Irish Rail has plans to introduce a text alert system for passengers in the coming weeks along with the expansion of CCTV to all carriages.
The company’s spokesperson Barry Kenny told RTÉ Radio’s Today with Sean O’Rourke show that this year will also see the doubling of security patrols.
He was responding to journalist Sarah-Jane Murphy’s story of her fear and discomfort when surrounded by a group of young men on the Dart from Dun Laoghaire to the city centre.
“It is distressing when you hear about something like this, what makes public transport different from the public street is the confined nature of it, I apologise to Sarah-Jane and anyone else who has experienced it.”
He said that most of the 48 million journeys undertaken by Irish Rail passengers occur without incident. However, he acknowledged that the issue is worsening “that's why we're putting additional resources to tackling it, there is a seasonal factor involved as we come into summer months.”
Mr Kenny said that the number of security patrols will double this year (compared to the numbers in 2017). “We will have seven mobile units in terms of security on the Dart alone, we'll also have fixed units in major stations, in particular, fixed units in stations where we have had issues in the past as well.”
When asked about the possibility of a text alert service, he said “that is something we are hoping to introduce in the coming weeks to allow customers to discreetly raise an alert, we're working with a security provider at the moment to ensure that we have the resources in place to deal with this properly.
“We would have a live monitoring centre at all times that the Dart operates to enable us to respond and despatch security teams then to that.
“They will have specific initiatives this year to support us - visibility is a huge factor in terms of giving greater confidence to people when they travel with us, at all times of the day.”
He also admitted that only 50% of Darts have screens in the driving cab, so, if there is an alert the driver can bring the train to a stop and look at the screen.
“We are looking to fit those screens in the remainder of cabs in coming months. Of the 144 carriages in the fleet, 128 of them have CCTV, the remaining 16, it is something that we're planning to do in any event, will be fitted in coming weeks.
“That particular CCTV will be remote downloadable as well, currently if we need to download and provide to the gardaí, it's something that has to be done on a depot basis, but this will be remote downloadable.
“As newer trains came in we ensured that newer technology is in place, this is something we want to retrofit into all our fleet, these resources are there for us, we are putting the funds into this, and the human resources into this.
He denied a claim that there are no ticket checkers on northbound Darts, and said that there are increased personnel on that line. “It is something that is done. Garda support increased significantly this year.”
He also explained that a separate transport police force is not necessary in Ireland as gardai have attended the rail safety advisory council.
“They are bringing a community policing model to public transport as part of that, customers are going to see very clear initiatives with the gardai this year throughout the high profile time of the summer that we will support with our own resources as well, and give greater confidence to people travelling with us.”
Labour Senator Kevin Humphreys is calling on the Ministers for Transport and Justice to introduce short-term solutions to combat violence and intimidation on public transport.
He also called on Irish Rail to reintroduce staff at unmanned stations.
“It will cost money, but if we want people to use public transport they need to feel confident that it is safe.”
Senator Humphreys told Newstalk’s Lunchtime Live programme that many incidents are not being reported because the public feel nothing is being done.
A short-term solution would be the use of private security firms, but in the long term a community policing policy involving gardaí on public transport was what was required, he said.
He made a further call for a text alert system for the Dart and for all Dart carriages to have CCTV so drivers could see what is happening in the carriages and if necessary alert gardaí who could then be waiting at the next train station.
“This has been happening for years. Trade unions have been calling for security because of the increase in assaults.
"If the public is to be encouraged to use public transport then a mechanism is needed to increase safety.
“We need short term measures.”
Senator Humphreys told of how he had been on the Dart on his own recently and had felt unsafe.