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DART Service At Risk Of Collapse

September 17th 2022

Today the Irish Times carried a story Irish Rail seeks life extension of original Dart fleet, despite advice of chief mechanical engineer.

Rail Users Ireland can confirm that it is the source of the information in the article having performed a long series of FOI requests in 2021.

Rail Users Ireland is extremely concerned that Irish Rail is sleepwalking into a catastrophic situation which will leave passengers stranded. We have been brought to this point due a disconnect between political announcements of funding for major investment in DART services and then stalling when a request is made to drawn down that funding.

What is going on?

In October 2019, Irish Rail's Chief Mechanical engineer presented a paper to the Irish Rail board.

This presented a long shopping list of essential upgrades beyond routine overhaul required to keep the original DART fleet of 1984 in service. This would go some way to address the serious reliability issues which have impacted the fleet in recent years. It is almost a daily occurrence for the 1984 fleet of DART trains to suffer a breakdown.

"In conclusion the life extension of the 8100 fleet is not supported based on the investment cost required for heavy maintenance and the new Train protection system and the limited passenger capacity and amenity offered compared to new trains."

We estimate a cost of 20-25million would have been involved and the recommendation on basis of cost and other reasons was to not proceed. The implied assumption was a fleet of new trains would be ordered and be in place before 2024.

That didn't happen and up until December 2021 there is no FOI record of Irish Rail opening dialog with the rail safety authorities to discuss any form of extension.

This was obtained by Rail Users Ireland under FOI, link, the board minutes noting its discussion link

What Happens in July 2024?

Worst case on July 24 2042 76 carriages out of 144 could no longer be permitted in public service. This is the current position.

That would leave only 68 carriages to run the entire DART service, bearing in mind the fleet at opening in 1984 was 80. This would result in a loss of more than 50% of capacity and there simply wouldn't be enough trains to sustain the current frequency even running all trains at the shortest length possible.

This would have catastrophic impact on public transport in Dublin. Diesel trains from Cork, Limerick, Galway and Dublin would likely be reallocated as a stop gap to prop the service up resulting in nationwide chaos.

Letter of Acceptance

Each train type which has entered service since the introduction of modern rail safety legislation, goes through a detailed and independent review before obtaining 'acceptance' to carry passengers. Think of it as kind of like the railway version of a NCT.

A 'Letter of Acceptance' is issued by an independent safety body which sets out the terms and restrictions under which a fleet of trains may operate. This was the Railway Safety Commission (RSC) which has since become the Commission For Railway Regulation (CRR).

Any change to that approval requires an extensive process to demonstrate the change is safe. It is clear from the Chief Mechanical engineers report a long list of expensive upgrades are required so retaining the status quo is unlikely to be acceptable. Thats before we talk of rust.

The current 8100 DART LoA was obtained by Rail Users Ireland under FOI, link states it expires at 40 years, the majority of the DART fleet entered service on July 23 & 24 of 1984 so that gives until July 2024.

Rust

This issue was first seen by Rail Users Ireland in May 2022, having undertaken a limited audit of the fleet found the issue to be widespread.

We reported our concerns and shared our photographic records with the Commission For Railway Regulation in June/July 2022 on the basis of statement of Irish Rail's Chief Mechanical Engineer in 2019 "There is currently no planned program to paint or repair corrosion to the vehicle exteriors of the DART 8100 fleet."

The Commission For Railway Regulation acted immediately on the concern raised and its inspectors have inspected the fleet and met with Irish Rail.

This issue remains under active investigation. Irish Rail indicates it is confident that the issue does not impact the structural integrity of the fleet. However one coach (8122) will be opened up to fully investigate the issue.

Inspection of historical photographs held by Rail Users Ireland shows signs of corrosion were visible as far back as at least 2018 in one case.

One of the worst coaches is 8108, but thus far 8101/8102/8103/8104/8108/8114/8115/8119/8122/8126/8129/8301/8308/8313/8339 show varying signs of corrosion issues.

Who is to Blame?

Ultimately Irish Rail are responsible to maintain its fleet to a high standard in line with best practices and original manufacturers guidance. The evidence is clear they have stepped back from all but essential repairs and has only repainted 2 of the 76 carriages in the last 3 years.

Per Irish Rail in October 2019, "There is currently no planned program to paint or repair corrosion to the vehicle exteriors of the DART 8100 fleet."

Didn't We Order New Trains?

The agreement with Alstom to order new carriages was done by May 2021 and was an open secret in the industry. It took until December 2021 to get the NTA and Minister to sign the contract. Not only was 7 months lost to a web of board meetings, civil servants and politics for a project which was fully funded. The price almost certainly went up as well!

These won't be here until at least 2025 and are primarily destined for Dublin Drogheda services. However Irish Rail's board approved the order on the basis that if DART+ did not go ahead that this order would be used as a replacement for the 1984 fleet. The order is a one for one replacement, this is not by accident.

Irish Rail have now backed themselves into a corner, they are assuming that in the next 22 months they can get approval for the life extension. But to do so major works are required which must be designed, tendered, installed, tested and certified which seems unlikely.

Ultimately the root cause is the lack of funding and government support. There is lots of talk but when it comes down to the final approval long delays are routine.

Last Updated: September 17 2022 11:39:39
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