A rock fall which caused a train to crash injuring the driver and five passengers in Co Derry could have been foreseen, a major report found today.
Gerald Kerr of Britain's Majesty’s Railway Inspectorate, found there were a number of management deficiencies in Northern Ireland Railways which were contributory factors in the accident.
The report also found the police, British Department of Regional Development and Translink could have dealt with the accident better.
The accident occurred when the Derry to Belfast train struck a boulder which fell on to the track during a landslide near Castlerock in June last year.
The train was approaching the Downhill tunnel when the driver saw a boulder on the track. He applied the emergency brake, but could not stop the train in time.
Twenty-one people, including the driver, were on board the three carriages when they were derailed.
The driver, who was the most seriously hurt, was treated for leg injuries, while five angina sufferers were also treated in hospital.
The report into the crash found NIR had allowed the effectiveness of the radio system to fall below achievable standards in that they did not ensure procedures for operation were followed, or have adequate maintenance arrangements for the systems as a whole.
Rock falls from all the cliffs in the Downhill area are foreseeable and some prediction of their outcome can be made, it also found.
Mr Kerr said the risk of a rock falling from the Downhill Slope and resulting in a derailment, either directly or indirectly, had not been properly evaluated by NIR prior to the derailment.
Further incidents of rock fall will occur in the Downhill area and present a risk of injury particularly to residents, and to a lesser extent, road and rail users, he added.
The report also found that if NIR received the information in the order of one minute earlier it is likely the accident could have been prevented.
Northern Ireland police said at the time that heavy rain was believed to be responsible for the landslide which also saw rocks land on two nearby public roads.
Mr Kerr, who was appointed to conduct an investigation into the circumstances of the accident by then British Minister for Regional Development, Peter Robinson, said the cliffs should be regularly checked in the future for signs of danger.
“The report concludes that rock falls from the cliffs at Downhill were foreseeable and that further rock fall will occur in the future which will pose a risk to residents and to a lesser extent road and rail users,” Mr Kerr said.
“The report concludes that there were a number of deficiencies in the management arrangements within Northern Ireland Railways some of which were contributory factors in the accident and makes a number of recommendations for improvements.
“It also contains conclusions and recommendations in respect of Britain's Department for Regional Development’s Roads Service, Britain's Department of the Environment’s Planning Service, the Police Service Northern Ireland and other duty holders.
“It is clear that notwithstanding the injuries sustained in this derailment it was only by chance that a much more serious incident did not occur.
“Whilst the risk of rock fall at Downhill remains I urge the various parties to work together and take effective action to reduce the risks of a further rock fall event causing injury.”
Mr Kerr also urged the PSNI to urgently identify an unexplained technical fault, which led to their systems failing to record the details and timings of the two emergency calls made by an eyewitness.
He said that consequently he was unable to confirm that the information was transmitted to NIR from PSNI in a prompt fashion.
Nationalist SDLP councillor MLA John Dallat called for an apology to the owner of the land where the accident occurred and said it was clear Translink was to blame.
“The Inspector’s report clearly states that Translink failed to spot the potential danger of falling rocks and further questions need to be asked about their health and safety policies.
“Indeed, while the report is comprehensive, questions need to be asked about the competency of Translink to run the rail service.
“This report gives an appalling account of the laissez-faire manner in which Translink ran this service. Confidence will need to be restored in the ability of Translink to ensure the safety of its passengers.”
Mr Dallat said the report also raised questions about emergency planning and said people needed to know what plans were in place in the area to handle serious accidents.
Communications was also an issue given the poor radio signals, he observed.
The SDLP councillor continued: “The role of the police is clearly under scrutiny and tends to suggest an amateurish approach to how emergency calls were handled.
“If anything positive comes out of this report it is the need to ensure that substantial sums of money are invested to upgrade the permanent way and initiate many other safety measures.
“This can only be done in partnership with the Irish Government with financial support from the European Union. The point should be made that the Derry-Belfast rail link is an important transport link to the North West and should therefore qualify for financial help as part of the trans-European network.”