"To prevent a disaster, Israel Railways
and the Transportation Ministry
must immediately implement a new safety program," the Annual State Comptroller's report, published
last Tuesday, states.
According to State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, despite the fact that for the past decade the ministry has been repeatedly asked to set up a framework for effective independent oversight of the country's railway system, Israel Railways remains its own inspector.
The comptroller reports that as early as 2002, the Transportation Ministry had been asked to make laws pertaining to train conductors' licenses; professional training and authorization; oversight of safety measures; and punishment for employees found to be negligent. However, the report states, nothing has been done.
Moreover, Lindenstrauss found Israel Railways' conduct to be at fault. The comptroller reported that investigations of safety violations had revealed that railway workers were at fault and that regulations had been violated, but that the company had not taken the requisite action to counter employee negligence.
(Photo: Ido Erez)
When it comes to train crashes and serious safety violations, Lindenstrauss continued, neither Israel Railways nor the Transportation Ministry acted appropriately. There is no set time frame for the investigation of such incidents, and according to the comptroller, in many cases "too much time – sometimes months – passed between the incident and the end of the investigation."
In recent years, the Transportation Ministry has established a number of committees to look into specific train accidents – such as the fire in December 2010
or the crash of April 2011.
Despite the fact that the ministry had been asked in 2006 to regulate how such committees would be appointed and what their mandate would be, by August 2011 no such regulations had been formulated.
Last summer, a new safety program for Israel's trains was submitted that addressed a number of specific problems, such as the issue of drivers crossing train tracks illegally, causing conductors to make emergency stops. Israel Railways management is charged with putting the plan into action and says that it is progressing, but sources in the company say that many of the recommendations are far from being implemented.
In response to the comptroller's report, the Transportation Ministry said that it did regulate Israel Railways and that the ministry had checked Israel Railways' safety standards against safety standards of other European nations. Based on these findings, the ministry said, recommendations for the train company were being written.
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