The recent shocking images of the railway collapsing into the sea at Malahide brought home to many how a catastrophic accident could occur on the Irish Rail network. Thanks to some important strokes of fortune in addition to clear and superb thinking from the driver of the last service over the viaduct, loss of life and injury were avoided. If the bridge had collapsed on a dark winter night as a packed commuter train passed don’t bear thinking about.
In the immediate aftermath of the crash, Barry Kenny (Irish Rail PR guru) was quick to the air waves to assure all passengers that all was well as the bridge had been inspected only 3 days prior and no faults had been found! This is just as troubling as the viaduct collapse itself.
This raises massive questions about the regime of safety inspections and audits within Irish Rail. If an engineer and the tools available to them cannot ascertain any issues with the bridge, while local groups are being vocal about changes to the tidal flow, then either Irish Rail and their engineers lack the tools and ability to spot potential defects or the overlooked the critical issues during the "full" bridge inspection. Both prospects are equally scary for passengers, especially as Irish Rail are loath to take responsibility for even the smallest issues facing passengers, as highlighted by Rail Users Ireland over the past few years.
Given that someone in Irish Rail certified that the bridge was safe 3 days before the collapse, who is the manager responsible for signing off on the engineer’s report?
Will that manager now be held accountable and be brought out to explain why he can stand over a collapsing bridge used by thousands of Irish Rail customers each day?
It is interesting to note a report in the Sunday Tribune indicating that Irish Rail managers have resisted introducing the role of a safety manager as it would "dilute" their own roles. By implication, the converse of this policy means that all current Irish Rail managers are responsible for safety on the railway and all are accountable for this issue.
As Irish Rail managers are all earning comfortable 6-figure salaries and gold plated pensions, there must surely be a degree of accountability and a notion of responsibility attached to the position? Will they be hauled in front of an Oireachtas Committee to explain themselves?
Will there even be a resignation or heaven forbid a dismissal after the causes of the accident become clear and any shortcomings are highlighted. Previous accidents have highlighted a lack of conscious effort to keep safety a priority without any consequences for Irish Rail management.
Given that lives were put at risk, thousands of passengers’ commutes were disrupted daily and millions of euro must be spent to restore the services, should we be asking, what kind of event is needed to actually get Irish Rail management to raise their hand and say: "Yes, that was our responsibility and we failed"?
Let us all hope we never encounter an event like that on our rail network.