Blind and partially sighted passengers rely on on-board audio announcements when travelling on trains, buses, and trams, etc., in order to know where we are, and in order to know what stop to get off at. Other passengers also find this useful, whether they are napping, reading an eBook, or new in town. However, if a visually impaired person gets off at the wrong stop, they are not only completely lost, but placed in a dangerous situation, literally with unexpected pitfalls and obstacles, and no knowledge of how to escape or find help. Even getting to the platform on the other side of the track in order to get the next train going in the other direction is extremely difficult to do if you are blind and unfamiliar with a station.
Many of us began noticing a high number of audio announcement faults on the Dart from 2017, and raised these with Iarnród Éireann, as well as the accessibility difficulties encountered in trying to identify the carriage vehicle id for subsequent investigation and repair.
The good news is that a new system will be installed by early 2023. The bad news is that it will have taken an incredible 6 years (2017-2023) to resolve.
VVI (Voice of Vision Impairment), is not only dismayed at the excessive delay in resolving the issue of no next stop announcements on 50% of the Dart fleet, but we also have serious concerns regarding the implications this has for other public transport modes, including bus and tram. There appears to be little regard for forward planning in terms of built-in obsolescence, future-proofing, and disability-proofing our public transport fleets so that they are safe and accessible for all passengers; but worst of all, there is no light at the end of the tunnel, in that such lack of foresight and planning appear to be endemic to the several statutory bodies dealing with Ireland’s public transport system.
To be or not to be, board the Siemens (LHB) Dart vehicle id 8115 on the left with audio announcements or the Tokyu Car Dart vehicle id 8621 on the right with no audio announcements.
The Dart is made up of 142 electrical multiple units (EMU), 74 of which were supplied by LHB in Germany, and went into service in 1984. The remainder were supplied by Tokyu Car in Japan, and went into service between 2001 and 2005.
The original German LHB Darts were subsequently refurbished by Siemens (which included a passenger information system) and went back to service in 2008/2009. The audio announcements on these units, thankfully, remain in working order.
However, the same cannot be said for the fleet of 68 Dart EMU ordered by Iarnród Éireann-Irish Rail from Tokyu car in Japan between 2000 and 2004. Divided into 3 classes (8500, 8510 and 8520), the bulk of these units entered service in 2004/2005, and these were the first Dart units to feature a passenger information system (PIS) with next stop audio announcements.
The passenger information system (PIS) equipment for the 8500 and 8510 class units was supplied by Vemisa, and the 8520 class units by Ikusi – both suppliers are still in business.
These systems were maintained by Quaestor in East Wall, Dublin.
Towards Replacement of passenger information system and manual announcements.
In 2019 – two years after the audio announcements began to disappear – Iarnród Éireann confirmed to VVI that it was seeking funding from the National Transport Authority (NTA) to replace the passenger information system on the 68 Tokyu Car Dart’s as they were life-expired and could not be repaired.
VVI suggested in the interim that Dart Drivers could make manual next stop and destination announcements until a new system was procured/installed.
Previously we highlighted Iarnród Éireann Drivers on the Cork to Cobh and Middleton lines making manual next stop announcements on their early 1990’s diesel commuter trains which don’t have an automated audio announcement system. We also highlighted Drivers on Intercity and commuter Trains making manual announcements when the audio announcement system was either out of order or when there were no Hosts or Customer Service Staff (CSO) on board.
Iarnród Éireann cited the significant number of stations on the Dart line (31 versus 11 on the Cork Commuter Routes), and mentioned the possibility of announcements only at hub stations, subject to agreement with Driver representatives. Two years later however, and four years since the audio announcements began to go quiet, no progress has been made.
Dept of Transport, Tourism & Sport Accessibility Consultative Committee Meetings.
The Department of Transport, Tourism & Sport (DTTAS) hold regular meetings of a “Accessibility Consultative Committee” and the minutes of these meetings are available online from 2018 to 2021.
While we don’t have access to the minutes from meetings in 2017, it is clear the Dart audio announcement (PIS) issue was on the agenda at previous meetings as early as 2017.
At the meeting on 28th of March, 2018, the accessibility update from the National Transport Authority refers to “Possible interim measures to address difficulties with audio/visual announcements on DART pending replacement of the existing system, e.g. an app – NTA to raise with Irish Rail.”
At a meeting on the 18th of September, 2019, the “DTTAS advised that 47% of the DART fleet requires an upgrade of its Passenger Information System and Irish Rail is developing a proposal on the necessary upgrade work for submission to the NTA for funding. Following a tender process, it is understood the work will take approximately 2 years to complete.”
At a meeting on the 22nd of Janury, 2020, “Dept of Transport, Tourism & Sport (DTTAS) Work Programme – Quarters 3 and 4 2019 (Action 8) DART Passenger Information System. Target is to award contract for 17×4 car sets in 2020, with a view to installation in 2021. This had previously been stated to be one of the key public transport projects for people with disabilities.”
On March 15th, 2020, when funding was secured from the NTA, Iarnród Éireann issued a tender.
“…The existing 8500 EMU fleet are fitted with passenger information systems (PIS) equipment supplied by Vemisa (8500 and 8510) and Ikusi (8520). Both systems are now obsolescent and require to be replaced with modern, reliable and best in class systems. The new replacement systems will consistently and reliably provide accurate and timely information; provide good visibility/readability (displays) and deliver good intelligibility (audio)…”Iarnród Éireann
On December 10th, 2020, Ikusi were awarded the contract to replace the passenger information system.
While the awarding of the contract is very welcome news, it was, however, long overdue, since 50% of the Dart fleet will have been operating with no audio announcement for 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022 (6 years).
Questions that need to be Answered.
Why the excessive delay?
Could this happen again on a different fleet?
The LHB (Siemens) Darts, for example, use a passenger information system from Telvic.
Bus Éireann, Dublin Bus, Go-Ahead and Luas also have passenger information systems. Indeed, the original 3000 class Luas trams operating on the red line, for example, date back to 2003.
At least most of the equipment in Dublin Bus is 2014 and newer. The supplier, Innit, are pretty big in Germany, so hopefully they offer good support. But should we really be leaving such vital accessibility to chance?
We need to know if the audio announcement systems on any of these (LUAS, Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann, or other trains), are life-expired and if so, are there projects in place to replace them?
The current and urgent DART example shows up an issue whereby even if the NTA funded a replacement project tomorrow, between procurement, installation and commissioning, we are looking at a time frame of at least 2 years. How it has taken 6 years at Iarnród Éireann is an issue that needs to be investigated so that sucha delay does not happen again, with Iarnród Éireann, or with any other service-provider.
Where does the book stop? Was it an NTA funding issue?
Was it because the issue wasn’t one of the long term action minutes at the DTTAS Accessibility Consultative Committee meetings and therefore disappeared from scrutiny so to speak?
Either way, both the DTTAS and NTA were clearly aware of this and appear to have sat on it.
What we are requesting
- We would like some accountability in the form of an investigation to get to the bottom of this neglectful mess.
- We look for the assurance (with proof) that the same dangerous systematic situations are not about to befall other transport fleets.
- We look for an interim measure, such as manual driver announcements, even at hub stops, on the DART line until the broken half of the DART fleet is fixed in 2023.
- We request that certain low-tech fallback systems be introduced on fleets to mitigate against the loss of these essential audio announcement systems through fault or obsolescence, and we in VVI are here to fulfil our particular role as a DPO, under the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, including our prioritisation in such consultations.