Did you stand on the DART coming to work this morning ? Well you and 1,000 fellow commuters will be standing for at least another 15 months since Iarnród Éireann have left the DART fleet 20 coaches short through a refurbishment program which has gone pear shaped. If you were standing on a DART this morning you may be happy to know that those 20 missing DART carriages are in Leipzig, which is not actually a part of the DART network, you should of course not concern yourself with the fact they are meant to be in Prague.
They are the first consignment to be sent to be refurbished and they are 18 months late -so far- in being returned. As a regular user of the DART the fact they are a year late will not be a surprise to you.
Unknown to the majority of DART passengers in December 2004 Iarnród Éireann embarked on a €60 million refurbishment program of the original 'German' built DART coaches. This was to take 2 years and be complete in December 2006. There are 76 coaches in total undergoing refurbishment and naturally they all have to be taken out of service in turn to carry out the work. A total of 20 coaches were duly withdrawn from service and shipped to Germany over a period of 5 months from December 2004 and April 2005, this coincided with the introduction of 40 new coaches so there was a net gain in capacity, no one suffered, no one noticed. This was a positive move which would benefit the passenger by bringing the original DART coaches up to modern standards with improved accessibility, CCTV and a host of technical reliability improvements. It was great on paper but it has gone horribly wrong.
30 months later on only 20 coaches have returned to service, 4 are on test and 32 more coaches still have to be shipped to Germany, the project is now running at least 16 months late but in its 2005 annual report Iarnród Éireann stated the first coaches are due back in service in late 2006 not June 2005 a full 18 months late, that has subsequently slipped to January or February 2007. Ireland has the fastest growing railway in Europe and despite limited number of 8 coach DARTs crush loading levels are common particularly on the northside have not eased they have gotten worse and with the DART refurbishment program now running at least 18 months late there is no relief in sight as the planned full 8 coach DART service will not be possible until mid 2008 not end 2006.
The tender documents for the project clearly state a duration of 24 months to complete the refurbishment of all 76 coaches, the contract was awarded on December 10th 2004 and the first coaches left on the 15th. Only 4 of those 76 coaches where completed within the 24 month deadline. Neither Iarnród Éireann nor Siemens seem in any hurry. Initially a date of June 2005 was quoted for the first refurbished coaches to return, thus allowing work to commence on further coaches. The coaches never returned and the project has been stalled since, Iarnród Éireann managers keep revising the date. In fact many have denied that there is a problem.
Coaches arrive Leipzig and are disassembled, coach body is then shipped to Prague where it is reassembled using new and refurbished components in a manner similar to the assembly of a new coach, coach is then returned to Dublin and following trials re-enters service. Simple you might think.
In late May 2005 6 coaches should have returned to Dublin and following commissioning trials the coaches should have re-entered service in late June. A further 4 coaches then ship to Germany each month thereafter until October 2006 with a equal number returning. All 76 coaches return to Dublin by start January 2007 and all are in service by end February 2007.
Almost full 8 coach operation of DART services commences December 2006 with a small number of 6 coach trains switching to 8 coach operation during January 2007. Net result is an increase in rush hour capacity of about 3,500 of which 1,000 are extra seats.
What Actually Has Happened
No coaches were complete in May 2005 for return for reasons unknown, Rail Users Ireland can show that Siemens had not signed contracts with a CCTV supplier (a key element of the refurbishment program) until August 2005 thus the first possible return date became September 2005, 3 months behind schedule. September passes, no progress, date is revised constantly as deadline after deadline passes, Siemens change plans totally and the original plan to reassemble the coaches in Prague was dropped. The first pair of coaches arrived back on October 18th 2006, 17 months late, or put it another way some the coaches have been abroad for over 21 months, more than four times the expected time.
The plot thickens in Sept 2006 when Rail Users Ireland learned that Siemens where not overhauling the traction equipment as specified in the contract but replacing it. While Siemens did this at there own cost it added yet more time to the project and also added at least a month to the testing program in Dublin since the new traction system required certification. Siemens of course could have sub contracted this overhaul work to Alstom (formerly GEC) Preston in the UK who specialise in such work, after all GEC designed and built it. Where Siemens too proud to do this?
To put context on this a back in January 1981 contracts were signed for 80 DART coaches, the first arrived February 1983, 25 months later, at the current rate of progress it could take longer to refurbish the coaches than it took to design and build them in the first place.
Time honored strategy in Iarnród Éireann to complaints is to hide and deny there is a real problem or blame past lack of investment, but thanks to the transparency required by state bodies contracts in the EU all the proof is in the public domain.
Contracts signed with Linke Hoffmann Busch to build DART fleet.
