Derailed by experience on ‘Calcutta Express’

On Friday last I had an experience which is worth forgetting as soon as possible. It was delivered by the monopoly rail provider that is 100% funded and supported by you and I, the taxpayer.

Irish Rail is a brand that ought to be valued and respected by those who are given stewardship of it. The name Irish carries with it a responsibility to present the positive attributes of our nation — friendliness, respect, ambition. The Rail term should offer reliable, safe and reasonably priced travel on a handful of tracks over which Irish Rail has been granted a monopoly. None of this was evident on my trip last Friday.

It started with a business meeting organised at short notice in Cork. Getting there by 5pm was best served by catching the 2pm from Heuston Station. I arrived at 1.30pm, parted ways with the princely sum of €82 for a return ticket and passed the turnstiles.

Before me was a four carriage train that, even by 1.45pm, was clearly overcrowded. By 2pm that train resembled something on the Calcutta railway at the turn of the 19th century. We might even have considered climbing on the roof but it was raining and the health and safety police would have been upon us.

Instead, we all squeezed in to the gaps between each carriage. Alongside me was a very old man who unwrapped a foldable seat to sit on. He clearly experienced this before. A woman and baby were left standing, as were other elderly citizens.

A stream of hollow apologies came over the tannoy. We were offered the not so helpful advice to consider getting off and waiting for another train. Even worse, it was suggested those in seats should give them up for older or disabled passengers. This was Irish Rail laying the moral obligation on their customers to solve the company’s failure to provide sufficient capacity.

The trip started, and just got worse. As we clanked out of Dublin every nook and cranny was full of people standing in circumstances that must have gone off the Richter scale of safety guidelines. It was hot too, and clammy as we wandered off in to the countryside.

Because of the bottomless sense of humour that defines the Irish character we all just got on with it. There would have been a riot in Germany, legal suits issued in America and a plain old fist fight in Korea if this happened in any of those countries.

The woman manning the food and drink trolley started her arduous journey next. Jungle clearing must have been her previous career as she waded through an increasingly tetchy bunch of supposed “customers”. I lost the plot with some poor sod who happened to have an Irish Rail logo on his shirt. He suggested things would get better after Ballybrophy.

One and a half hours in to this trip those of us squeezed between the lavatories and the door got a chance to sit down. The trolley re-appeared. Its attendant looked like she had crossed the Kalahari desert barefoot. “A cup of tea please,” I ventured. “One small problem” she replied. “The boiler is not working so the water is warm, not hot.”

By the time we got to Cork my preparation for the 5pm business meeting had, excuse the pun, gone off the rails. Aside from me being a ball of sweat the reading material planned for the journey had stayed in the brief case. Instead of being psyched up to impress a client I was ready for a cage fight.

Maybe Irish Rail should consider an extra carriage on the Calcutta Express ?

Joe Gill is director for corporate broking with Goodbody Stockbrokers. His views are personal.


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