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Dublin: 14°C Saturday 19 June 2021

'We call them the Orange Army' - how Irish Rail staff kept going as the Beast from the East hit

It was one of only a few occasions in the past 10 years when

IRISH RAIL WAS forced to take the unusual step of shutting down during Storm Emma – but its staff kept on working throughout the terrible weather.

The ‘orange army’, as they have been called, were out in all weather and at all times of the day and night to make sure that rail lines were kept clear and stations kept safe for customers as the bad weather hit.

Barry Kenny of Irish Rail told TheJournal.ie that there are many things for staff to keep an eye on during a extreme situation like this.

There’s the infrastructure, the elements keeping the trains in operation, and then there’s the train stations themselves.

On social media Irish Rail has been sharing the work done by what Kenny says are the “least visible” staff usually – the patrollers and the ‘gangers’, as they’re called internally. The patrol gangers are the ones who go out and walk the line every day to inspect the network come rail, shine, or snow.

“We’ve been calling them the ‘orange army’ because of the high-vis jackets. It’s been an exceptional effort that has made sure tens of thousands of people were able to travel safely,” said Kenny.

They are working in all conditions in all year round, but obviously these were at times truly horrific conditions and from Tuesday afternoon through to Thursday afternoon when services came to a halt, they ensured we were able to keep going.

For example, staff were on hand to clear snow from rail points – even as snow kept falling. “It was like battling foam,” said Kenny.

They were also there to make sure level crossings were safe, with some having to remotely operate level crossings during the night so they didn’t freeze into position.

Damaged engines

Then there were the staff charged with looking after the condition of the fleet in such bad weather.

“The level of snow that trains are passing over at 100 miles and over is quite severe, so a lot of damage was done to engines as a result of that,” said Kenny. “We had people dealing with blocks of ice stuck onto trains; removing those and repairing engines.” They have had to reduce the speed of trains starting back today as a result of this.

They also had staff keeping the platforms clear and safe, and the footbridges clear.

They also had to prepare for making the train tracks safe for today. “We’ve put out locomotives to go ahead and prove the track, so effectively they’re clearing the track,” explained Kenny.

“We’ve hired in a fleet of road-rail vehicles [which can go on the rails and the road] which will be going along tracks clearing the snow. We are clearing points at areas where it’s the sensible thing to do. We’ll have more proving trains overnight and in the morning we can check things like level crossings.”

It’s “very unusual” for Irish Rail to have to go into total shutdown, said Kenny. “I think in the last 10 years probably in terms of weather issues there was only one other occasion when we stopped everywhere,” he said. Even in 2010 they didn’t shutdown entirely as the snow was spread over a number of days.

“In certain ways the [Storm] Ophelia situation [was] a lot easier decision in terms of operating or not, whereas this is quite variable and very challenging in terms of the physical work and experience and conditions.”

Two staff members were even stuck in the maintenance centre in Portlaoise overnight on Thursday after they were unable to get out due to the snow.

Kenny said there’s been a “tremendous public response” to the work by Irish Rail staff over the past few days.

“We’re very grateful for that because it’s very heartening when people – particularly people in a job that always isn’t the most visible to the public, [are supported]. To see that goodwill coming back, it had a great reaction and I think the crews have rightly been enjoying their moment in spotlight.”

Read: 80 babies delivered at Holles St and Rotunda during storm … including one Emma>

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