The level crossing on the Sligo line at Ferrans Lock near Enfield, Co Meath

A PASSENGER train on one of the country's busiest intercity routes passed through a level crossing when its barriers were open to road traffic earlier this month, the Sunday Tribune has learned.

The incident, which occurred on the Sligo line at Ferrans Lock near Enfield, Co Meath on 2 September, came less than a fortnight after the collapse of the Broadmeadow viaduct on the Dublin-Belfast line near Malahide.

It also came just months after the Rail Accident Investigation Unit (RAIU) strongly criticised Iarnród Éireann's communications procedures after an almost identical incident on the Galway line.

Nobody was injured in either incident but the consequences could have been more serious: last year, a motorist was killed when his car collided with a train at a level crossing on the Ballina branch in Co Mayo.

The revelation will further increase the pressure on Iarnród Éireann's management as they struggle to restore public confidence in the safety of their services.

An Iarnród Éireann spokesman said the Ferrans Lock incident appeared to be the result of a communications breakdown between maintenance staff upgrading the crossing and its signalling staff.

"Associated with that work, the barrier was being controlled locally on site at that time, rather than the normal automatic lowering, with signalmen and operatives on site liaising," he said.

"Our investigation is ongoing, but we can say that due to a communications error, the train passed through the crossing without the barriers being lowered. There were no cars crossing or about to cross at the time, and the two operatives were on-site if cars were to approach."

The incident is also being investigated by the RAIU, which criticised the company's procedures in its report into a similar incident at Ballmurray, Co Mayo in June 2008. In that incident, a car crossed the line just seconds before the train passed through.

The RAIU found that Iarnród Éireann lacked a formal maintenance process for work on upgrading the level crossings, which contributed to the incident, along with an informal approach to communications among its staff.

It also found that in the absence of official guidelines, maintenance staff had developed their own informal ones.

Iarnród Éireann's chairman John Lynch recently told members of the Oireachtas joint committee on transport that safety was a key focus for the company.

"At any board meeting we have, the first item on the agenda is the minutes, the second is matters arising and the third, and fundamental one, is safety," he said.

Despite these comments, Lynch later faced angry claims from committee members that the company had been cutting corners on safety and taking chances with passengers' lives.