On the right track or off the Rails?

Image Credit: Charles Forerunner

Although a popular service, particularly for student travel, the Irish Rail service is not without fault, Sophie Finn investigates.

The train is the preferred method of travel for many people, however, the Irish Rail service Ianród Éireann has been the subject of many complaints in recent years. The company is 100% owned by Coras Iompar Éireann (CIÉ) a State-owned company, therefore the State is responsible for the conditions of the Irish Rail service. Irish Rail is responsible for all internal InterCity, Commuter, DART and freight railways services. In an age where the need to cut down on emissions and use sustainable transport alternatives is widely accepted, it begs the question: is it permissible for public transport to be in this less than satisfactory state?

Many students and workers regularly use Irish Rail services to commute, particularly in recent years due to rising rent prices. The service is also popular with tourists and for everyday journeys. The service reached a record number of users in 2019, with over 50.1 million journeys recorded. Irish Rail advertisement’s seem to target students with promises of luxury, for example “Students, get a bit of luxury into ye.” Another advertisement more targeted towards families states “Rediscover the joy of the train”. However, user experience does not seem to always be one of “joy” and “luxury”.

The company has hit headlines for its high salaries, with the average wage standing at €54,647 in 2017 and 64 employees earning over €100,000 PA in 2018, not including perks and cars. However, this does not prevent negative feedback for the service, in 2019 the company received 14,575 complaints. Information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act indicates the rate was lower in 2020, with 3,418 complaints recorded for the first six months of the year. The complaints involved antisocial behaviour, fares and ticketing on Irish Rail’s website and timetables, service disruption, accessibility, and racism.

in 2019 the company received 14,575 complaints

The availability and efficiency of the service is also an issue of common complaint. There is no train station in Donegal, and many counties are difficult to get to with no direct routes. For example, it could take five hours and two changes to get to Cork city from Kilkenny via train, a 1-hour 44-minute car journey. Ticket prices have also been the subject of complaints, a one-way adult ticket for a train from Cork to Dublin costs €41.49. Student tickets are admittedly cheaper, however, at €16.19 one-way, a weekly return trip would be unattainable for many students.

In a recent personal experience with Irish Rail on March 13th, boarding was not open until 2.59 pm for the Waterford bound train leaving at 3.10 pm. The train was leaving from platform 8, one of the furthest platforms from the station. Leaving 11 minutes to get to the train. This resulted in a horde of people racing to the train all at once. I didn’t reach my carriage until 3.06 pm, and I am a 22-year-old without accessibility issues. This presents a major issue for anybody with accessibility or mobility issues, or of an older age. I have also witnessed a racially motivated attack on Irish Rail, there was no staff around and I ran to get security, after security arrived the intoxicated attacker was left with a young female staff member on her own on the same carriage as the victim of the attack was seated until he was taken from the train and arrested at the next stop.

The University Observer spoke with several UCD students who regularly use the Irish Rail train service to travel to and from college about their experiences.

Fred*, a student at UCD explained that in his second year he was travelling on the Irish Rail service from Cork to Dublin with a student ticket. The ticket inspector checked his ticket and requested to see student identification. Fred provided his UCD student card, however, the inspector issued Seán with a €120 fine because one of the numbers on the expiry date of the card had rubbed off. Seán explained he provided further information by logging onto UCD Connect, showing documents and explaining the ‘18’ at the beginning of the student number showed he only began college the previous year. 

“It was completely unfair, the number had only rubbed off as I lived in student accommodation the year before and I had to insert the card every day as my key. I explained the situation to him and provided a load of other documents to prove my student status, but he wasn’t having it. I felt he only bothered to fine me to fill up a quota or something.” Fred appealed the decision and the fine was halved. “It was still a massive amount of money for me. I had to try to come up with it myself, and the stress of it all and the waiting to find out about my appeal affected my quality of life. My memory of that semester is kind of bitter because of it.”

The University Observer also spoke to Rebecca* who described her experience of encountering stag parties on Irish Rail services. “The Dublin Connolly to Sligo service is one of the worst things ever, it’s bad enough already that it’s almost three hours long, it’s packed on a Friday evening, whether it’s students or commuters. Then on the Friday evenings you throw in stags, and they are just unbearable, they don’t consider anyone else on the train, they come in and they will already have been drinking. When people get a drink into them, they are making comments, they could make a comment at you, they also might have their speakers with them, you might be trying to study or get a bit of work done, or even just trying to relax, and they will have their techno going.”

“You have the people who work on the train who will try to say, ‘lads keep it down’ or ‘be considerate to other people,’ but it doesn’t do anything, they don’t listen. That train ride is borderline two and a half hours to Carrick-On-Shannon of just constant noise, and not being able to do anything about it.” It is important to note that Irish Rail prohibits alcohol on their services. Rebecca added, “what annoys me most about the whole thing is you look at the ads on TV for Irish Rail, and it’s like ‘students, choose Irish Rail’, it’s always such a relaxing as and it’s meant to be like luxury, it’s the furthest thing from luxury.”

on the Friday evenings you throw in stags, and they are just unbearable, they don’t consider anyone else on the train, they come in and they will already have been drinking

UCD student Richard O’Shea discussed his experience with the transport provider. “I travelled up and down from home to Dublin most weekends in my first and second year, I’d say in my entire second year I never got a seat, despite booking one with my ticket, it hasn’t been so bad since Covid I don’t know why”. Richard explained that that the train always seemed to be overbooked, and many people would be left standing or sitting on the floor. “People, usually old people, would sit in the booked seats, I wasn’t going to put an old man out of my seat, so I’d just sit on the floor, but this was awkward too for anyone trying to get past with a buggy or accessibility issues”.

Addressing the complaints to the Irish Examiner,a spokesperson for Irish Rail said “As an essential service, we have continued to provide train services throughout Covid-19 to ensure that those who must travel can do so, and have continued to assist customers with queries during that time”

It’s clear Irish Rail is subject to myriad complaints. Many people, including students, use this service to commute, and apart from commuters, the service is used by ordinary people hoping to get from A to B, and tourists. Generally, the use of public transport is encouraged to reduce emissions. However, the record of complaints, and the experience of student commuters suggest Irish Rail may not offer the most pleasant journey, let alone live up to its promises of “luxury” and “joy”. 

*Names have been changed