Irish Rail

Keep cups not used on cross-border train due to risk of 'sinister activity' such as poisonings, said catering manager

An ‘anarchist’ could do ‘something terrible’ to a reusable cup before handing it to staff, the catering manager said.

REUSABLE ‘KEEP CUPS’ cannot be used on trains that cross the Irish border due to a risk they could be used for poisonings or other “sinister activity”, a senior manager at the catering company that provides services for the Enterprise train said in correspondence. 

The issue of using keep cups on Irish Rail services came to public attention last December after the company said passengers could not use their own keep cups when buying hot drinks.

For health and safety reasons, only an official Irish Rail reusable cup could be used, customers were told.

The Enterprise service between Belfast and Dublin is jointly operated by Irish Rail and NI Railways.  

Correspondence released to by Irish Rail under the Freedom of Information Act shows that a customer emailed in January last year asking why they couldn’t use their keep cup to buy a drink on board a train to Belfast. 

In response, a manager from Corporate Catering Services Ltd NI said reusable cups were not used in order to help eliminate risks of “potential danger” such as staff poisonings. 

The email said: 

I’m sure you’ve seen things in the press recently where people have been exposed to life threatening illness through poisons etc., some of which can be introduced to the environment as simply as wiping them on a seat or a door handle.

The manager, whose name was redacted under the Act, said they were “not suggesting [the customer] using a keep cup is a potential risk”, but “there’s no guarantee that the next anarchist isn’t going to do something terrible using an item they hand to one of my staff”.

Ridiculous I know, but a sad fact of the world we live in (and continue to destroy) and the primary reason for us being cautious in the use of items we come into contact with.

The catering manager said that because the Enterprise is a cross-border service, “it has the potential to be a target for such sinister activity”.

There were a number of train bombings during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The Belfast-Dublin line was bombed on Bloody Friday in 1972. The line was bombed again in 1985 and 1994. 

The catering manager wrote that the company did not use keep cups on board to avoid “cross contamination to a self-contained water system”. 

“The risk of contaminating the on-board supply is sadly born of the less world-conscientious people out there, and not a good-natured person such as yourself,” they wrote.  

A spokesperson for Irish Rail said the company “became aware in the first half of 2019″ that the catering company was using reasons such as cross-contamination of the water supply to explain the situation to customers. 

“We advised them that in our view this was not a legitimate reason, and we did not accept it – nor should it be used in any future correspondence to customers,” the spokesperson said. 

The spokesperson added that as there are a “plethora of keep cup types, and volumes” it is important for staff and customer safety to ensure the pouring and sealing of cups on a moving train is safe. 

The Enterprise service sells its own keep cup for £2.50/€3 that can be used on board, which includes the cost of the first drink purchased.

Irish Rail expects to have its own keep cup for sale on intercity trains soon.  

Reducing waste 

The website for Corporate Catering Services Ltd (CCSL) says the company “avoids plastics” and minimises its carbon footprint. The site features an image of a CCSL-branded keep cup.

The company says it has eliminated plastic straws from its supply chain and is “looking at every aspect of the business” to get rid of single-use plastics entirely. 

Irish Rail trains travelling within the Republic of Ireland use a different catering company on board, Rail Gourmet. 

In other emails released under the FOI Act, the customer whose reusable cup was refused wrote that they purchased their coffee “sadly in a single use non-biodegradable cup” before then pouring it into their own keep cup. 

The catering manager said in response that CCSL “wholeheartedly” supports the approach of reduce, reuse and recycle where possible, but said this is “not as simple to address” in some of their business. 

They said the crew “could use a little more training” in explaining why the company doesn’t “openly promote” the use of reusable cups. 

A spokesperson for Irish Rail said the company has asked its catering suppliers to provide proposals “as soon as possible” to change their dispensing facilities and ensure all types of keep cups can be supported. 

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