Irish Rail has been criticised for awarding a €30m track maintenance contract to a company found responsible for a fatal train crash in Britain.
Balfour Beatty, which was the only bidder for the contract, was fined £10m (€11.6m) after a broken rail ignored for almost two years caused the derailment of an express train at Hatfield, Hertfordshire, in 2000, killing four people and injuring 70.
The fine was reduced on appeal to £7.5m (€8.7m) but the company fell foul of the British authorities again in 2008 when it was fined £2.25m following a Serious Fraud Office investigation into one of its contracts.
The company’s record was outlined to the Oireachtas Transport Committee by TD Shane Ross who urged Irish Rail management to “look elsewhere” before signing the deal.
Irish Rail chief executive David Franks told the committee he was aware of the incidents but in the case of the crash, he said Balfour Beatty had retained its safety certification to operate in Britain and was in the process of securing its Irish equivalent.
“They have gone through due process over here where we have examined all the safety credentials and before they can actually go live, one of the requirements is to go through the Railway Safety Commission and achieve the same safety certification here,” he said.
In the case of the fraud, he said the company had notified the authorities itself of the problem.
“They dealt with it very professionally,” he told an incredulous Mr Ross.
Mr Franks said one other company had initially tendered for the contract but had later withdrawn.
The rail boss — who took up his €225,000-a-year post last January — refused to confirm the value of the contract, although he did not refute the deputy’s figure — a stance Mr Ross described as “utterly staggering”. Mr Franks was before the committee with fellow transport bosses, Martin Nolan, chief executive of Bus Éireann; Paddy Doherty, chief executive of Dublin Bus, and CIÉ chairperson, Vivienne Juup, to discuss the company’s finances.
The trouble transport company had to have an injection of €36m in emergency state funds, in addition to the normal state subventions, last year to enable it survive but MsJuup said credit agreements had now been reached with four banks.
This arrangement was dependent on CIÉ growing revenue and cutting costs, she said.
“To put it simply, if we fail to meet those targets there will less funding available to us and we will return to the crisis situation we faced last year.”
She added, however: “There is some grounds for cautious optimism.
“Revenue and passenger numbers which have been falling since the onset of the economic crisis stabilised in 2012.”
The transport committee heard that Dublin Bus believed it would break even by year’s end and make a small profit next year, that Bus Éireann hoped to break even also by the end of this year, and Irish Rail by 2017.
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