MANAGERS at Iarnród Éireann blocked the appointment of a safety director for over a decade because of the concerns the new post would dilute their responsibilities, it has emerged.
Although the appointment had been recommended by independent safety consultants IRMS in 1998, it was only made earlier this year.
According to a recent Department of Transport review, the delay came about because Iarnród Éireann "decided that the post was unnecessary" as "it would dilute accountability for the [safety] programme among [its] senior management team".
Even now, the manager only controls project expenditure and safety reporting, rather than the wide-ranging oversight role envisaged by IRMS.
Fine Gael's transport spokesman Fergus O'Dowd said the situation was a disgrace and the safety manager needed to be given the full range of powers envisaged for the role.
"Safety transcends everything: it needs to be separate from other functions and interests but it seems that Iarnród Éireann's managers want to play cabbage-patch politics rather than ensure passenger safety," he said.
The state railway company's safety procedures have come under intense scrutiny following the recent collapse of the Broadmeadow viaduct on the Dublin-Belfast railway line.
The Department of Transport review also reveals the company's management have either abandoned or postponed other safety measures, including a confidential safety reporting scheme for staff.
The system was scrapped by Iarnród Éireann in 2007 because the rail operator felt that its "staff safety representatives and open culture" rendered it unnecessary.
These conclusions were challenged by the review's authors who said Iarnród Éireann should reinstate the system to "ensure that key safety concerns are not filtered out or diluted as they are passed up through the organisation".
Commuter representatives have also expressed concern about the scrapping of the system with Mark Gleeson of Rail Users Ireland alleging there was a culture of fear within the company.
"Even with the confidential reporting scheme, staff were concerned that they would be traced by management and that disciplinary action would be taken against them," he said.
Meanwhile, Irish Rail has confirmed that while technology is in existence to continually monitor the stability of bridges, it is not employed in Ireland.
The extent of such technology's use across Europe is unclear, but it is understood the systems would provide early warning mechanisms in the event of subsidence or other movement of bridge structures.
Irish Rail confirmed all such safety systems will form part of the ongoing review of operations in relation to the viaduct collapse.
A spokesman said: "Technology does exist to monitor bridge structures although it does not appear to be widely used in European railways.
"Obviously all safety systems will be examined as part of the investigation. However, it is unlikely, given the emerging evidence of the nature of this collapse, that such a system would have given any advance warning."
The technology in question is similar to that used by Irish Rail to monitor the Dart line during the construction of the Port Tunnel.
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