herald

Monday 18 December 2017

Smartphones 'to blame' for rise in rail network slips

The number of cars entering level crossings fell last year. Photo: Kyran O'Brien
The number of cars entering level crossings fell last year. Photo: Kyran O'Brien

The use of smartphones is leading to an increase in the number of accidents across the rail network.

A new report says the number of incidents involving passengers and third parties on Irish Rail properties has increased from 202 in 2015 to 261 last year.

"The majority of injuries incurred were minor in nature, occurring from slips, trips and falls at stations," said the company's Safety Report 2016.

"Elsewhere, similar trends have been linked to changes in passenger behaviour, including the increased use of smartphones in inappropriate situations."

An Irish Rail spokesman said, while the company removed hazards and ensured spills were cleaned up, "there are greater sources of distraction", which had resulted in people missing steps on stairs and escalators.

The report claims that Irish Rail is among the safest railways in Europe, but that a number of challenges remain.

"Underfunding in infrastructure and renewable fleet, as well as the deferral of implementation of new technology in train protection and at level crossings, has generated increased requirements for maintenance and human resource interventions," it says.

The Department of Transport has allocated funding to introduce an automatic train protection system, which would apply the brakes on speeding trains at risk of passing signals at danger. The system is already used on Dart carriages and will be rolled out across other stock over the coming years.

It will cost €155m to implement, and will take up to seven years to roll out.

Danger

In 2016, 13 signals were passed at danger, compared with 15 the previous year. They have fallen by two-thirds compared with a decade ago.

The report also says that the number of cars entering the railway at level crossings has fallen, with 11 dangerous crossings closed.

These include one near Kilmallock in Limerick, which was considered high risk and where an upper speed limit for trains of 60kmh was imposed.

The number of bridges struck by trucks has increased to 92, compared with more than 200 a decade ago, in part due to an awareness campaign.

The report also says that 490 bridges out of a total of 5,100 are at risk of scour, or foundations being eroded by water.

Scour is the reason why the Malahide viaduct collapsed in August 2009. The bridges are subject to routine inspection.

The report also addresses concerns raised by safety watchdog the Commission for Railway Regulation (CRR) about Irish Rail's attitude to safety.

It says the CRR reflected "some tensions" between both organisations at senior level, and that Irish Rail had "reiterated" its commitment to a "positive working relationship".

Quarterly reports are issued to Transport Minister Shane Ross, it added.

A consultants report has since found the company's attitude to safety is "sound".

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