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Doubts over safety checks before Belfast-Dublin rail viaduct collapsed

Irish Rail failed to provide any proper evidence that it had carried out checks on a viaduct on the Belfast-Dublin line before it collapsed last year minutes after a packed train passed over it.

The railway company's safety record was castigated yesterday in an official report which found major lapses in checks on the structure in Malahide, Co Dublin.

The Railway Safety Commission (RSC) found that Irish Rail has failed to carry out safety checks across the network.

The collapse of the bridge closed part of the main rail line between Belfast and Dublin for three months last year.

The probe into the collapse at Malahide by the RSC also found that the “vast majority” of safety checklists “have never been used” and the required number of inspections are “not being achieved”.

The investigation report into the collapse of the viaduct last August also says there is a “lack of evidence” that Irish Rail checked for erosion, which caused a pillar supporting the track to collapse, because inspectors could not gain access to the bottom of the structure to complete an examination.

The RSC probe is one of three investigations into the collapse of the viaduct last August.

Last March an internal Irish Rail probe found that the reason the bridge fell into the Broadmeadow Estuary in Co Dublin was because the seabed was being washed away from at least 2006, undermining the foundations of a pillar that supported the track.

Engineers failed to realise that the foundations needed to be maintained because the knowledge had been lost as staff retired.

A second report, by the Railway Accident Investigation Unit is published next month.

The RSC refused to comment on its findings last night.

However, its report raises serious questions about the safety culture in Irish Rail, which is obliged by law to implement a Safety Management System (SMS) and prepare a ‘safety case' which must be approved by the RSC.

The safety case is a high-level document that describes the SMS and demonstrates how the company assesses and controls risk.

The RSC report identified four instances of non-compliance with the standards which relate to a failure to undertake inspections and checks, failing to use the correct form of inspections and failing to implement a “competence assessment” for safety staff. It also found that safety staff had not been issued with job descriptions.

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