Being a car conscious nation we are often blinded to the advantages of using other forms of transport such as the bus or train. The independence of driving is a great thing but, increasingly, it can also add to your time and stress in reaching a destination rather than reducing it. Recently I decided to take the train to Dublin instead.
Having forgotten that it is the 21st century and that Irish Rail is a modern company, I prepared for my trip like someone setting out on a mountaineering odyssey. Supplies of food were paramount as I was travelling early in the morning and I didn’t expect anything other than a ride to the capital. I stocked up with three bottles of still water and, in an attempt to be healthy, I also packed three bananas and three apples. (I think taking three of everything is more an obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) on my part rather than actual consumption calculations.)
I needed something or two to read, something to listen to and, just in case I got any wonderful ideas, some pens and something to write on. Sunglasses and an umbrella were also part of the pack as it is summertime. Some extra clothing was also on the list as it might be chilly.
All this for a two and half hour train ride each way. I pretty soon realised that I’d also have to lug all this stuff around with me during the day but was soothed by the fact that I was going to eat and drink half the weight before I even got there.
I don’t know why I imagined that the 6.10am train would be quiet or that the train station would be dead at that time in the morning, but I did. Obviously if there was no need for the service it wouldn’t be there. Arriving at Plunkett Station there was plenty of life if not exactly rush hour madness. The staff were awake, alert, good humoured and helpful; happy to assist a sleepy eyed eejit like me trying to feed a €50 note into the ticket machine and wondering why it kept spitting it back out, when it had a clear sign saying that it didn’t take that denomination!
With that little issue sorted and some jovial early morning banter I boarded the train. I watched out the window and saw smiles and pleasantness towards all passengers despite the fact that it was still practically the middle of the night. I saw kindnesses to people with luggage and good natured morning chat, the kind that we often believe is a thing of the past in Ireland today.
To my surprise and delight there was a food trolley service on board. A really congenial guy was happily dishing out coffee and snacks with a smile and a word for everyone as he went by. My water and fruit were quickly abandoned in favour of a caffeine hit and oat cookies.
The train itself was clean, comfortable and the temperature was good – so no need for the ‘extra’ cardigan in my bag. ‘Why have I not done this before’, I wondered as I sipped my very nice cup of coffee. Thinking of the traffic madness at the Red Cow Roundabout, the inevitable delays, the danger of driving along Luas tracks and all the other hassles that go with taking the car into Dublin, I decided that this was definitely the future.
After we pulled out it wasn’t long before I was lulled into a gentle snooze, meaning that the novel I had planned to write on all that paper I had with me never actually got started! Waking up about an hour or so into the journey I did read some of my book, I listened to some music and generally found the whole experience very relaxing.
Alighting at Heuston Staion in Dublin it was time for a quick ablution. Now the toilet facilities in the station are ‘pay to enter’. Being unused to train stations I didn’t have the appropriate change handy and was rooting among the bananas, apples and sunglasses in search of my purse when I was approached by a vagrant. To be fair it was fairly non threatening as daylight vagrants tend to be, but before he even had the chance to say the words ‘have you got any spare change’, a uniformed member of staff was at my elbow, steering me towards an open door saying ‘here love, you can go through this way’; removing me from the situation instantly.
As I walked through I thought it was a shame that the homeless guy wasn’t looking for any spare bananas and apples as he would have been in luck. Anyway, I couldn’t get over the vigilance of the staff. When I came out of the loo I noticed that there is quite a security presence in the station these days. Of course you should always be on guard, but generally there was a good atmosphere. It is also worth mentioning that the toilets, if not exactly Hilton standard, were clean and well equipped and well worth the 30 cent fee for the facility. Heuston Station itself is also well served these days with coffee outlets and magazine stands.
All in all it was an eye opener. We are so good at grumbling about poor services that we have come to believe it. Having had such a good experience that day I wondered if it had just been a once-off. Maybe I had been lucky. Since then I have taken the train other times in the past month and it has been totally consistent. Taking several trips close together gives a much better overview and a more balanced opinion. The more confident I became, the less stuff I had to take with me.
I now travel very light, safe in the knowledge that I can get breakfast on board, served with a smile and I actually look forward to the journey. No doubt someone will have an anti-train anecdote to my good experiences and there will always be someone with a gripe, but overall the service is really very good, very safe, totally convenient and manned by thoroughly nice and professional people.
We ought to be ashamed of ourselves for not developing our train services over the years. Instead we ripped up tracks and neglected to enlarge the network. Wouldn’t it be great to take a train directly from Waterford to Galway, Kerry or the midlands in these days of increasing traffic jams and road carnage? With oil prices on the increase and concern for the environment we also need to adopt a public transport mindset and if more people used the service, the prices, which by the way are quite affordable right now, might even come down.
If you get a chance, do take the train, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how good it is.