Irish Rail is to sharply increase its security on intercity, commuter and DART lines after receiving more than 2,000 reports of antisocial behaviour in the last two-and-a-half-years.
More security personnel, a stronger and more visible garda presence, bodycams and enhanced CCTV all form part of a broad strategy designed to combat antisocial behaviour on services.
Some of these steps have already been implemented, including the recent introduction of a text alert service on the DART network, but Irish Rail staff have confirmed that more initiatives will be rolled out before the end of the year to combat the rising issue of antisocial behaviour on all services.
The company has received more than 2,000 complaints of antisocial behaviour on its services since the start of 2017, including reports of the consumption of alcohol and drugs, verbal abuse of passengers and threatening behaviour, the false activation of alarms, as well as fighting and assault.
In 2017, there were 680 reports, a figure that increased to 789 last year. This looks set to increase further this year as, in the first six months of 2019, there were already 530 reports of antisocial behaviour on commuter, inter-city and DART lines.
Since the start of last year, the Heuston line has seen the largest volume of complaints, with 267 last year and 233 by the end of June this year. The DART network sees the second-highest volume of complaints, with 190 in 2018 and, already, 128 this year.
In addition to these, Irish Rail recorded five assaults on staff so far this year, as well as 14 last year, five of which were on DART services.
The data was released to Labour TD Seán Sherlock through a Parliamentary Question. Mr Sherlock said that the continued issue of antisocial behaviour on services throughout the country makes it clear that action is needed.
"A dedicated Transport Police Unit should be considered to maintain a sense of confidence for train users throughout the country. Garda resources are under significant strain. It’s now time to consider a separate publicly funded rail transport security cohort," he said.
A spokesperson for Irish Rail confirmed that the company is "concerned at the trend in incidents". They said that the "overwhelming majority" of the company's 48 million journeys per annum pass without incident but said that "a range of measures" have already been undertaken to combat the issues. Plans for further measures are also in progress.
These include the recent commencement of a tender process to pilot the use of bodycams on staff. Initially, these are intended to focus on roles such as revenue protection and are expected to be rolled out before the end of the year.
The response to Mr Sherlock's PQ, attributed to Jim Meade, Irish Rail chief executive, outlines extensive actions to minimise the impact of antisocial behaviour.
"The company has successively increased security personnel both in mobile on-board teams and static security at stations in the past 18-24 months. Current security patrol levels have doubled in this time, and resources will continue to be reviewed and enhanced as necessary," Mr Meade said.
He also notes that a "central monitoring facility for CCTV" has been established across the DART network. This allows the live monitoring of stations and enables a coordinated response to incidents within available security resources.
Of the 144 carriage DART fleet, 128 have been equipped with CCTV and the remaining 16 will be equipped "in the coming weeks". This will also enable the remote downloading of CCTV to provide to Gardaí and security personnel, where required.
Approximately half the DART fleet also has in-cab screens to allow drivers to view live feeds from CCTV. This technology will be added to the remaining fleet in the coming months, too.
Train carriages include a communication button at the door of trains in the fleet, and Irish Rail has now confirmed plans to put a text alert service in place to enable customers to "discretely report antisocial behaviour incidents".
Gardaí have also proposed a community policing model to address antisocial behaviour on public transport. This is in addition to plans to deploy additional Garda resources on public transport which, according to Mr Meade, will act "both as a deterrent to antisocial behaviour and reassurance to customers on board".