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Railway Safety Bill, 2001: Second Stage.

Thursday, 17 October 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 555 No. 4

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Minister for Transport (Mr. Brennan): Information on Seamus Brennan Zoom on Seamus Brennan I move: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

Mr. Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten Now we will see the real genius.

Mr. Brennan: Information on Seamus Brennan Zoom on Seamus Brennan I am pleased to introduce the Railway Safety Bill, 2001, to the House. The primary purposes of the Bill are to establish an independent statutory public body, the Railway Safety Commission, with wide-ranging powers of inspection, investigation and enforcement; to require railway undertakings to put in place a formal safety management system and describe the components of that system in a document called a “safety case”; and to establish an independent statutory public body, the Railway Safety Advisory Council, comprising representatives of organisations with an interest in railway safety.

One of my main priorities as Minister for Transport will be to continue the good work of my predecessor, Senator O'Rourke, in improving railway safety. There is a wide consensus of opinion that the laws governing railway safety which date back, in the most part, to Victorian times are no longer appropriate for today's railway systems. The Bill provides a modern but flexible means of independently overseeing the safety of our railways. It covers not just the Iarnród Éireann network but also the Luas, the planned metro network, heritage railways and other railways which have an interface with a public road or another railway.

Following a derailment at Knockcroghery in November 1997, my predecessor commissioned an independent review by consultants led by IRMS of all aspects of the safety of Iarnród Éireann's railway network and of the legislative framework for regulating railway safety. In the report, published in late 1998, IRMS concluded that the Iarnród Éireann network had been a safe one historically, but also recognised that a shortfall in investment at that time was affecting safety. IRMS recommended that substantial investment was required urgently in infrastructure renewal and that it was necessary to introduce more formal systems and processes within Iarnród Éireann to further improve safety standards.

In March 1999, the Government approved a €546 million railway safety investment programme, to be implemented between 1999 and 2003. The programme is proceeding satisfactorily. Up to the end of 2001, Iarnród Éireann had replaced 246 miles of track with continuous welded rail, permanently closed or made safer 371 level crossings, including 217 high risk level crossings, renewed 228 bridges and fenced off 150 miles to deter trespassers and stray animals. Significant funds have also been invested in upgrading cuttings and embankments and in improving safety management systems. In 2002, Exchequer and EU funding of over €150 million is expected [1083] to be invested in further safety improvements under the programme. Iarnród Éireann has invested over €400 million of Exchequer funds since the beginning of the programme and substantial funding will continue to be available for the remainder of it.

I intend to seek Government approval in the near future for the reconvening of the railway safety task force to make recommendations for a new five-year railway safety investment programme, to commence in 2004. Since its 1998 report, IRMS has carried out two further follow-up reviews of the safety of Iarnród Éireann's network. IRMS found in its 2001 report that Iarnród Éireann had made substantial progress in improving the safety of its railway infrastructure. Given the level of investment in public transport, it is vital that we ensure that investment in our railways is accompanied by the introduction of effective and formal safety management systems and that such systems are independently validated. This is my first priority and the reason I am introducing this Bill. In its 1998 review of railway safety, IRMS recommended a new regulatory framework for railway safety to include substantial strengthening of the powers and resources of my Department's railway inspectorate, updating the legislation governing railway safety and moving towards a “safety case” method of validating railway safety.

The Railway Safety Bill, 2001 is designed to put in place a modern regulatory framework for railway safety. During the drafting of the Bill, careful consideration was given to the IRMS recommendations and to regulatory regimes in other countries. The number of serious and horrific accidents in Britain and across the EU in recent years has given rise to great concern. We cannot deny that railway accidents occur and will continue to occur, unfortunately. The potential for such accidents is with us all the time, but we can learn from them and thereby continuously strive to reduce the risks involved. Despite the number of recent high profile railway accidents, railways remain one of the safest modes of travel. The provisions of this legislation have taken into consideration the lessons learned from other countries. It does not replicate the safety regime in any one country, rather it takes account of different regimes and experiences in other countries and defines a framework appropriate for the scale of the Irish rail network and the nature of its operations.

