Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil le Fine Gael as a chuid ama a roinnt. This Bill has been referred to as the Luas Bill and the railway procurement agency Bill. However, it addresses a compendium of issues and provides us with an opportunity to see railway infrastructure in its totality. It refers to safety on the railways, unlawful use of railways and a code of conduct. I will focus on several of the issues arising from those aspects of the Bill.
Apart from the huge investment in infrastructure we have all been discussing today and yesterday, above all the railways need an element of public accountability. As the Minister is aware, I am a rail passenger, which gives me an opportunity to hear the views of other passengers, some of which are expressed quite angrily. The Bill proposes to establish a procurement agency. Will this mark the start of the kind of public accountability passengers want in terms of how Iarnród Éireann and other companies associated with rail transport provision operate?
As I mentioned yesterday, I have learnt from correspondence with Iarnród Éireann that there is a passenger charter. I have not yet seen it displayed at stations. It should be displayed, but I have a feeling certain people might oppose such a move because passengers would not be pleased to learn that under the passenger's charter a train is not declared late if it arrives within 15 minutes of the published time and the driver is not obliged to make an announcement until such time is reached. This is unacceptable. In this day and age people need to be told of a delay, regardless of its duration.
Late trains are no longer acceptable. As members of the EU we aspire to the same standards as other member states. I vividly recall, during a visit to Switzerland, a person standing at the end of a platform with his hand aloft waiting to press a bell as soon as the second hand of a clock reached the appointed time of departure. As the bell rang, the train moved off. The Swiss are famous for that level of punctuality. We should be just as efficient.
Contracts must also be delivered on time. Luas is probably the most famous of these projects because of the various plans which were changed causing deadlines to be repeatedly pushed back. There is a sanction available to people who are not satisfied the Government has delivered on these contracts, the general election, which is the ultimate sanction available to us all.
Companies which default, delay, experience cost overruns or fail to comply with the tender they submitted in any other way should be subjected to penalty clauses. Had we been stricter in these matters in the past, the Committee on Enterprise and Small Business might not be so bogged down with the mini-CTC inquiry now. This is preventing the committee from examining the detail of the Aer Lingus dispute and various other public transport and energy matters, including Sellafield. We should learn from our experiences so as not to repeat our mistakes. I hope the procurement agency will do so. That remains to be seen.
The customer also requires accountability. The UK has an office for public complaints concerning public transport staffed and financed by the Government. We have a broadcasting complaints commission, a victims support commission and a Garda complaints commission. Rather than expressing themselves by firing off missives to the Minister or Members, we need a new vehicle to allow customers to deal with their growing and justified frustration with public transport services. Voluntary attempts are being made to set up railway user groups and transport user groups, all of which are valiant and hard working. However, they are not able, nor should they be expected, to match the type of resourcing available to other bodies such as the Garda and broadcasting complaints commissions.
I belong to a cross-party group of Members from Dublin north which is urging the Minister to accept the case for a transport users group. We constantly receive various suggestions and reports.