A three part journey with Irish Rail.

Yesterday I traveled from Dublin to Cork to look after my mother who is recovering from surgery. In that journey I partook of three aspects of Irish Rail, Ireland’s semi-state rail service company.

So let’s start by setting out one simple fact. A fact which any regular user of Ireland’s rail network will almost certainly agree with. Irish Rail is low-grade evil. They charge premium rates for an approximately average service. And like living next door to a sewage treatment plant, prolonged contact will eventually end with you reduced to a quivering, soulless mess on the floor. That sewage comment is particularly relevant to my journey yesterday, but we’ll get to that later.

To start with at 7:50am I got a railcar from Leixlip to Connolly Station. I have to admit the railcar service is actually excellent. It usually runs on time. Off peak you’re pretty much guaranteed a seat. And frankly it gets you out of the city any anywhere between Connolly and Maynooth pretty quickly. Unfortunately in the evening it also tends to be filled with drunken people, though to my surprise apparently this is also the case at 7:50am.  That’s “am” as in, morning!

Nothing says good morning to me quite like a guy, who’s too drunk to make it into the cubicle at the end of the carriage, deciding to piss on the cubicle door in full view of everyone. Then of course he immediately gets off at the next stop. But hey, at least we happy few left on board get to watch with unbridled joy, as the river of fresh urine surges along the centre of the carriage floor. So watch where you step folks.

So thought number 1, for any employee of Irish Rail who might happen to read this article. If a potential passenger is so drunk that they fail three times in a row to pronounce their own name, don’t let them on the damned train. Yeah they’re a paying customer. But so are the people now wondering if they should go and have a test for hepatitis.

That stage of my journey over with, it was on to the Luas. The Luas is what Irish Rail calls a “light rail service”.  It’s what I tend to call “scumbags on rails”. The Luas could have been a truly great achievement. A quick mode of transport between the city centre and the townland’s which are not covered by either the Dart or Railcar services. Well to be honest, now that the Luas has managed to achieve the dizzying heights of not derailing or crashing every second week, it has at least become that. But what it has also become is the one place in the city you’re certain to be able to buy a fix of whatever illicit material tickles your fancy.

Now while there is security on most Luas services at night, during the day you’re mostly left to your own devices. Watching, if you’re sharp-eyed, dealers peddling their wares, and wondering if there’s anything in your bag you could use in a pinch as a defensive weapon.

Yesterday though the dealers and lack of security were the least of my problems. You see as I got off of the Luas I passed out. In fairness shit happens, and sometimes, especially if they have a viral infection, people just black out. It’s no-ones fault. But when the onlookers just laugh, and then applaud in the same way they would if a glass was dropped in a bar, well that’s just…pissy.

Thought 2. Have a driver, and an usher on each blasted tram. I’m 33, but what if it had been a pensioner left lying on the ground, while the good people of Dublin laughed?  Oh and thought 2.1 to those who found it so funny, but declined to lend a hand to a woman who obviously needed help. Grow the fuck up, show some compassion, and show a little responsibility towards your fellow citizens.

Finally, bruised, slightly bleeding and with my pretty black leggings ruined, I was on the train from Heuston to Kent Station in Cork. I’ll be honest here. I got two seats to myself, my favourite two seats actually.  The ones facing forwards with no table, on the left side of the carriage as you face towards Cork. Why are they my favourites? Well if you get them to yourself their kind of cosy and snug. Also there’s this amazing abandoned stately home one the left somewhere near Portlaoise that I adore, and I look forward to seeing it every trip. So I had no complaints in the seating department.

But while I was boarding this particular train, the ticket inspector made a point of announcing that free internet access was available onboard. Wonderful, I thought, after 3 days with no internet access at home I was seriously Jonesing for a good surf. Right. Yeah.

Look it’s all well and good saying you have such a service. But having a network available that needs a bloody security key which no-one, including the staff on the train, has is not providing a service. It’s in fact the geek equivalent of badger baiting.

But no harm no foul, at least there were plug sockets next to the seats on this train. Wonderful, I thought once more. I could check my email with my mobile internet dongle, watch a movie on my laptop, maybe the live action “Space-Battleship Yamato”, and I could even get my blogs written for Thursday and Saturday…Nope.

The sockets worked at Heuston Station. They switched on at one random point for about 30 seconds somewhere near Portarlington. The rest of the time they were dead as a dodo. I of course asked the hostess politely about the possibility of getting some of that sweet, sweet electricity for my netbook. But no, apparently they couldn’t find the fault. Funnily though I heard her talking to her husband on her mobile phone in Kent Station a couple of hours later. “No hun, I was able to charge my phone on the way down.” I guess she needed all that electricity to charge her I-Phone.

But worst of all was the sewage issue. Remember I said we’d get back to that?

Normally the toilet cubicles in the modern intercity trains here in Ireland are amazing. They have sexy, Star Trek like doors that slide open. And when you close them a stern sounding woman tells you to lock the door after you. Everything is clean, there are no sharp corners. Basically I’d love one in my home. But somehow the one in my carriage yesterday had been feeling sickly. The poor darling had a bit of a squify tummy, and it vomited before leaving the station. Unfortunately being a toilet what it vomited was urine and faeces. Not the kind of thing you need to be smelling while you try to watch a movie, on a small screen, in a swaying train carriage. I was to say the least, heartily sick.

So we come to thought 3, Irish Rail, please don’t say you have a service when it hasn’t been set up properly. If you find out one of your staff has made your customers journey more unpleasant for her own gain, please have him or her nailed to the station doors by their genitals as a warning about customer service. But most of all don’t let a train stinking of raw sewage leave the station.

I’ll admit that Irish Rail are generally a satisfactory way to travel in Ireland. These days the trains tend to arrive on time, and are no longer hideously uncomfortable places to be trapped in for 3 hours. But there is still room for improvement, and most of the simpler ways would not cost anything extra. If a train has plug sockets, have power running to them. Make sure the toilets are sanitary before you leave the station. Make a point that if you’re drunk you don’t get to travel. If the train has a host on board, make sure they have a functioning brain, as well as the good looks.

We pay a lot of money to travel by train in this country. In fact it’s usually cheaper to fly to London than train it from Dublin to Cork. So how about doing the little things that would make us feel like our custom is appreciated?

P.S. Irish Rail, how about a couple of travel sickness bags for each seat as well? They would make the mad dash for one of the other cubicles a lot less fraught.

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