I propose to outline briefly the main provisions of the legislation, which is separated into 11 parts. Part 1 includes standard provisions in regard to such matters as the short title, interpretation, orders and regulations and repeals. Part 2 deals with the establishment of the railway safety commission and includes related standard provisions. Section 10 states that the principal functions of [1084] the commission will be to foster and encourage railway safety, regulate and enforce railway safety and investigate and report on railway incidents.

Earlier this year, the EU Commission published its proposals for a new railway safety directive. The Commission proposes that railway accident investigations should be a function of a separate permanent body, independent of the railway industry and the safety regulator. There are clear synergies to be gained from retaining the regulatory and accident investigation functions within one body. Other member states share my views on this issue and it would be premature to modify the Bill at this stage in the EU legislative process. I intend to make my position known to my fellow Transport Ministers during the negotiation directive.

Section 14 provides that the railway safety commission will comprise up to three members. It is my intention to initially appoint one but I will keep under review the need to increase this in light of the workload of the commission. The chief railway inspecting officer of my Department will be the first commissioner. Further appointments to the commission will be made by the Civil Service and Local Appointments Commissioners. I envisage, in making further appointments, international experience will be an important factor in the selection of candidates.

Section 16 provides that the two other railway inspecting officers of my Department will transfer to the commission on its establishment. It is envisaged the commission will have a permanent staff of nine, of whom seven will be technical experts and two administrative. Section 28 provides that the commission may impose a levy from 31 December 2004 on railway undertakings to partly or wholly fund its activities. As the LUAS will be operational shortly after construction is completed towards the end of 2003, this means that there will be at least two significant railway companies to share the cost of a levy. The planned construction of a metro system will further reduce the financial cost to each company.

Part 3 places general duties of care on railway undertakings, persons working on railways and other persons. Section 38 states it will be the general duty of a railway undertaking to ensure, in so far as is reasonably practicable, the safety of persons in the operation of its railway. Section 39 places duties on a number of other parties, including staff of a railway undertaking, contractors working on the railway and any other person who is on or near railway property.

Part 4 deals with safety management systems, safety cases and related issues. Section 41 requires that a railway undertaking implement a formal safety management system and describe that system in a document called a “safety case”. The safety case approach was recommended by IRMS and I am satisfied it is the most appropriate approach for Irish railways. The legislation [1085] specifies that the safety case should contain at least a general description of the operations of the railway undertaking, a statement of the safety objectives and policy of the undertaking, an identification of the hazards and risks and the mitigating measures in place to reduce these risks.

Sections 46 and 47 relate to the assessment of the safety management system by independent experts, and the submission and acceptance of the safety case by the commission. The commission will issue a safety certificate where it is satisfied the safety case demonstrates that the railway undertaking can comply with its general duty to operate a safe railway. Section 48 requires a railway undertaking to implement the safety management system described in its safety case. The courts may impose a fine of up to €500,000 for failure to do so.

Part 5 deals with the investigation of railway incidents. It provides for three possible approaches – an investigation by the railway undertaking, an investigation by the commission or a tribunal of inquiry. This mirrors the investigation hierarchy in the existing law but substantially strengthens and modernises the legislative framework. Section 54 requires a railway undertaking to investigate railway incidents and submit a report to the commission. The commission may designate an inspector to observe such investigation.

Section 55 empowers the commission to investigate any railway incident. The purpose of an investigation by the commission will not be to bring a criminal prosecution but to improve railway safety by establishing the cause of the incident and making recommendations for the avoidance of similar incidents in the future. Section 57 requires the commission to publish its report of the investigation. Section 61 provides that a tribunal of inquiry may be held into a railway incident. It is intended that this power will be invoked for the most serious railway incidents only.

Part 6 deals with the making of regulations in relation to specified matters and the review of legislation by the commission. Part 7 addresses the enforcement powers of inspectors of the commission. These are modelled in many respects on the powers enjoyed by inspectors of the Health and Safety Authority. Section 70 details the considerable powers entrusted to inspectors to enter railway property to carry out examinations or searches necessary for the purpose of exercising a function under the Bill.

