Staff on Iarnród Éireann services are experiencing an increase in anti-social behaviour, with figures showing the upward trend in incidents reported on rail services last year has continued into the first half of this year.

Last month, RTÉ's This Week programme revealed anti-social behaviour incidents on the rail service between 2016 and 2017 had increased by almost 50% from 492 to 705.

Now figures for the first half of 2018 show staff have already reported a further 429 incidents. That is an increase of 22% from the first half of 2017 and almost as many incidents as occurred in all of 2016.

More than a quarter of the 429 incidents were reported as aggressive behaviour.

A number of my colleagues have been injured in the past. Those injuries have ranged from broken fingers to cracked ribs.

This increase in aggression is making life difficult for staff, according to Bryan Byrne of Iarnród Éireann's Revenue Protection Unit.

"A number of my colleagues have been injured in the past. Those injuries have ranged from broken fingers to cracked ribs," he said.

Mr Byrne himself recently suffered a knee injury after a passenger tried to force his way through the ticket barriers without paying.

The breakdown of incidents from January 2017 to the end of June 2018, released to RTÉ Investigates by Iarnród Éireann under Freedom of Information legislation, shows a pattern of aggression, boisterous behaviour and drug and alcohol-fuelled conduct which, according to the data, is at its worst in the evenings.

The highest proportion of cases recorded involved passengers behaving aggressively and consuming drugs and alcohol while on board Iarnród Éireann services. At 383, these offences accounted for over 50% of incidents in 2017. The pattern is repeated in the figures for the first half of 2018, with 264 such incidents reported already.

The type of offences committed on rail services varies by location. Incidents recorded on mainline services - the country's main intercity services - overwhelmingly stem from alcohol, while aggressive, anti-social and boisterous behaviour dominates on DART trains.

Incidents involving alcohol and drug taking are also prevalent on Limerick trains, with figures showing there have been 73 such cases since January 2017. This accounts for over half of the total incidents recorded on Limerick services.

The scale of the problem is such that staff reported twice as many incidents involving drugs and alcohol on Limerick trains as on the DART, despite a far higher number of anti-social behaviour incidents occurring on the DART overall.

The data shows there is a sharp increase in incidents recorded in the commuting window between 5pm and 8pm.

Of the 1,143 incidents recorded between January 2017 and the end of June 2018, 443 took place during this three-hour period – accounting for 40% of the total figure.

On Monday, National Bus and Rail Union Secretary Dermot O'Leary wrote to Minister for Transport Shane Ross following a serious assault at Connolly Station over the weekend during which a rail worker was allegedly struck with a bottle and left with a fractured wrist.

The NBRU said the incident showed the gravity of the situation and reiterated a call for the immediate introduction of a dedicated rail policing service to protect staff on duty.