Updated: 22/12/16 : 07:11:17
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Irish Rail castigated by regulator over safety stance

The rail regulator has warned the Government of “strategic safety” issues arising on the railways over time unless senior management at Irish Rail changes the way it deals with safety regulation.

In its annual report the Commission for Railway Regulation has strongly criticised the attitude of the railway company’s management to safety compliance issues.

The Irish Times reports that the commission informed Minister for Transport Shane Ross in a letter at the end of November that its working relationship with the State-owned rail operator had been “unacceptably strained” in 2015. Moreover, it had deteriorated further in the early part of this year. It said it had emphasised to the Department of Transport last April that a “paradigm shift” was needed in the company’s attitude to safety regulation.

The commission, in its annual report, indicated its unhappiness with moves by the company to “continuously” challenge and take issue with determinations on safety compliance.

“Throughout 2015 it was evident that Iarnród Éireann (Irish Rail) was taking a noticeably different approach towards safety regulation. This was most evident in the stance adopted at the most senior level in Iarnród Éireann management when responding to matters of safety management compliance identified by the commission.

“It is of concern that the type of sentiment expressed in correspondence with the regulator may be a reflection of a leadership attitude to safety that would be less than the commission expects,” it says.

Mr Ross said that while the regulator’s report highlighted “some strong concerns about certain safety governance matters”, he had been assured by the commission there was no immediate risk to safety.

He said a new action programme has recently been agreed between the commissioner for railway regulation and Iarnród Éireann. The commissioner, Gerald Beesley, had assured him that if this programme was implemented the concerns outlined in his report would be fully addressed.

Mr Ross said the commissioner had assured him at the end of November there was “ no immediate risk to safety” and should such a risk ever arise he would use powers available to him to deal with it.

Iarnród Éireann said its board and management were committed to fulfilling the new programme of actions and to working with the commission to ensure the highest standards of safety were achieved.

The last fatality involving a passenger on a train in the Republic was in 1991.