for people commuting by rail from Mullingar to Dublin, as I do, is unacceptable. The measures being taken will ensure the travelling public will regain the confidence it once had in the railways. The Minister can take a well earned bow in that regard.

The consultants' report stressed the need to create a safety culture. The Minister stated her intention to participate in a number of regional workshops at which the findings of the review will be presented to Iarnród Éireann staff at all levels. They will have the opportunity to present their [142] views to the Minister on all aspects of rail safety. Upgrading the rail network, replacing archaic signalling systems, improving an aged track structure and providing adequate rolling stock to meet demand are all essential measures for ensuring the safety of the travelling public.

Senator John Cregan referred to the Minister's discussions with the unions. If the Minister is good at anything, it is dialogue. It is clear she has brought all on side with her and she deserves credit for that. I wish her well. The Minister deserves credit for recent investment in public transport. Up to now everyone complained about the railways but no one did anything about them. I hope she retains the portfolio and that the Mullingar to Athlone rail track will re-open.

Mr. T. Fitzgerald: I will comment briefly on the report and on the Minister's promptness in coming to the Seanad to discuss it. In this instance she has made copies of the consultants' report available to Members of both Houses and other interested people and I thank her. A major complaint by this House is that when reports are published they are not circulated to Members and I have often complained about this matter.

With regard the use of railways more and more people will use them in future because the road network is crowded. To have an efficient service and for people to use it, we must have a railway that is punctual, safe and competitive. I will list some of the reasons that discourage people from using trains. For instance, most Friday nights I travel to Tralee or Killarney to collect my family from the station and the train is seldom on time. It is also very rare for anyone to be on the platform to inform people that the train is delayed. Many other people have experienced the same problems.

Senator O'Dowd referred to his recent visit to Dingle but it is really his homeland because his father originally came from beside Dingle — dúthaigh mo mhuintire. I cannot find fault with the direct train from Dublin to Tralee. Unfortunately, if one travels during the afternoon on the Dublin to Tralee train one has to change at Mallow and the train used for the rest of the journey is in a very bad condition. For someone like me who travels from Dublin to Dingle by train followed by an hour's journey by car it would be nice to have an opportunity to get something to eat between Mallow and Killarney or Tralee. There are no facilities on that train.

Mrs. O'Rourke: To what line is the Senator referring?

Mr. T. Fitzgerald: I am not complaining about the direct train from Dublin to Tralee. I am complaining about the Dublin-Mallow-Tralee train or the one used to take passengers from Mallow to Tralee.

I also want to refer to the safety aspect of this train because there was a derailment within the past year. The incident was highlighted on television [143] by an independent member of Kerry County Council. The report showed that the sleepers were rotten and that if a person put his weight on them they would bounce. Unfortunately, I have not had enough time to peruse the report to see if works will be carried out on that line.

Kerry people are worried by a rumour that the Tralee/Killarney train service might cease. The Killarney station is rather unusual because every train has to reverse into it. At the moment extensive work is being carried out but there are no signs that the approach will be changed. This leads people to believe that Killarney may be the end of the line in the future. This would be a grave mistake.

Killarney is the main tourist destination. It is gratifying to see a train crowded with tourists, backpackers, etc. heading for the kingdom. The Killarney people are not letting CIE down because at weekends they organise the honeymoon express to Killarney where couples are met by a fanfare of bands and people are wined and dined for a cheap rate.

Mrs. O'Rourke: Does the scheme only apply if one is on honeymoon?

Mr. T. Fitzgerald: No, people do not have to be on their honeymoon to avail of the scheme. The train is called the honeymoon express.

I have expressed my concerns about the Tralee/Killarney line and the condition of the train from Mallow to Tralee to the Minister and I hope she will be able respond.

Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke): I commend the contributions made by Senators O'Dowd, Liam Fitzgerald, Burke, Coogan, Walsh, Costello, Chambers, Caffrey, Finneran, John Cregan, Glynn and Tom Fitzgerald.

Mr. Connor: May I speak under Standing Orders?

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: I am sorry but the Senator has missed the train.

Mr. Connor: I am sorry that the Standing Orders are so inflexible.

Mrs. O'Rourke: I know Senator Connor is very interested in railway safety and its system and I will be glad to add his name to the list of other interested Senators.

I spoke for half an hour at the beginning of this debate. I have noted each point made by the Senators and they will be of great interest to Iarnród Éireann. Senator Burke asked for an early train to be supplied. He also stated that we had not received money from the EU for some lines. I do not make those kinds of decisions and I did not make them in 1992. The EU carries out [144] studies on the rail network and decides which lines to recommend.

Mr. Connor: It was consulted in time. The Minister should not be allowed to make misleading statements.

Mrs. O'Rourke: This is a good study. No other Government or Minister had the nerve to get ahead and do it knowing that huge expenses would be incurred. If the study becomes the policy of regionalisation for the next tranche of funding, it will home in on the fact that we should be able to secure funding for the areas in most need. This is a safety charter and indicates what must be done.

No Government can dodge the issue from now on because the report outlines what has to be done on a yearly basis. It details what has to be done with regard to signals, telecommunications, level crossings, bridges, embankments, carriages and training for personnel who work the railways.

Mr. Connor: About time too.

Mrs. O'Rourke: It also outlines Iarnród Éireann's fine safety record and compares it to its European counterparts. We now have the opportunity to do something and we must do it with the greatest of alacrity along the lines that I proposed at the beginning of this debate.

I thank Members for affording me this opportunity to outline the content of the report and my recommendations as soon as I requested it. Each time I publish an audit on how the work is going, I intend to come to both Houses with the published report. I will talk it through and obtain the views of Senators on how the work is progressing. There is no hiding place for anybody within the system, including politicians. There is no room to dodge, fudge or fence. What we must do is now laid out clearly.

I must get the rail tracks in order, but I will look kindly upon the railway from Mullingar to Athlone. Why would I not do so?

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: When is it proposed to sit again?

Mr. Finneran: Next Tuesday at 2.30 p.m.