Father of child with disabilities describes train journey ordeal

Family could not reserve seats online and no wheelchair ramp was available at Heuston

Mairead Cullen and her son Harry (7), who has cerebral palsy and epilepsy. “Irish Rail certainly did not seem to have any comprehension of what we might need,” said Jonathan Cullen.

Mairead Cullen and her son Harry (7), who has cerebral palsy and epilepsy. “Irish Rail certainly did not seem to have any comprehension of what we might need,” said Jonathan Cullen.

 

The father of a child with profound disabilities has spoken out after his family had to stand on a packed Irish Rail train for almost two hours because they could not reserve seats online as their seven-year-old was in a wheelchair.

The boy also had to be carried off the train in his wheelchair because Irish Rail staff failed to show up on the platform with a ramp as promised, his father said.

Jonathan Cullen and his family travelled by train from Thurles to Dublin on the way to Dublin Zoo earlier this week.

They encountered their first problem when they tried to book a family ticket online.

The Irish Rail website said it was not possible to book such a ticket using its website, so Mr Cullen tried instead to book separate tickets for his family. However, the website rejected his booking on the basis that his seven-year-old child Harry, who has cerebral palsy and epilepsy, was in a wheelchair.

Packed with passengers

Mr Cullen bought the tickets at Thurles Station, but because the tickets were bought in the station and not online, it was not possible to reserve seats, and when Mr Cullen and his family boarded the four-carriage train – which had originated in Cork – it was already packed with passengers.

“People were standing in the aisles and sitting outside the toilets,” he said.

While they managed to find a space for Harry in his wheelchair, everyone else in the travelling party had to stand for the entire journey.

“I wasn’t bothered for myself but my wife [Mairead] couldn’t get a seat,” Mr Cullen told The Irish Times. “She has been through so much. She is a 24-hour carer and has given up her job to look after our son. Everything is a struggle and everything is a fight and this just seemed so unnecessary.”

When Mr Cullen contacted Irish Rail on social media to complain that he had paid in excess of €100 for the tickets but could not even get a seat for his wife, his child’s full-time carer, the response from the company was to say that it was not possible to reserve seats at a station.

Ramp unavailable

It got even worse when Mr Cullen and his family arrived at Heuston Station in Dublin only to discover that the ramp needed to get their son’s wheelchair off the train was unavailable despite the fact that he had been assured in Thurles station before leaving that it would be in place.

“We had to physically lift the wheelchair off the train,” he said. “It is very heavy as you can imagine and my son is seven now so he is pretty heavy too. I think it shows the ignorance that exists for people with special needs.

“Irish Rail certainly did not seem to have any comprehension of what we might need. Maybe it’s an education thing. Trips like this for us don’t just happen. We don’t just get into the car and drive to the station and then go to the zoo. It takes a lot of planning and it can very easily turn into a disaster.”

When contacted, Irish Rail spokesman Barry Kenny apologised to Mr Cullen and his family for their experience.

He said the Irish Rail website did allow wheelchair spaces to be reserved, although he expressed “regret if it appeared this option was not available”.

“It may have been the case that wheelchair spaces were booked out on the service in question, hence they did not appear to be available. We sincerely regret that assistance was not provided at Heuston Station,” he said.