First DART unit landed at Dublin Port and commences testing shortly afterwards on the Howth branch. Note to build the coaches took 25 months from a standing start
DART services commences after 15 months of testing
First tender issued to refurbish the original German DART units, tender was withdrawn, reference EU OJ 2000/S 41-02618
Nominal date for start of mid life overhaul at 17 years
Updated tender issued under reference EU OJ 2003/S 106-095281 
40 new DART carriages are delivered 2 months early by Tokyu Car of Japan.
Contracts awarded to Siemens for refurbishment of 76 DART coaches, duration 24 months from the award of the contract. Cost not revealed but thought to be €40 million 
First coaches are shipped, 6 in total (8107/8307 8113/8313 8140/8340) 
UK rail trade magazine Rail Manager runs article and quotes June as return date 
Second batch of coaches are shipped, 6 in total (8123/8323 8124/8324 8131/8331) 
Third batch of coaches are shipped, 8 in total (8105/8305 8130/8330 8138/8338 8139/8339) 
Expected date of return of first unit, date revised to September
Siemens sign contract with Innovonics Ltd to supply CCTV equipment for the DART coaches, to commence delivery from September 2005 for about 12 months.
Iarnród Éireann manager admits to Rail Users Ireland members at a meeting that first unit is delayed
Barry Kenny, Corporate Communications Manager of Iarnród Éireann in a letter to the Irish Independent does not admit to the delays when a member of the public complains over the lack of 8 coach DART services
Mark Gleeson, Technical Officer Rail Users Ireland responds to Iarnród Éireann letter exposing delays, Iarnród Éireann do not respond
Iarnród Éireann internal timetable lists DART test trains under the title "DART Refurbishment Test Trains" no evidence exists that these trains ran and no trace of the 20 above listed coaches are found in either Fairview or Inchicore depots. The coaches are still abroad.
Iarnród Éireann 2005 annual report notes return of first refurbished unit as "late 2006" no note is made of the 18 month delay 
Return of first unit now over a year late.
Iarnród Éireann manager admits to Rail Users Ireland members that things have gone badly wrong.
First pair of coaches (8107/8307) returns to Dublin Port
Irish Times runs article on return of first coach, again no reference to the 18 month delay 
Second pair of coaches (8113/8313) returns to Dublin Port
Completion date as per contract
Third and fourth pair (8124/8324 + 8131/8331) return to Dublin Port
First 6 coach set returns to service nearly 2 years late
Iarnród Éireann withdraw all 10 Alstom DART coaches
Rail Users Ireland's opinion on the actual completion date
Who Is To Blame ?
It is clear the June 2005 return date for the first unit was impossible since Siemens did not contract a supplier of CCTV equipment until August 2005 3 months after the expected return of the first coaches. Clearly the bulk of the blame must be placed on Siemens for they signed a contract and have failed utterly to deliver. Siemens changed plans totally and the original plan to reassemble the coaches in Prague was dropped. Of course thats not to say Iarnród Éireann are without blame, how on earth did things reach such a state someone in Iarnród Éireann should have been keeping track on progress.
It is impossible to understand how on April 24th 2005 when 8 coaches left Ireland that Iarnród Éireann where not unaware of difficulties with the contract after all the first completed unit was due sometime in May for service in June 2005, if Iarnród Éireann had been closely following progress it is almost certain that they would have realised at this stage that things where not as they supposed to be. Rail Users Ireland notes that Siemens did not sign contracts for CCTV equipment until August 2005 so it would have been obvious that things where not in order in April.
Iarnród Éireann played nasty with Siemens by sending out a set of coaches that had lain out of service for several months. Set 8140/8340 was damaged in the fire in the Fairview Depot in 2001 and while the coaches were repaired they spent little time in service and had lain out of service for some time, in such conditions it is common to use the coaches as a source of spare parts.
Iarnród Éireann have avoided admitting in public that there are serious delays in the project, its been hidden. Given we the taxpayer are paying for this project indeed the long suffering DART commuter deserves to be told why the service is getting worse not better. Despite numerous opportunities Iarnród Éireann have not disclosed any information and indeed the failure to note the 18 month delay in the 2005 Iarnród Éireann annual report is a clear sign of a attempt to cover up the truth.
Iarnród Éireann constantly revise the dates for the return of the first batch of coaches this highlights the fact the Iarnród Éireann are not taking a firm line with Siemens and this clearly shows project management from the outset was weak or non existent.
This is the second pair of coaches to return, photographed outside Fairview depot in early November. Some fairly obvious changes noticeable but thankfully the original seats have been retained.
20 coaches have finally entered service, however a further 10 DART coaches built in 1999 unrelated to the DART refurbishment project have been withdrawn resulting in the situation being even worse now.