Irish Rail is in discussions with the Commission for Railway Regulation (CRR) to extend the life of the original Dart fleet to 2034 in a move that overrules advice from its chief mechanical engineer.
The current safety certification for the original fleet runs out in July 2024, when the remaining 76 original carriages are 40-years-old. Their useful life was previously extended from 30 years to 40 years.
However, a briefing paper prepared for the board of Irish Rail in October 2019 by chief mechanical engineer Peter Smyth shows he said an extension up to 2030 should not be supported.
Mr Smyth told the board of Irish Rail: “From a reliability perspective the 8100 fleet is likely to deteriorate further form its current low reliability status where the fleet is 4 x times less reliable than equivalent more modern Class 8500 EMUS and also what can be expected for newer EMU [electric multiple unit] types. This situation will deteriorate as the fleet ages further and other systems become more unreliable” he said a document seen by The Irish Times.
“The life extension of the 8100 fleet is not supported based on the investment cost required for heavy maintenance and the new Train Protection System and the limited passenger capacity and amenity offered compared to new trains,” Mr Smyth said.
The CRR is also separately investigating signs of decay, including rust holes several centimetres wide, on a number of the remaining 76 carriages of the original, 80-carriage fleet, introduced in 1984.
The safety certification runs out one year before the first of a new order of 95 electric trains arrives in 2025. French train builder Alstom is to supply Irish Rail with 19 five-car trains the first of which will enter service in 2025 at a cost of €270 million.
Irish Rail confirmed it was in discussions to extend safety certification for the 76 dart carriages which number a little more than half of the current fleet of some 146 carriages.
Irish Rail spokesman Barry Kenny said that the decision to seek an extension was unconnected with the one year hiatus between the expiring current certificate in 2024, and the new carriages coming into service in 2025. Mr Kenny said the new carriages were in the main destined for the Northern commuter route to Drogheda and part of the Dart+ plan to extend the network.
Mr Kenny said Irish Rail had “no concerns” over the operability of the fleet which he said compared favourably in reliability to fleets of a similar age in the UK and beyond. “Its maintenance regime will adapt as appropriate to ensure reliability of service” he said.
“Corrosion issues currently being addressed are minor and non-structural in nature” he added.