I move: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”
The Bill is to provide a statutory basis for a continuation of the powers of the Railway Accident Investigation Unit, RAIU for the reporting and investigation of serious accidents and incidents involving certain categories of railways that are specified in section 3. The RAIU is the independent statutory body that carries out railway accident investigations in the State.
I refer to the background to this matter. The EU railway safety directive of 2004, Directive 2004/49/EC, established a common regulatory framework for railway safety across member states through the harmonisation of safety rules, certification, the roles of national safety authorities and investigation of accidents. The directive required that member states established an independent national investigation body and to that end the RAIU was established here. The objective of the RAIU investigation is to identify the causes of accidents but it is also a means to improving railway safety in general and preventing future accidents from happening. I am sure that all Deputies will agree that in the operation of the states railways, safety is paramount. To enable this, it is essential that the RAIU has a strong statutory basis to underpin its role in regard to the reporting and investigation of accidents and incidents on our railways.
The EU railway safety directive of 2004 applied to all categories of railways and the provisions in chapter 5 of the directive for the investigation of accidents were transposed here in the European Union (Railway Safety) (Reporting and Investigation of Serious Accidents, Accidents and Incidents) Regulations 2014. These regulations are referred to in the Bill as "Regulations of 2014". The RAIU was conferred with powers and functions under the 2014 regulations in respect of all railways. This includes heavy rail, that is, the railway operations on the Iarnród Éireann network and light rail, which includes the Luas tram railway in Dublin. Those powers and functions also covered the metros and other railways such as heritage railways, of which there are a number throughout the country.
The need for the provisions in this Bill arise from a change in law at EU level. Under the EU fourth railway package agreed in 2016, the EU railway safety directive of 2004 is being repealed and is being recast by Directive EU (2016) 789 on railway safety. This replacement directive, which I will refer to as the recast railway safety directive, will come into operation on 31 October 2020. The focus of the EU fourth railway package is on the promotion of the rail market in a single European railway area and on the technical interoperability of the Union railway system to support rail passenger and freight transport services. As a result of this, the recast railway safety directive has a reduced scope and it expressly excludes light railways, metro and other local railway systems. In the context of the railway systems in Ireland it is only heavy rail, that is, the railway operations on Iarnród Éireann network, including the DART, that now come within the scope of the recast railway safety directive.
Last week, the Minister for Transport made the European Union (Railway Safety) (Reporting and Investigation of Serious Accidents, Accidents and Incidents) Regulations 2020. These regulations are referred to in the Bill as "Regulations of 2020".
These regulations transpose Chapter V of the recast railway safety directive and provide the railway accident investigation unit, RAIU, with investigatory powers and functions in respect of the heavy rail system. The regulations will take effect from 31 October 2020 to meet the EU transposition deadline.
As the regulations of 2020 only provide the RAIU with the necessary powers and functions to carry out reporting and investigations in respect of heavy rail, that leaves us facing a situation where, on 31 October 2020, a gap will arise in the legislation that would leave the RAIU without a statutory basis to investigate accidents involving any of Ireland’s other railways, including the Luas and heritage railways. The measures in the Bill will provide a solution to prevent any such gap arising. The application and modification measure that is proposed in this Bill will operate so as to apply the regulations of 2020 to the categories of railways that are specified in section 3. The RAIU will, through the operation of the measures in the Bill, be in a position to use the regulations of 2020 to carry out its full investigation functions, the same as it has done in respect of light railway, Luas, heritage railways, etc.
The Bill also contains saver and continuity safeguards to provide for a seamless continuity of the work of the RAIU as regards investigations that are under way at present or reports that are in preparation or existing reports and safety recommendations. The net effect will be that the status quo will be maintained regarding the powers for investigating and reporting on all railway accidents. From 31 October 2020, with the combination of the regulations of 2020 and the provisions of this Bill, the RAIU will have a complete statutory basis and can continue to carry out investigations in respect of any accidents and incidents involving heavy rail, the Luas light railway in Dublin, metros and other railways such as heritage, tourist and privately owned railways.
It has taken some time to get this RAIU related legislative proposal published in a Bill. Steps were initiated in 2018 to bring forward a legislative provision to address the matter that is in the present Bill. A head was included in the general scheme for a Railway Safety (Amendment) Bill 2018 which advanced as far as it being subjected to pre-legislative scrutiny by the relevant Oireachtas joint committee in June 2018. Since then, however, while the Bill was included in the Government’s legislative programme, it was not possible to progress it, mainly due to the competing demands of other priority legislation, including those relating to Brexit.
Towards the end of 2019, because of the increasing urgency attaching to this issue, the Department developed the provisions into a single-issue Bill and, at the same time, explored the option of attaching these provisions to some other priority legislation within the Department’s remit that was close to being published. However, those options were effectively closed off when the general election was called earlier this year and, since then, the extended impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has removed any opportunity for progressing the matter until now.
I will give a short overview of the Bill’s provisions. Section 1 is a standard Interpretation section to provide for the specific terms used in the Bill. The terms “heritage railway”, “investigation unit”, “light railway”, “metro” and “public road” are existing terms under other Acts and the relevant cross references are given. The term “regulations of 2014” refers to the regulations that transposed into Irish law the previous EU Railway Safety Directive 2004/49/EC and which gives the RAIU a statutory basis to investigate accidents involving all railways. “Regulations of 2020” refer to the statutory instrument that was made by the Minister for Transport on 13 October 2020 and transpose the relevant part of the new recast railway safety directive. As already mentioned, these give the RAIU a statutory basis to investigate accidents involving heavy rail only.
Section 2 is also a standard provision and provides for the commencement of the proposed Act on 31 October 2020. As I mentioned already, the recast railway safety directive comes into operation on 31 October 2020, which is why this Bill is needed to be enacted by that date.
Section 3 on reporting and investigation of accidents is the main provision in the Bill. This section provides that the regulations of 2020 will apply to the other types of railway that are not included within the scope of the recast railway safety directive. These include metros, trams and other light railway systems, including the Luas.
They also include privately owned rail networks used for freight, to the extent that those railways interface with public roads or with another railway system. As Deputies may be aware, there is one such railway currently operational in Ireland and that is the extensive Bord na Móna network used for its peat operations.
Heritage railways are also included and there are a number of these throughout the country, including in Clare, Donegal, Kerry, Laois, Leitrim and Waterford. The running of vintage steam train leisure excursions on the Iarnród Éireann network are also covered. Through the operation of section 3, the regulations of 2020 will therefore apply to all of these railways, as well as to the heavy rail network.
Sections 4 to 6, inclusive, are, once again, standard provisions that seek to ensure the continuity of the reporting and investigation work that the RAIU has done to date and is continuing to do at present. Section 4 ensures that any investigation and the preparation of any report that have been already commenced by the RAIU under the regulations of 2014 can continue and be completed under the regulations of 2020 from 31 October 2020. Section 5 ensures the continuity of any relevant existing investigation reports or other reports of the RAIU and section 6 ensures the continuity of any relevant safety recommendations issued by the RAIU prior to 31 October 2020. Section 7 is a standard citation provision.
This is an important Bill to provide that the RAIU is provided with full statutory powers to enable it to continue in a seamless manner from 31 October 2020, to carry out reporting and investigation into accidents and incidents involving all railways. I commend the Bill to the House and look forward to the Deputies’ contributions.