Rail chiefs were today accused of playing with thousands of people’s lives by not closing a busy rail line when safety concerns were raised five days before it collapsed into the sea.
Labour TD Tommy Broughan said countless lives could have been lost when a bridge on the cross-border Dublin-Belfast line crumbled near Malahide last month.
Mr Broughan told TDs and Senators that a report from the public less than a week before the potential disaster flagged up concerns about one of the piers supporting the bridge.
“We could have been attending funerals for weeks. This could have been one of the most horrendous events in the history of our country,” Mr Broughan said.
“Why didn’t you stop the trains on August 17?”
He added: “Why did you take a chance on August 17?
But Iarnrod Eireann chief executive Richard Fearn said the complaint was taken seriously and a structural engineer was sent to examine the scene.
“We did not take a chance, we reacted properly and professionally and when we got further information that there were no immediate risk but there were issues that needed to be looked at we sent a structural engineer to do an assessment,” Mr Fearn said.
Thousands of passengers have been forced to make alternative travel arrangements since the viaduct, which carried more than 90 trains a day, fell into the Broadmeadow estuary on August 21.
But on the previous Monday a Malahide sea scouts leader contacted Irish rail over possible damage to one of the viaduct’s piers.
Mr Fearn told the Oireachtas Transport Committee that scout chief Ivan Barrett did not say there was an immediate risk of collapse.
He also said a special train checked the line just the day before the collapse but detected no structural problems.
But the rail chief later revealed the structural engineer responding to the sea scout call did not go out on a boat to look at the pier in detail.
“He did not use a boat, but it was low tide,” Mr Fearn said.
“He took a number of vantage points where he could see what was being raised. We now know of course that he couldn’t see the issues which were arising.”
He said erosion can occur quickly, but Fine Gael transport spokesman Fergus O’Dowd said the engineer did not examine the bridge.