Iarnród Éireann claims rise in accidents linked to smartphones

Number involved in rail-related accidents increased by almost one-third to 261 last year

One third of rail-related accidents involved the gap between the train and the platform and were judged to be in the highest risk category. File photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times

One third of rail-related accidents involved the gap between the train and the platform and were judged to be in the highest risk category. File photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times

 

The number of passengers involved in train accidents increased by almost a third last year, a trend which may be attributable to people being distracted by smartphones, Iarnród Éireann has said.

Last year, 261 passengers suffered a rail-related accident, up from 202 in 2015. One third of these incidents involved the gap between the train and the platform and were judged to be in the highest risk category.

Iarnród Éireann said the majority of injuries suffered last year were minor and involved “slips, trips and falls at stations”. It said part of the rise was attributable to an 8 per cent increase in train passengers in 2016.

The company said other countries have also seen a rise in passenger accidents and the Republic’s rate is comparable to the UK. It said such trends were linked to “changes in passenger behaviour, including the increased use of smartphones in inappropriate situations.”

The accident data is contained in Iarnród Éireann’s first annual safety report.

The company said it was taking measures to mitigate risks to passengers, including improving surfaces in stations and promoting awareness of track safety.

The report states the Republic has the best safety record in Europe when it comes to rail fatalities but acknowledges the rail system is very small.

“Being a relatively small railway, we are acutely aware that just one serious accident would have a significant impact on the normalised statistics,” Iarnród Éireann chief executive David Franks commented.

There were 16 incidents involving trains breaking red lights, known as signals passed at danger (Spad) incidents. The number of Spads has decreased by 66 per cent in the last decade despite most of the rail system not having a system to automatically prevent them, unlike other European countries.

The Government has allocated funding for an automatic system but it will be several years before it comes online.

Rail bridges

Last year, there were 92 incidents of vehicles striking rail bridges, a slight increase on 2015 figures. Such incidents cause significant disruption to rail users as a bridge’s integrity must be checked after each impact before it can be used again.

Iarnród Éireann pointed out that, overall, bridge strikes had declined significantly from more than 200 in 2007. It said the worst affected bridge, in Carrick-on-Suir, had now been raised which should further reduce strikes. Between 2012 and 2016, the bridge was hit 19 times.

Dangerous incidents involving cars and trains at level crossings dropped from 88 in 2015 to 56 in 2016. The reduction was attributed to several safety measures taken by Iarnród Éireann, such as the installation of vehicle recognition CCTV at crossings and a road user awareness campaign.

There was a small rise in derailments and collisions in 2016 but most of these involved derailments on railway siding which “represent a low safety risk”, the report stated.

It said some of the safety challenges resulted from old structures, earthworks and level crossings which were built at a time when rail traffic and loads were much lighter and when “the link between climate change and extreme weather events was not apparent”.