By Mark Donlon
The new live text alert system put in place by Irish rail to tackle anti-social behaviour, was used by 145 passengers between its inception on 16 August and 18 October, new figures have shown.
The system was implemented by Irish Rail after a considerable rise in the number of complaints logged by passengers over disorder and anti-social behavior aboard trains.
According to information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, there has been 427 disorderly passenger cases logged aboard Irish Rail services between January 2017 and September 2018.
The DART accounts for a majority of these complaints, with 120 filed, while the Cork and Galway lines are the most troublesome with 57 and 44 complaints respectively. It is important to note that these figures only account for cases logged owing to disorderly behavior and do not represent the number of overall complaints.
Previously released figures detailed that there had been over 900 complaints made about passengers aboard Irish Rail trains since 2015. Of that number, 498 complaints were made about disorderly passengers across all routes. This demonstrates an increase in complaint numbers in the time that has since passed, even allowing for an overlap period between the two sets of statistics of the eight months between January and September 2018.
The older findings were released in early September 2017, and accounted for the 32 previous months dating back to the start of 2015. With the disorderly passenger number at 498, this would have tallied to an average of 15 complaints of that nature a month. The new figures account for the 20 months between January 2017 and September 2018, and with this figure at 427, this would pertain to an average of 21 complaints a month.
This means that disorderly conduct complaints increased in the 12 months following the publication of the 2017 figures.
Back in September 2017, Irish Rail commented that in light of the findings it would look to increase the number of staff on its trains. However, the upturn in complaints would suggest something to the contrary.
Furthermore, action that is being taken is very recent in the context of the longevity of the problem. Prior to 12 October 2018, Irish Rail only listed six services whereby alcohol was not permitted; two Friday afternoon services from Dublin to Waterford; three Sunday services from Waterford to Dublin, and finally Sunday’s midday train from Galway to Dublin.
However, when Irish Rail announced bans on further routes from 12 October 2018 onwards, they only added another four services to the list. All were Friday services from Dublin: two travelling towards Galway, one towards Waterford, and one to Westport.
This underlines the fact that so many of the company’s services are environments where alcohol is permitted. Granted, services to and from Waterford were dealt bans, but between January 2017 and September 2018, the Belfast route had received one more complaint than the number received in relation to the Waterford route.
This doesn’t seem like a huge difference, but when one route has one rule and the other has another, the difference for a paying customer could be considerable.
The banning of alcohol is not the true resolution to the matter of disorder on trains, however. Even if it was, it is notable that Irish Rail is nowhere close to applying a no-alcohol policy across the board. And so, this begs the question, what is the solution to problems of traveller unrest aboard Irish Rail services?
An Garda Síochána’s Press Office said: “Any incidents that are reported to Gardaí are fully investigated. An Garda Síochána regularly provides stakeholders, including transport providers, with Garda Support.”
As regards the current system in place, all this revealed was that incidents reported to Gardaí are “fully investigated”. It would seem obvious then, that a cohesive text alert system – where all incidents are treated equally, would be useful and reassuring for passengers at risk in transit. However, the new live alert system has been far from thorough since its introduction.
Many who have used the text alert service have received nothing more than an automated reply, with no indication from Irish Rail as to whether or not action has been taken. Some users have even been advised to pass on their complaint via a 999 call, passing responsibility back to An Garda Síochána, who themselves were only partially involved in apprehending disorderly passengers.
It appears that a virtual service like the one newly implemented is in fact doing very little to calm the nerves of passengers looking to travel free from danger or disruption. It is not yet clear if many of the 145 people who initially availed of the service had any success from their complaint.
A spokesperson for Irish Rail alluded to the evasive nature of some of the disruptors: “In some instances, those involved in anti-social behavior may have already left the train or station a short time after the report.”
With this in mind, Irish Rail perhaps ought to have invested more into increased on-board security personnel instead of an easily manipulated live alert service.