ABS system faulty in almost half of buses after accident

The ABS system was not working in eight out of 18 vehicles tested by Bus Éireann four days after a crash in which five Meath schoolgirls were killed, a jury at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard today.

Bus Éireann provided documents to gardaí showing that tests carried out on the vehicles on May 27, 2005 also concluded that seven of the buses had the bulb removed from a warming lamp on their dashboards.

This light indicated to a driver if there was a fault with the ABS system.

The jury also heard on day-four of the trial that two years before the fatal crash the Department of Transport circulated a letter to all "heavy good vehicle testers" stating that the ABS warning lamps "must be tested" before road-worthiness could be established.

The Department said this regulation was in place since 1992.

One of the companies on trial for breaches of the Health and Safety Act arising from the investigation into the crash has pleaded guilty to a new charge.

Sonya Kelly, company secretary, pleaded guilty on behalf of Keltank Ltd of Balbriggan that being aware that ABS sensor leads were disconnected it failed to ascertain whether a hazard arose as a consequence thereof before returning the bus to the driver, Mr John Hubble, on May 5, 2005.

The company had previously denied two charges of failing to undertake necessary maintenance and repair of the ABS system on the bus on May 6, 2005.

Judge Patrick McCartan adjourned the case of Keltank to Friday next when it will be mentioned before him.

Mr Brendan Grehan SC, prosecuting, said the trial would proceed in relation to McArdles Test Centre Ltd from Dundalk and that at the end of the hearing a nolle prosequi would be entered in relation to the two original charges faced by Keltank.

Mr Joe McArdle, a director, has pleaded not guilty on behalf of McArdles, to two charges of failing to note the ABS warning light on the bus was not operational while conducting a vehicle test on March 15, 2005, two months before the tragedy.

Mr Alan Turner, a technician whose company, Wabco, supplied the ABS system on the bus, told Mr Grehan he inspected it four days after the crash and found it was not working.

He said he noticed that one cable was visibly disconnected from the electronic control unit which he described as the brain in the system.

He also said that the ABS warning light was not operating on the bus but accepted in cross-examination by Mr Roderick O'Hanlon SC, defending McArdles, that he could not say if the light was working when the vehicle was tested by McArdles in March 2005.

Mr Turner told Mr Grehan that cables connecting wheel sensors and modulators, positioned on each wheel, were not connected to an electronic control unit (ECU) as they should have been.

He said that the ABS system was not the brakes but it stopped the wheels from locking and if it was not operating properly, the normal braking system would still operate.

He told Mr Grehan that cables connecting the sensor on the right rear wheel to the ECU was visibly disconnected, while the cables connecting the left rear wheel and the left front one were also broken but he could not physically see the breaks.

Mr Turner said he found 11 faults in the ABS system, recorded by the ECU. Two of the faults were still current while the remainder were recorded as inactive.

Sergeant Alf Martin told Mr Grehan that the gardaí were supplied with the Department of Transport letter in November 2003.

It stated that the Department had been made aware that a number of authorised testers "may not be testing the ABS warning lamps". It said that this system was important in all HGV vehicles and the warning lamp "must be tested".

It said that those testers which failed to carry out every single aspect of the road-worthiness test would leave themselves open to sanction.

Sgt Martin said that on June 28, 2005 he also received a copy of a testers manual for heavy good vehicles which said that if an ABS system had been fitted to a vehicle the warning lamp must be checked.

It stated that if a red light appears in the warning lamp on the vehicle's dashboard at speeds over 7 km/h it indicated that there was a fault in the ABS system.

The manual advised that the ABS system might only be repaired by a mechanic authorised by the manufacturer but stated that the vehicle might still be driven because even if the ABS system was not functioning, the standard brakes would still work effectively.

Sgt Martin told Mr Grehan that he visited Mr Hubble, the injured bus driver, in hospital and asked him about the crash without being formally introduced. He said Mr Hubble mentioned that "the gardaí would find out if there was something wrong with the brakes".

Sgt Martin said he met the CIE maintenance manager at Broadstone and was given various documents to assist with the crash investigation, including a number of checklists dealing with parts of the bus involved.

One of these was a SH2(A) form containing a list of bus parts tested and ticked off by mechanics on June 7, 2005. He was given similar checklist documents dating from March 2005 to November 2004.

Sgt Martin said the maintenance manager also gave him a number of SH3 forms dating from 2004 to 2005 which detailed the estimates of maintenance work done on the bus. He also took certificates of road-worthiness for the bus dating back to 2000, some of them issued by McArdles.

Sgt Martin told Mr O'Hanlon that he never visited McArdles Test Centre. He agreed that a testing centre is not responsible for repairing a vehicle. Its role was to identify "fail items" which it then reverted to the garage where the faults should be repaired.

Sgt Martin also accepted that McArdles were dealing with the testing of the bus involved in this accident while Keltank was responsible for its upkeep.

Mr Tony Horgan told Mr Grehan he was asked by gardaí to examine the broken cables from the ABS system and comment on the fractures and determine whether they occurred during the crash or before it.

He said he examined the cables under two different microscopes having cleaned them first because "they were caked in mud and dirt".

Mr Horgan said he concluded that while one cable could have snapped during the crash, others had fractures that predated the accident and the level of corrosion and fatigue on them suggested they could had been broken for "weeks, months or possibly longer".

Mr Horgan said he found that two cables which he concluded were originally one continuous cable and had breakages that were heavily corroded, suggesting they were in that state for a considerable period of time.

He concluded that another set of broken cables had features indicating they had cracked and fractured from fatigue which he said suggested they could have been in that condition longer than the corroded cables because, he said, a crack had to grow before a cable finally broke.

He said in the case of one of the other cables, the breakages were "quite greasy" suggesting that the fracture happened during the crash.

Mr Horgan agreed with Mr O'Hanlon that it was not possible to accurately date when the fractures in the cables occurred.

The trial continues before Judge McCartan and a jury of five men and seven women.

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