Regulator’s report reveals tensions with Iarnród Éireann bosses
Commission for Railway Regulation criticises rail operator on its attitude to safety rules and challenges to regulator’s authority
The rail regulator says that from 2015 Iarnród Éireann began “taking a noticeably different approach towards safety regulation”
The rail regulator defines railways along with the aviation, nuclear, oil, gas and the petro-chemical sectors as “high hazard” industries. Chance events, it says, can result in multiple deaths or life-changing injuries.
The Commission for Railway Regulation says that “to leave nothing to chance, railway organisations must continually strive to achieve a level of management maturity that delivers excellence in safety culture and performance which is the hallmark of high-reliability organisations”.
However, in its latest annual report to the Government the commission strongly criticises State-owned rail operator Iarnród Éireann over its attitude towards safety regulation and the challenges it has posed to the authority of the regulator.
The commission expresses concern that since 2015 Iarnród Éireann had begun “taking a noticeably different approach towards safety regulation”.
It explicitly says in the report that the “working relationship between Iarnród Éireann and the commission was strained throughout 2015”.
The report speaks of delays to the commission’s work caused in some cases by disagreements with Iarnród Éireann’s management. On some occasions these led to the involvement of lawyers.
It says in 2011, Iarnród Éireann introduced safety-management systems in line with EU requirements, and since then considerable progress had been made in continuously improving safety management in the sector.
However, the report says “throughout 2015 it was evident that Iarnród Éireann was taking a noticeably different approach towards safety regulations”.
“It is of concern that the type of sentiment expressed in correspondence with the regulator may be a reflection of a leadership attitude to safety that would be less than the commission expects.”
The commission says it is worrying that at the most senior level of management in the State-owned rail operator “there appears to be a misapprehension in regard to the need for safety-management systems to conform to the “Deming cycle” – plan-do-check-act”.
It says responses from senior management “indicate a lack in appreciation of the importance of ‘just culture’ and organisational learning’ in safety management”.
It goes on: “The opinion or interpretation of legislation or regulations by the designated authority is final unless overruled by a court. The relationship between the regulated entities and the regulator is not one of equals, and the commission’s determination in that regard to safety-management systems compliances and other safety issues are matters that should be accepted rather than continuously challenged.
“Recent challenges by Iarnród Éireann to the authority of the regulator, and correspondence outside of the formal document review process, have become a distraction to the remit of the commission.”
Charter trainRailway Preservation Society of IrelandMidleton
It says the safety department in Iarnród Éireann’s infrastructure manager business division that has responsibility for managing and maintaining railway infrastructure raised concerns, and urged that the train length be shortened or the service be terminated in Cork.
However, a decision was later taken at a higher level to permit the charter service to operate, and special arrangements had to be put in place, including staff on the ground at Middleton, to facilitate the “out-of-normal operation”.
“Because of the additional risks introduced as a consequence of the operation of the RPSI train, the commission decided to undertake a post-incident inspection. A draft of the post-incident inspection report was issued to Iarnród Éireann for comment in August 2015. Finalisation of the report was delayed by challenges from the most senior level of Iarnród Éireann management (including a demand that the report be withdrawn) and correspondence with the CIÉ Group solicitor.”
In another example set out in the report, the commission said in the second half of 2014 it sought to have an audit of safety-management systems within Iarnród Éireann carried out and to use the material obtained to produce a comparison with a high-reliability organisation.
“The reports and responses thereto raised fundamental issues of policy, culture, governance and management. It did not reveal any immediate danger to passengers, staff or contractors, but rather strategic issues of longer-term concern which are being addressed by the commission through formal enforcement procedures under part 7 of the Railway Safety Act.”
It says that in relation to management, the audit had found that the safety-management system was “observed in spirit but lags behind rather than leads the way safety is managed in Iarnród Éireann”.
The revelations of the tensions between the rail regulator and State-owned train operator come at a time when the futures of a number of rail lines are under threat on foot of a recent review by the National Transport Authority.
The review showed investment of about €600 million was required over the next five years. A public consultation process on the issue is currently under way.