Tuesday, 18 November 1997
Dáil Éireann Debate
Mr. Spring: Despite my reticence about leading anything at present, I appear to be leading a Kerry team here this evening. Will the Minister facilitate Deputies Foley and Healy-Rae within the time allotted? I will share my time with them.
Mr. Spring: The derailment of the Kerry-Dublin  train this morning at Ballyhar, County Kerry, was the second of its kind in recent years. This highlights the pressing need for immediate action on the state of our rail network. It is the latest in a line of accidents that have occurred on the rail network in recent months, and it will not be the last unless recognition is given to the problems that exist and plans are put in place to address them.
It is not a coincidence that this accident happened in the same week The Sunday Tribune led with a story “Dangerous rail system on brink of disaster”. I am sure the Minister is well aware of the contents of that article. It highlighted that further accidents, which could lead to the deaths of many passengers, can be expected on the rail network. This is a very worrying portent which, as shown again today, is likely to be realised if action is not taken by the Department.
In the wake of the derailment of the Dublin-Westport train a number of weeks ago many people said we were fortunate no lives were lost. This has also been the case in the derailments which occurred in Ballyseedy, County Kerry, and at Glasnevin in Dublin where the train involved was carrying empty ammonia tankers. We were all relieved the tankers were empty when the train derailed.
The number and frequency of people travelling on our trains has increased in the past few years. This is borne out not only by statistics but by overcrowding on trains. It is obvious that Iarnród Éireann is not able to cope with the number of passengers using its services, especially at weekends. Because of increasing pressures on its resources, many people are forced to stand in the isles or to sit in corridors between carriages. Iarnród Éireann deals with this unacceptable position by promising their customers a journey, but it cannot guarantee them seats. This merely serves to exacerbate the problems already created by the dilapidated state of our rail network.
The inability to cope with demands currently being put on CIE begs other questions: is its stock receiving the requisite care and attention? According to some, carriages and locomotives are being taken out of workshops before work is completed to deal with weekend demands.
It is often said there are two rail systems in Ireland — the Dublin-Cork line and the rest of the country. As someone who has travelled on both lines on many occasions, I know there is an element of truth in this anecdote. As the aforementioned Sunday Tribune report notes, a twotier rail network has been created. The lines from Dublin to Belfast, Cork, Limerick and halfway to Galway have continuous welded track while large sections of track on other lines are jointed. The significance of this is highlighted by the fact that of the nine derailments in the past five years only one has occurred on welded track and that accident was due to a fault in the carriage. The trains which operate on the rest of the country's lines seem to be travelling on a wing and a prayer and  have led to what people call an accident waiting to happen. It is imperative that the Government acts to ensure an accident does not happen. It will be too late after someone has been seriously injured or even worse.
An effective and efficient rail system is an integral part of our national, regional and local infrastructure. While the significance of rail travel may have declined over the past number of decades, it still fulfils an important role in many aspects of contemporary Irish life. Great numbers of the travelling public, including students, businessmen and businesswomen, shoppers and sports fans, avail of this service every week of the year. Rail travel still remains the mode of transport for some of our industries. In areas similar to County Kerry, where tourism is a big industry, the provision of a rail network is important.
Responsibility rests with the Minister whom I know takes her work seriously. I hope she comes before the House at an early date to ensure that steps are taken so that we do not have a more serious accident on the rail line.
I was a passenger on the 7.30 a.m. train from Tralee. It was my first time travelling on this service for almost 18 months. A major accident was avoided due to the efficiency and expertise of the driver, Mr. Billy Irwin, who brought the engine to a halt in seconds after a landslide. I thank him sincerely for his actions. I also compliment the checker, Mr. Jimmy Moloney, who helped the passengers suffering from shock, many of whom had appointments in Cork and Dublin.
I also thank the guard, Mr. Ben O'Sullivan, who played a big part in quickly contacting Iarnród Éireann officials in Killarney. As a result, a number of Iarnród Éireann workers were at the scene within minutes piping a drain at the side of the train. It did not take them long to erect a road across the drain which enabled passengers to leave the train and board waiting buses which transported them to Killarney and on to Rathmore to connect with the Dublin Cork train. I congratulate and thank all the Iarnród Éireann workers who worked with such efficiency. I also thank the catering staff on the train for providing meals free of charge to the passengers.
Large scale flooding over the past few days must have contributed to this accident at Ballyhar, County Kerry. But for the expertise of the driver of the locomotive there would have been serious consequences. I ask the Minister to seriously consider Deputy Spring's comments about the trains from Kerry to Dublin which are overcrowded. CIE must be seen to get its act together from now on.
Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke): I thank you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle,  for allowing so many Members to speak. I thank Deputy Spring who raised the matter and the other Deputies from the constituency who took part in the debate.
The 7.30 a.m. passenger train from Tralee to Dublin was partially derailed this morning between Farranfore and Killarney on the Tralee to Mallow railway line. I was in Farranfore and on that railway line last evening, there had been a very heavy rainfall.
Mrs. O'Rourke: I was not getting up to mischief —as the Deputy said he was — and I do not cavil about it. My Department was notified immediately about the accident. The train comprised a modern 201 class locomotive and eight modern Mark III carriages. The leading wheels of the locomotive derailed but all the carriages remained on the track. There were 92 passengers on the train. Following the accident, two passengers were taken to Tralee General Hospital but they have since been discharged.
Indications suggest the accident was caused by a landslide which had partially blocked the track. The landslide occurred as a result of very heavy rain during the day and night before the accident, with 40 millimetres being recorded in the area. The track was undamaged.
The line in question was relaid last year with jointed track and is considered by Iarnród Éireann to be in particularly good condition. The rail carriages involved in the accident are the most up to date, apart from the enterprise trains.
I concur with the need for vigilance as outlined by Deputy Spring. It is interesting to look back on the incidence of rail accidents. Thankfully we are second from the bottom in the European accident league table in not having fatalities. The number of incidents during the past 12 months, long before I became responsible for this portfolio, has been disturbing. I do not recall any great fuss being made of them here but there should have been given that there is now an accumulation of incidents.
While safety is the day to day operational activity of Iarnród Éireann and of the CIE group of companies, it is of paramount importance. If I have to continue to report on the safety of Iarnród Éireann something is gravely amiss. To that end, the time is ripe for an external review of the company's rail safety policy and practice.
Before the recent rail accidents senior officials of my Department had already commenced preliminary work on such a review and they have had initial and detailed discussions with senior management of Iarnród Éireann. I have now directed my Department to quickly prepare terms of reference for such a review. We can learn from other countries. Nobody can guarantee complete transport safety. If one walks, travels by rail, car, air or sea one will, of necessity, encounter dangers. However, I am disturbed at the number of  incidents which have taken place. Certainly the incident at Knockcrockery, as I said to Deputy Naughten last week, could have been calamitous had it happened 100 yards further along the line. There are too many ifs in this whole scene for anyone to be content or happy about it.
Deputies Spring, Foley, Healy-Rea and others have raised the matter with me and my colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue. I believe the time is ripe for an external review of the company's rail safety policy. The terms of reference will be drawn up within the next few weeks and I intend to make it public, as well as any incident that happens. One cannot guarantee there will not be another accident.
Mrs. O'Rourke: In 1984 when the Deputy was in Government five people were killed in Kildare. There have been too many smaller accidents, any of which could have been major. Following a report from me the Cabinet discussed the matter today. I will bring the terms of reference for such a review to the House.
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