Security on transport has increased but passengers still feel ignored

More than 60 Dart passengers every month alert security about antisocial behaviour, sexual harassment and racism

Irish Rail launched a text alert system for Dart passengers on August 16th after a sharp rise in formal complaints of intimidation, assaults, vandalism and thefts. Photograph: Getty Images

Irish Rail launched a text alert system for Dart passengers on August 16th after a sharp rise in formal complaints of intimidation, assaults, vandalism and thefts. Photograph: Getty Images

 

More money is being spent by Irish Rail, Bus Éireann and Luas to combat criminal and antisocial behaviour onboard buses and trains, but passengers still feel ignored.

Aidan Reid, who led the Garda Síochána’s road policing unit as a chief superintendent until his retirement, has been hired by Irish Rail as a senior security consultant.

Despite more passenger complaints and increasing media coverage, Reid is quietly encouraged: “We’re overall coming to grips with what has started to emerge,” he told The Irish Times.

The number of antisocial incidents recorded by Irish Rail has risen in recent years. In 2016 it was 492; in 2017, 680; in 2018, 789; and in 2019 up to October 971, Minister for Transport Shane Ross told the Dáil last week.

He said a downward trend in incidents on buses was encouraging, but admitted Irish Rail still has “a very serious problem”.

Irish Rail has spent over €11 million on security services since the start of last year, according to figures released to The Irish Times under Freedom of Information.

This year the company spent €1.4 million on extra security in the first quarter, €1.6 million during the summer months and over €1.7 million in the third quarter.

The number of assaults on rail employees has fallen. In 2018, 21 staff were attacked. Up to the end of August 2019, seven assaults were reported.

In one incident, three staff were hurt; 19 staff were injured in so-called “aggressive behaviour incidents” since the start of last year.

Irish Rail has posted security teams at stations known for antisocial behaviour on the northside line of the Dart.

It is working closely with gardaí at blackspot Dart stations like Clongriffin and Donaghmede, and also improving walkways and public lighting at certain stations.

Mr Reid said the number of CCTV cameras installed was impressive, while response times to alerts were improving.

Intimidation

Some passengers beg to differ. More than 60 Dart passengers every month are alerting security about antisocial behaviour, sexual harassment and racism.

Irish Rail launched a text alert system for Dart passengers on August 16th after a sharp rise in formal complaints of intimidation, assaults, vandalism and thefts.

Figures released to The Irish Times show 145 passengers have used the system between its launch and October 18th – on average 16 times every week.

Over 50 complaints involved antisocial behaviour by teenagers. Some 42 raised concerns about passengers taking drink and/or drugs.

There were two complaints of sexual harassment over the nine-week period, two alerts about non-sexual harassment, and one passenger complained about racism.

One couple was alleged to have engaged in “lewd behaviour”, another argued loudly. A man allegedly tried “to set something alight”, while another urinated on a platform.

Three alerts were made about vandalism on the trains, three about smoking, two complaints about thefts or attempted thefts, and seven about begging or tissue sellers.

There were three alerts about fireworks being set off on the Dart.

Passengers complain about a lack of follow-up. One woman raised an alarm after a firework was thrown into a DART carriage on a 7.15pm train from Clongriffin when it stopped at Howth Junction.

She texted, she says, to say the carriage had become “very smoky”. The only message she got back, she says, was: “You have been removed from the texting list for Irish Rail.”

Another commuter raised the alarm when a man started smoking drugs on a southbound train from Tara Street near 11pm on a Thursday night. He got an automatic reply.

Complaint

“I’m just not sure about the whole text service system. I just feel that nobody really knows if their complaint is being dealt with or is it just being responded to by a computer-generated text,” Mr Reid says.

One woman sent an alert while on a Malahide-bound Dart when a “bunch of kids were kicking the windows, standing on the seats, shouting and swearing at top of their voices”. She received a text back saying: “Thank you, this is a text service to report antisocial behaviour only. We will alert the right department of the issue you have reported.”

The text also advised her to phone 999 if it was an emergency and “if safe to do so”, says the woman, who finds Dart and commuter trains “quite scary at times”.

A Sallins-bound passenger who texted when “four junkies openly [began] taking drugs on the train… brazen as you like” said he “didn’t even get a text back”.

Louth TD Fergus O’Dowd, who chairs the Oireachtas Transport Committee, said rail bosses would be quizzed in coming weeks about the text alert system.

“It’s a very serious matter. We want to know what action they took, how they dealt with these incidents, and whether they actually communicated back with passengers.”

Responding to incidents on moving trains is not simple, says Barry Kenny of Irish Rail. Sometimes alleged offenders “may have already left the train or station” within minutes of an alarm.

“Our security centre co-ordinates what action is appropriate,” says Kenny, adding that the text alert system is to be expanded to commuter routes in the coming weeks.

Recorded assaults

While reports of antisocial behaviour were increasing, the number of recorded assaults had “dramatically” dropped this year, says Mr Reid.

In the late 1980s Reid set up a dedicated Garda drugs unit in Ballymun to tackle the drugs crisis there. The numbers of drug crimes recorded went up. Locals believed the problem was getting worse.

Mr Reid says the reality, however, was different. Today the same problem is happening on trains. Higher numbers of recorded incidents on public transport shows that action is being taken.

Mr Reid is now leading a review of bye-laws that cover public transport companies which cover how individuals who are drunk or cause damage on the providers’ premises are dealt with.

Meanwhile, there will be a major improvement in how Iarnród Éireann deals with incidents when a new rail control centre opens in Heuston Station in coming years.

Work on the €135 million centre begins this year. Once complete Iarnród Éireann staff will work from the same rooms as Garda traffic management. However, it will not be ready until 2024.