Sections 73 to 76 give a range of powers to inspectors to take enforcement action where the operation of a railway undertaking is likely to pose a risk to safety or where a person is contravening a provision of the legislation. An inspector may issue a notice requiring a railway undertaking or other person to submit an improvement [1086] plan, rectify a failure to comply with the Bill or cease specified activities until remedial action is taken. The purpose of an improvement plan will be to allow a railway undertaking or other person, when directed by the commission, to submit a plan setting out how it proposes to remedy a risk to passengers or persons working on a railway. This power is likely to be used by the commission where the level of risk is perceived to be relatively low and does not require urgent or immediate remedy.

The purpose of an improvement notice will be to enable the commission to require that a railway undertaking or other person rectify, by a specified date, a failure to comply with the Bill. This power is likely to be used by the commission where the level of risk is perceived to require more immediate attention or where a person has failed to submit an improvement plan. The importance of an improvement notice is reflected in the €300,000 fine that may be imposed by the courts for failure to comply with the notice.

A prohibition notice will enable the commission to require a railway undertaking or other person to immediately cease an activity that poses an immediate and substantial risk to the safety of passengers or persons working on a railway until such time as the matters specified in the notice are remedied. This power is likely to be used by the commission in the most extreme cases and, hence, its importance is reflected in the €500,000 fine that may be imposed by the courts for failure to comply with the notice. Provision is also made for the commission to make an application to the High Court for an order immediately restricting or prohibiting an activity that poses a serious risk to the safety of persons. This phased approach to enforcement is linked to the severity of risk in a particular situation and is in keeping with best practice internationally.

Part 8 deals with the establishment of the railway safety advisory council and sets out its membership and functions. The council will comprise 14 members including representatives of railway undertakings, railway unions, the commission, mobility impaired people, the public interest, a statutory body involved in worker or public safety and, perhaps, others. The council will have an independent chairperson. Under section 80 it will be the general function of the council to consider issues relevant to railway safety and to make recommendations, as appropriate, to the commission or the Minister. I am confident the council will make a valuable contribution to railway safety.

Part 9 sets out a detailed regime for the testing of specified safety critical staff of railway undertakings for intoxicants, that is, drugs and alcohol. This is a significant innovation in the area of railway safety. Section 82 lists the specified limits for presence of alcohol in the body. For fairness, I have set these limits at the same level as in the [1087] Road Traffic Acts. As the trend internationally is for these limits to progressively reduce over time, I have reserved the power to make regulations, subject to a resolution of each House of the Oireachtas, to vary the specified limits in the future. Section 83 provides that this part will apply to all passenger railways except heritage railways. The classes of safety critical railway workers affected are also specified. These will include, for example, train drivers, signal men, guards and maintenance workers.

Section 84 places a number of duties on these safety critical workers. They must not have a level of alcohol in their bodies above the specified limit at a material time and must not be under the influence of an intoxicant to such an extent that they are unfit to carry out their work or could expose a person to danger. A duty is also placed on railway undertakings to take reasonable steps to ensure these safety critical workers are not unfit for work, do not expose others to danger through intoxicants and do not have a level of alcohol in their bodies above the specified limit. To discharge this duty, section 85 requires that a railway undertaking draw up a code of conduct in regard to intoxicants and as to the procedures for the taking of samples from safety critical workers. These codes and procedures must be submitted to the commission for approval. Affected workers and their representatives must be consulted in drawing up the codes and procedures.

Section 86 requires a railway undertaking to appoint a medically qualified person to take samples from safety critical workers in accordance with the agreed code of conduct and procedures. Section 87 empowers that person to take samples in certain instances, including at random, for stated cause, and after an accident. Section 88 sets out requirements in regard to disciplinary measures to be taken by a railway undertaking against those who breach the requirements in regard to intoxicants.

These provisions give railway undertakings strong legal powers to deal with intoxication through internal disciplinary procedures and place substantial legal obligations on railway employees with safety critical jobs. It can be argued that we should go further and make it an offence to be intoxicated in addition to or in substitution for the provisions of Part 9. I would particularly welcome the views of Members of the House on this issue. There has been much debate on this point and I will return to it on Committee Stage and listen carefully to what Members opposite have to say. There is a view that being intoxicated while in charge of a train or its safety should be dealt with using the usual internal disciplinary procedures. There is a view that it should be an offence dealt with by the Garda. This has been the subject of protracted and difficult discussions involving my predecessor, trade [1088] unions and representatives of the workers involved.

