Viaducts checked after bridge collapse

MORE than 100 railway viaducts have been put through new safety checks since the near catastrophic Malahide bridge collapse last year, transport chiefs have revealed.

The Railway Safety Commission (RSC) said it has checked a sample along with Iarnrod Eireann engineers, but insisted it was happy with the new inspection regime.

Gerald Beesley, RSC commissioner, said the dramatic destruction of the country’s busiest commuter line last August was a wake-up call for the industry.

“There are 105 bridges over water that have been inspected by Iarnrod Eireann in accordance with procedures that the Railway Safety Commission are satisfied are robust,” he said.

“We have been there with them on a sample basis.”

Mr Beesley and officials from the Railway Accident Investigation Unit (RAIU) were questioned over safety records at the Oireachtas Transport Committee.

The commissioner was asked by Fine Gael’s Fergus O’Dowd if he thought prosecutions were necessary after negligence on several fronts in the run up to the collapse of the bridge.

“We are considering whether it is feasible to pursue a course of action that you are suggesting,” Mr Beesley said.

The RSC was asked to confirm whether all 680 bridges in the country and another 1,902 railway underbridges had been inspected and were safe from collapse. It confirmed that the bridges over water have been inspected and further actions to improve safety were taking place.

The RSC also praised Iarnrod Eireann‘s overall safety record.

Two reports into the Malahide collapse identified a catalogue of errors including a so-called “loss of corporate memory”, where knowledge about the structure held by experienced engineers was not passed on to junior staff.

One report found Iarnrod Eireann staff maintaining the viaduct did not know it sat on a man-made causeway rather than being sunk into the estuary bedrock.

The fourth pier on the structure shattered last August following years of scouring and erosion leaving the twisted railway line dangling over Broadmeadow. A commuter train had passed over minutes earlier and the line, which links Dublin and Belfast, was closed for three months. It cost €4 million to repair.

In 1998, the viaduct was identified as one of the most unsafe stretches of track in the state. Scouring from intense water erosion was highlighted as a danger to the safety of the structure.

A second report into the accident found rock armour around piers in the viaduct was too light for the job. It also criticised the RSC for signing off on a flood/scour management plan in 2008.

Public warnings over the state of the viaduct and level of water flows through the estuary also led to an inspection three days before the collapse, but that failed to identify the true extent of degradation.

The RSC said it welcomed new European regulations which would tighten rules on rail safety.

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