Passengers have warned of the life-threatening danger of faulty announcement systems on the Dart, Dublin's coastal commuter service, as operators admitted the technology was "obsolete" in half of all carriages.
Irish Rail said 68 carriages on the service are fitted with passenger information systems which are "no longer supported by the manufacturer and which cannot be maintained".
Less than €65,000 has been spent on maintaining existing systems over the past three years because there are not the components to upgrade the out-of-date technology.
Rail Users Ireland, which campaigns for passengers, said the systems are vital in a modern public transport service yet are dangerously faulty or not working at all on dozens of carriages.
Mark Gleeson, spokesman for the group, said the "vacuum of information" on many carriages is "incredibly frustrating" at best for commuters, but warned it could lead to more dire circumstances.
Pointing to a train derailment at Dún Laoghaire in 2017, Mr Gleeson said a number of passengers stuck on the train forced open a door and "bailed out" onto the rail tracks because they were starved of information about what was happening.
“That is an example of how dangerous the lack of accurate and up-to-date information on public transport can be,” he said. “When there is a vacuum of information people will act of their own accord. Passengers have died elsewhere in the world for doing that.”
He said in other countries trains are not allowed to enter services without a fully functioning public announcement system across all carriages.
“It is the basic feature of public transport in the 21st century that we are provided with accurate information, on where we are going, where the next stop is and even more so when something goes wrong, when there is a delay or disruption or engineering works,” he said.
“Information needs to be correct and consistent at all times, and it also needs to be seen and heard.
"Europeans don't have problems with this. I have never seen this go wrong in the likes of Germany, I have never seen this go wrong in the likes of the Netherlands. It just works there."
The rail passenger advocate said the faulty Dart equipment also raises issues about Irish Rail’s obligations under disability legislation, particularly where blind or deaf passengers are relying heavily on the public announcement systems.
“In some carriages all you hear when an announcement is being made is a few clicks then static. In others the volume is set at such a level that it is uncomfortable to listen to. It just doesn’t work reliably, and you cannot trust the information provided to you.”
In response to a parliamentary question by Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy, Irish Rail said it has spent €64,828 on maintenance of the on-board Dart information system since 2019.
A tender was awarded in December last year "for the complete replacement of the passenger information system on 68 carriages of the Dart fleet which were fitted with obsolete equipment", said Jim Meade, Irish Rail's chief executive.
Around €1 million of the €3.5 million technology overhaul has been spent to date, but work is not expected to start on actually replacing the system until the end of this year.
Work will not be completed until sometime in 2022, Irish Rail expects.
"This will address PA reliability issues on the Dart," Mr Meade told the Kildare North TD.
Asked if all announcement systems on the Dart are currently in full working order, the State rail operator said 47 per cent of the fleet is fitted with equipment “which cannot be maintained”.
Separately, Irish Rail has seen its revenue from advertising boards at stations nosedive during the pandemic.
In 2018 the operator made €3.26 million from outdoor adverts on its properties, which rose to €3.53 million in 2019. However, last year advertising revenues more than halved to €1.45 million.
Up until May this year Irish Rail took in just €145,000 from outdoor advertising.