Part 10 of the Bill deals with works on a public road in the vicinity of a railway and also to infrastructural works on the railway. In framing this part of the Bill, my Department had in mind the tragic events near Selby in England in February last year, when a car left the road at a flyover and came to rest on the railway below leading to a very serious railway accident. In that instance, the roadside barriers on the flyover clearly did not prevent the car's descent onto the railway below.

My Department came to the conclusion that the best way to avoid a similar occurrence here was to require a road authority or any other party that is planning to carry out works near a railway, such as erecting roadside barriers, to consider first if those works might affect the safety of an adjacent railway and if so, to consult with the railway undertaking concerned. It was recognised also that major new works on a railway could similarly be a potential risk to a public road and therefore a similar requirement has been placed on railway undertakings to consult with a road authority.

Part 11 of the Bill deals with various procedural matters such as prosecution and service of notices. Section 94 provides that specified classes of records relating to accident investigations by a railway undertaking or the commission, or relating to inquiries by a tribunal, be kept confidential. Such records would include witness statements, medical information regarding persons involved in a railway incident and also train data recordings, the railway equivalent of an aeroplane's black box.

However, the commission or a tribunal will be able to disclose these records where, in its opinion, the benefit to the public interest of doing so outweighs any adverse impact on a current or future investigation or inquiry. Clearly, one effect of this section is to exclude these records from release under the Freedom of Information Act, 1997.

This section has been included following careful consideration of comments received from Iarnród Éireann, its trade unions and the Public Transport Partnership Forum. Also, similar provisions are already set down in regulations, based on international law, covering air accident investigations in Ireland. These provisions take account of the views of experienced investigators.

The intention of these provisions is to improve railway safety by encouraging the co-operation of parties involved in railway incidents, through the reassurance of confidentiality and thus enhancing the ability of investigators to establish the cause of railway incidents. Its purpose is not to keep information from the public but to encourage people who have information about a railway incident to come forward. In any event, non-dis[1089] closure of information is subject to an over-riding public interest test.

Only the specified records relating to railway incident investigations will be excluded from the Freedom of Information Act. I will be requesting the Minister for Finance to apply the Freedom of Information Act to both the commission and the Railway Safety Advisory Council. All other records of the commission and the council will be subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

The provisions of section 94 are based on the view that, on balance, the public's right to travel safely outweighs the public's right to know. Perhaps some Deputies may disagree with this view and I will therefore welcome and consider any comments they may wish to make.

The new regulatory framework, together with the major investment which this Government continues to make in our railways, will lay the bedrock for safe railway travel in the future and will provide assurance to the travelling public that safety will continue to be of paramount importance to the Government. Railway safety is at the top of my agenda and I therefore ask Members to facilitate the early passage of this Bill into law. I commend the Bill to the House.

Mr. Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten I endorse everything the Minister said. This is the most important legislation to come before the House in the last five years. There is an urgent need for it and it should have been enacted years ago. It is a miracle that we have not seen a catastrophe like those that have occurred in England.

This Bill provides for the monitoring and inspection of railway infrastructure and the investigation and publication of reports into railway accidents and both are long overdue. It also grants wide-ranging enforcement powers. I hope the Bill will be dealt with expeditiously and this side of the House will support the Minister in its enactment. The Government Chief Whip should, however, avoid scheduling it for a Thursday evening because a number of Members want to speak on the issue; it should not be left so late in the week.

The Bill puts in place the new regulatory framework for rail safety and will apply to all railways to which there is public access, including the Irish Rail network, light railway metro and the heritage railways. It also applies to those aspects of industrial railways that may interface with public road or railway networks.

The placing of a primary duty of care on the railway undertakings to ensure the safety of persons in the operation of the railways is long awaited and very welcome. Duty is placed on both the staff of railway companies and local authorities. In Knockcroghery and at other automated level crossings in County Roscommon there have protracted negotiations with Irish Rail about upgrading. Irish Rail should upgrade these [1090] crossings in conjunction with the local authorities rather than the local authorities having to force Irish Rail to implement some of the measures. Hopefully, with this legislation the pressure will come from on high and Irish Rail will cease to police its own network as has been the case heretofore.

