Archives for posts with tag: Irish Rail

I travel on Irish Rail a lot. I never use the online seat booking system. Well, I used it once before, but once in 300+ journeys over the last 12 years is not much. On this occasion, however, travelling with my son into Dublin on a Saturday, I decided I needed to.

After selecting your train ticket type and times, you’re taken to the seat booking screen. The trouble is, it’s really hard to tell which is the front of the carriage and which is the back. They’re not marked. This is important if you like to face the direction of travel. Also, you’re not sure which is the front of the train, and which is the rear. Is Coach A at the front? I assumed so, and booked accordingly.

The main area of doubt for me was that the only other time I had booked a ticket, the train had arrived back to front, with Coach A at the back. So, on that occasion I did what every other passenger seems to do, at least during the week: they sit anywhere, even on a booked seat that’s not their booked seat, thus rendering the seat booking system a farce.

Anyway, coach A was at the front when we got on, but coach A was premier class, and I had booked standard. We sat there anyway. On the online booking system you have the option to have displayed your name or your booking reference number. I had chosen booking reference number. When we found our seats, they simply said ‘Seat booked from Galway’. How would we have proved that these were indeed our booked seats?

For the return journey, we booked coach A again. When we got to the platform, coach A was the first carriage, at the back of the train…

Room for improvement, methinks.

I travel on Irish trains a lot. You might too. In fact you might be reading this on the train. Central Dublin, for example, is far easier to reach by train and LUAS than by car, and you can work on the train, obviously, or ‘obvs’ as the young people of the world write in their SMS messages. I always book my train ticket online in advance, unless I’m heading somewhere local like Galway and I’ve left it too late.

The booking system is very straightforward, and they always offer you a choice of manual or automatic seat selection, as well as whether you want your name or your booking number above your seat. 19 times out of 20 I will choose automatic seat selection, opt for the booking number display – some kind of English, under-the-radar thing no doubt – and sit where I like.

On this occasion, I manually picked my seat – A26, a rather pleasing rear-facing aisle seat in the lead coach – and also opted to have my name up there. Why not, I reasoned.

The following morning the train duly arrived, and I hopped onto the lead coach to locate my seat. I couldn’t see my reservation for A26. There was no name up there, and none for the chap sat close by me who was travelling by train for the first time in ages.

I sat somewhere else, like I normally do; the train wasn’t busy. 30 minutes into my journey, I realised that the train was back to front. I was in coach E, not coach A. The lead coach, the one that arrives closest to the station exit, is normally coach A. Not on this occasion. It’s also not that easy to know which coach you’re on. You have to get on and wait for the coach ticker tape to tell you, by which time on a normal busy service all the good seats are gone.

Later that day, on the return journey home, I made a point of going to the exact seat I had booked, on the correct coach. They were no bookings at all showing on the train.

Both journeys kind of defeat the purpose of booking, I thought. I might go back to my 19 times out of 20 thing.

I’m sitting on a train which is theoretically on its way from Galway to Dublin. I have a 2 o’clock meeting in Dublin, and then I’m back home on the train. I’m coming in just for this meeting, but my train is due in 2 and 1/2 hours before my meeting, so I’ve arranged to meet a couple ex-work pals for lunch. I’d decided on the train because my back is a bit sore and I could also get some work done.

The lunch appointment time is just passing now. We’ve been stationery for about 50 minutes. Ever since we rolled over something hard and metallic about 25 KMs outside Dublin, trundling to a stop about a kilometre further on. The on-board wifi is taking a terrible beating.

There are emergency response teams on the scene, presumably for both the incident and our train. I’m not sure if I’ll make my meeting, or whether we’ll eventually roll into Dublin and I’ll hop on the next train back to Galway, which will probably be delayed.

On Twitter Irish Rail has announced the suspension of all services in both directions due to a ‘tragic incident’. It is what it is. You can’t legislate for this kind of thing. You can’t manage away all of these possibilities and percentages. But when you have any single point of failure you run the risk of running into problems which inconvenience thousands of people.

I’ve written about the unreliability of public transportation for work-related meetings on numerous occasions. This is, of course, extremely traumatic for anyone directly affected by the incident. But for those of us indirectly affected, what it all boils down to is the usual: the loss of two important and related factors, namely time and productivity. This meeting I’m supposed to be attending is a dry-run for the real thing I’m running in 2 days time, for which I was also going to take the train. Decisions…

I’ve been travelling on Irish trains for 10 or 15 years. On the whole they’re reasonably comfortable and reasonably reliable, and quite expensive, perhaps because there’s a lot of fixed assets to maintain and a lot of staff mouths to feed. It being a state body, I imagine there’s a quite a lot of fat on the business that can’t be easily trimmed.

Irish Rail trains have these automated train announcements for their inter-city routes. The announcements come on at various points in the journey. I thought they were perhaps driven by GPS, so that when the train was a certain distance from a station, this triggered the ‘in a couple of minutes we’ll be in X’ announcement, and so on.

I don’t now think this is the case, because the announcements have been coming in at oddest the times, for quite a while. Recently I was on a Dublin-to-Galway service that was announcing we were coming to the various stops before we got to them – which is good – while we were at them – not so good – and after we had left them – not good at all.

Also, Irish Rail would do well to listen to the announcements of other operators like Gobus, whose messages are much more friendly and positive rather than negative. Irish Rail announcements have rather too much ‘don’t do this, don’t do that’ about them. What’s wrong with saying ‘please avoid sitting in pre-booked seats’ or ‘please keep your feet off seats for the next passenger’? It’s less negative and conveys the same request. Theirs comes across as a bit semi-state and antiquated to my mind.

Finally, before I fall off my soap box, there are ticker tape-style notices on each carriage which display what the audio announcements say. On one of them, there has been a typo – an extra space like this¬† ‘please do not put your¬† feet on seats – for years and years. It must appear on every train, on every route in the country. You can’t tell me no member of Irish Rail staff has never noticed it and thought to get it fixed? It’s the detail that counts in the service business.