The personal stories told by Irish Rail staff of their experiences while working on train services, set out in a letter to Government and company executives last week, are shocking. They described open drug-taking, drug dealing, drunkenness, intimidation, threats of physical assault and sexual violence.
It is not just the staff who are affected by such behaviour. Irish Rail workers also gave examples of members of the travelling public, particularly women, being harassed by fellow passengers.
Action needs to be taken. At the very least the country’s climate change obligations will require considerable investment in the rail network and involve encouraging more people to opt for public transport, not to have them frightened away by the criminal and unruly behaviour of a few. The National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) this week will commence a ballot for industrial action on the issue. If passed, it could lead to work stoppages and rail disruption in the run-up to Christmas.
It is assumed that the ballot is an attempt by the union to try to force the hand of Government and Irish Rail to tackle this problem. Taoiseach Micheál Martin at the weekend promised that the Government would work with gardaí and public transport chiefs to crack down on antisocial behaviour on trains. There should be urgent dialogue between all the main stakeholders to see what can feasibly be achieved in the short term.
The union wants to see a form of transport police established – a sub-unit of An Garda Síochána rather than a new policing body. Irish Rail maintains it has significantly increased its security presence with resources in this area up by 50 per cent over the last four years. It argues its proactive joint patrols with gardaí along with other measures are yielding results. As far back as nine years ago, the Government's Railway Safety Advisory Council called for sanctions to be applied to people with free travel passes who were found to have engaged in such anti-social behaviour.
All these groups should be listened to and the Government should then put forward an overall action plan to stamp out this type of activity.