Rail safety is only debated in the House and outside when there is a major catastrophe in the UK or when we have incidents like the one in Arklow almost two years ago, the train crashing through the level crossing at Kiltoom, County Roscommon – as it has on numerous occasions – or the tragedy at the railway station in Dundalk where an employee of Irish Rail was crushed during the shunting of trains. I will return to the issue of Kiltoom level crossing which typifies the lack of action taken by Irish Rail.

On 9 October the Minister issued a response to me relating to rail safety for which, he stated, Irish Rail has statutory responsibility and he indicated that the company had assured him it operates its network according to a strict standard with the highest level of safety in place for customers and staff. Referring to the most recent incident at the level crossing at Knockcroghery in February 2001, the Minister for Public Enterprise said the standard of rail safety was totally unacceptable and that the rail safety inspectorate was inhibited from effectively doing its work because of Irish Rail's failure to provide full and timely information. The Minister raised concerns about public safety based on the company hiding behind what it claimed was confidential information. In the Minister of Transport's response yesterday to questions raised about level crossings, it could be seen that the amount of information provided to the current rail inspectorate is inadequate and that Irish Rail has, at times, tried to cover up some of these incidents. We have rarely, if ever, seen the company carry out work subsequent to an investigation. Instead, it has tried to put the blame as far as possible on staff and to use them as scapegoats rather than look at improving the level of safety. The Kiltoom level crossing is an ideal example of this. Over the last ten years the crossing has seen ten times as many incidents as has the total network between Athlone and Westport, yet every time an accident happens the driver is blamed. It is unusual for the driver to be wrong in so many incidents at one crossing which brings us back to the fact that the company is not prepared to upgrade the signalling there with the result that by the time the driver finds out the gates are closed he is already on top of them.

The Little report of May 1998 highlighted the poor condition of our rail network and the miracle that we had not seen a serious rail disaster. The one thing we should learn from Knockcroghery is if that incident had not happened, we would [1091] still have a Third World rail network. Going through the Little report and looking at some of the photographs contained in it showing the condition of the sleepers and the network as a whole, it is hard to fathom how there has not been serious carnage. Two of the worst lines detailed were the Mullingar-Sligo line and the Athlone-Westport-Ballina line, both of which saw the risk of a serious accident increase by 30% every year as a result of their condition. Sadly, it took an incident like Knockcroghery, in which thankfully no one was injured, before any action was taken to upgrade the rail network. We have seen a dramatic improvement in the condition of the permanent way since then. Work is ongoing and Irish Rail has gone over budget in upgrading the permanent way throughout the country.

It is important to refer to a number of incidents on the network because in one of his replies to me over the last week the Minister stated the railway inspectorate has carried out no formal investigation in the last five years. There is a type of informal arrangement with regard to the Knockcroghery level crossing incident, but other than that there have been no serious investigations carried out which highlights the urgency of introducing this legislation. In June 1998 a locomotive travelling from Connolly Station to Drogheda became detached from its carriages near Skerries. In July 1999 a freight train from Dundalk crossed the River Boyne at Drogheda under a green light signal and collided head on with a mechanical digger. In the winter of 1998 an empty passenger train en route to Dublin approached the Mallow beet factory on a green light and halted just on time when another train emerged from the plant. There was also, of course, the incident with the Cork-Dublin passenger train, the lead portion of which left half its carriages in the tunnel at Kent Station and continued on its journey to Mallow. Not one of these incidents has been investigated by the rail safety inspectorate to any great extent and I hope the Minister can provide the House with a guarantee that when the new commission is established it will carry out thorough investigations and ensure that incidents like this are not repeated.

While it is not the main purpose of the Bill to provide for prosecutions, the only way we will see action taken is when they occur and the commission must ensure they do. The biggest rail safety issues are the atrocious signalling on the network, which raises again the debate on mini-CTC, and the nature of level crossings. There is huge concern about them everywhere as we debated here yesterday in relation to the death of Sister Bowles in Limerick. Two years prior to her death a milk tanker went through the same level crossing as she did, leading to the sustaining of serious injuries by the driver. He was on the critical list in hospital yet two years later someone [1092] had to die at the same place and I am almost certain no work has been carried out there since. In Slieve Corbally, Dunamon, County Roscommon, a young woman was killed when she drove onto a level crossing where there was a double bend in the rail line and no sight distance either side. Consequent to her death and the dragging of her car down the line, Irish Rail set about investigating what could be done at unmanned level crossings to upgrade them, yet no work has been done at that particular site. That is typical of Irish Rail. It is prepared to carry out internal investigations, but when it comes to implementing recommendations the company falls very short.

My colleague, Deputy Hogan, also raised the matter of the level crossing at Knockmoylan, County Kilkenny, on the Waterford-Dublin line, which thankfully has not seen a fatality. There has been a significant number of near misses at the level crossing, yet Iarnród Éireann has not done anything to upgrade it. Yesterday the Minister spoke about 151 incidents which have occurred at level crossings throughout the country since January 1998. Of those 151 incidents, 116 did not involve a train. However, the remainder did and some had fatal consequences, while others were near misses. What remedial measures have been taken at those level crossings to ensure similar incidents do not happen again? I doubt if the number is in double figures. As regards the Kiltoom level crossing, ten times as many incidents have occurred at that level crossing as at any other level crossing between Athlone and Westport, yet nothing has been done to upgrade it. There was an incident near Shelton Abbey in Arklow when two locomotives decoupled from the rest of the train.

The level crossing at Kiltoom typifies the inaction of Iarnród Éireann. There are 22 similar level crossings on the train route. There have been five incidents at Kiltoom, yet there has been less than half that total at the other level crossings on the route. The distance between the gates and the signals has not changed for more than 100 years, although the track has been upgraded and the speed of the trains has increased. There was an incident at Kiltoom level crossing in December 2000 and in February 2001 the semaphore signal at the gates indicated the gates were open for the train, although it is possible they were frozen by the weather. That highlights the problem with the signals. The only way to address that problem is to increase the distance between the gates and the signals. Coloured signals should be installed at Kiltoom instead of the archaic system which is there at present.

It is important that we install the mini-CTC signalling system. Although I know the Minister is strapped for cash, we could help to improve safety by ensuring the mini-CTC is operational as soon as possible and by making fibre optic cable more accessible. The present signalling system [1093] works through fibre optic cable, which is the backbone of broadband information technology. Leasing out a State asset to any competitor in the telecommunications sector would help to generate income which would ensure the network is completed and used successfully to ensure safety and broadband access throughout the country. Everyone could benefit from it because the additional capacity is available on the cable at present. However, a major problem is that the State does not own the cable. It is in the private control of Eircom and BT. If that network was opened up and made more accessible, it would generate income which would ensure the work was completed and the continued upgrading and maintenance of the rail network.

While I have been critical of Iarnród Éireann today, it is not the first time it has been criticised for its failure to provide full information to the railway inspectorate on the safety aspects of its operations. During the last Government the Minister of State at the Department of Public Enterprise, Deputy Jacob, apologised to the House for giving wrong information which had been provided to him by Iarnród Éireann. Deputy Jim Higgins and I said the information was incorrect at the time. That should not be tolerated. I am glad this organisation will have teeth and will be able to pursue the company to ensure it carries out the recommendations of its investigators.

The Minister mentioned the safety problems in the United Kingdom. Those problems arose because in 1996 the Conservative Government made the biggest mistake it could have made during its term in office by privatising the rail network. I oppose the privatisation of our rail network. There is a lack of public confidence in the rail network in the United Kingdom because it has not been upgraded. The company which took over the management of the rail network milked it for all it was worth financially and allowed the network to collapse. We should ensure that does not happen here. The lack of investment by Railtrack in the maintenance of the rail network led to the litany of fatal accidents there. If the rail lines in this country were frequently maintained, we would be able to increase the speed on our rail network from 100 miles per hour to 125 miles per hour. If we want to encourage people to leave their cars at home and to use the rail network, we must improve its efficiency and maintenance.

A major concern for passengers is the overcrowding on trains. I do not know if the Minister has had the opportunity yet, but he should go to Galway or Westport by train. He should take the Calcutta Express to Westport on a Friday evening. It is important for him to experience it. There is probably less overcrowding on the trains in India than there is on that train to Westport. The trains to Westport have been downgraded by Iarnród Éireann in the past couple of weeks. One [1094] train does not have automatic doors. If one of the doors is not properly closed, 20 people could fall on to the track on a Friday evening.

One of the first things the commission must do is to move away from the current railway company policy of looking only at commercial considerations. It is supposed to provide a public service. They should ensure the safety of the passengers and their employees instead of compromising safety considerations for purely commercial reasons. In this regard, overcrowding on our rail network must be addressed immediately after the commission comes into force.

I take issue with the Minister's assertion that our railways have been safe historically. While we have not had a significant number of accidents, the permanent way is so dangerous it is a miracle we have not had a serious incident.

I now turn to several of the provisions of the Bill. Section 14 deals with the appointment of three inspectors. As the Minister is well aware, the inspectors have already been appointed with the sole function, to the best of my knowledge, of investigating the incident which took place in Kiltoom in February 2001. Now, 22 months later, we have still not received a report on the incident and the facts have yet to be placed in the public domain. Allowance must be made for additional inspectors to be appointed to carry out a thorough investigation into a litany of minor incidents, as well as several major incidents, which have taken place in the intervening period. Why are incidents which have occurred at level crossings not being followed up by the company? The commission needs to have additional inspectors available to it to carry out investigations.

From the employees' point of view, Part 9, which deals with drug testing, is probably the most controversial feature of the legislation. The individuals who take and assess the samples from employees must be independent of Irish Rail. Employees are concerned at the lack of independence of the medical practitioners who will take or analyse the test samples. It is imperative that there is an element of independence in this regard. I will return to this matter on Committee Stage.

The Minister referred to the Health and Safety Authority while discussing the enforcement powers of the commission provided for in Part 7. Will these powers be exactly the same as those of the Health and Safety Authority in this area? There is no point having two bodies carrying out investigations or inspections of the rail network. One set of inspectors should be able to carry out both roles. If we had had a commission like this one in the past with powers to address these issues, we would not have had the Indaver dispute which went on for three months several years ago as this was one of the main concerns raised at that time.

I raised the issue of criminal prosecutions. It is imperative that an example is made to ensure that [1095] the commission's powers are effective and it is not taken for granted by some organisations. I take issue with the definition of a medically qualified person. It is imperative that such persons are independent of the company which has appointed them.

The Minister proposed the use of the alcohol limits as specified in the Road Traffic Acts. We need to consider zero tolerance for drivers. It is essential that freight trains and the heritage railways are covered by this measure and other restrictions envisaged for the passenger network. While the permanent way of the passenger network has been significantly improved in recent years, the permanent way of the freight network is atrocious. There is no reason to differentiate between a passenger train and a freight train. For example, if a freight train passed a signal and hit a bus on a level crossing, it would cause serious carnage. Similarly, many of the heritage railways carry a significant number of passengers. There needs to be the same level of policing regime for all trains. I presume the reason for the current position is related to the fact that if the matter was left to the companies, the staff of the heritage railways, many of which have only two or three employees, would have to police each other.

Regarding section 33, I hope the Minister will accept an amendment on Committee Stage on the issue of accountability. I wish to flag my intention to oppose all sections of Bills related to accountability if they do not contain provisions to compel the Minister to answer questions in the House about any body under his authority. We made enough mistakes regarding the National Roads Authority. I will not allow anything similar to happen with regard to matters within the brief of his Department during the next five years.

Mr. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell We are grateful to the Deputy for his reference to five years.

Mr. Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten I ask the Minister to table an amendment which would ensure he will answer parliamentary questions concerning the commission once it has been established.

Mr. Crowe: Information on Sean Crowe Zoom on Sean Crowe I wish to share my time with Deputy Eamon Ryan.

Ms Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton I object.

Mr. Crowe: Information on Sean Crowe Zoom on Sean Crowe On what grounds?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon The Deputy does not have to give grounds under Standing Orders.

Mr. Crowe: Information on Sean Crowe Zoom on Sean Crowe I am aware of that and I am disappointed.

Ms Burton: Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton I understand the technical group is a party. When speaking on Bills, the custom in [1096] the House is for the party spokesperson to use the time. This is what we expect to happen.

Mr. Crowe: Information on Sean Crowe Zoom on Sean Crowe This shows the—

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon We cannot have a discussion on the matter now.

Mr. Crowe: Information on Sean Crowe Zoom on Sean Crowe That is fine.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon The Deputy may move the adjournment which will give him 30 minutes when the debate resumes.

Debate adjourned.


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