‘That’s my seat’: Taking issue with Irish Rail’s reservation signage

Regular user ponders lack of ‘reliable system’ so passengers can avoid taking reserved seats

A regular rail user called Roger wrote to us to see whether we could highlight a couple of issues which trouble him on his daily commute. He and his wife both have commuter tickets and both experience the same difficulties on an almost daily basis, which we know will resonate with many people in a similar position.

“We are regularly asked to vacate a seat by passengers who have booked online and have reserved a seat,” he says. “As seasoned commuters, we are both usually careful not to sit in seats that have the sign over the window displaying that they have been reserved, however, on numerous occasions now we’ve been asked to move by passengers who have booked online and reserved a seat and yet nothing appears on the little screens over the windows to notify of the seat reservation.”

He says this has happened so frequently that he is now convinced it is a "common technical fault". It tends to happen most often on Fridays "when groups of non-regular passengers (often stag/hen parties) are travelling out of Dublin and have booked online and reserved their seats. I have no issue with people booking seats online, however, as a customer who pays Irish Rail over €3,000 for my annual commuter ticket, I find it frustrating that Irish Rail cannot do a few simple things."

A reliable system

He wonders why Irish Rail does not seem to have “a reliable system of informing passengers of seat reservations on board their trains so that passengers can avoid sitting in a seat that has been reserved online”.


He wonders why Irish Rail does not have or does not enforce “a fair approach to providing their commuter passengers with [information on] the availability of some seats and not treat them as second rate to other customers who have booked online and probably contribute considerably less to Irish Rail on an annual basis”.

He asked if we could find out why Irish Rail does not “clearly inform customers who have reserved on line that they must show up a minimum of 20 minutes in advance of the advertised departure time to claim their seat”. He says this could be advertised on their ticket “but it would be much more helpful to all passengers to have it advertised on board also so that it is clear to all passengers”.

He refers to clause 43.6 of the Irish Rail conditions of travel, which state that “passengers at terminal stations who wish to claim their reserved seats must be available for boarding at least 20 minutes prior to the advertised departure time of the train”.

He goes on to say that it is “a regular occurrence that people show up at the last minute looking to sit in their reserved seat, despite the fact that those with monthly or annual tickets are travelling on the train five days a week and have paid for their ticket, also they are asked to move as they have no way of booking a seat. Customers would appear to be uninformed of the need to show up at least 20 minutes early to claim their seat.”

Entirely unhelpful

His wife emailed Irish Rail recently about this issue and received a telling – if entirely unhelpful – response.

“Thank you for your correspondence,” it started. “Any passengers who hold an annual ticket are not guaranteed a seat on-board, just like a passenger who purchases a ticket from the TVM [ticket vending machine] /Booking Office, their ticket only ensures that they have a valid ticket to travel & that they can board the service.

“I have forwarded your comments onto the District Office regarding the capacity issue and notified the seat reservation manager regarding the non-display of seat reservations for his records.

“I would also like to assure you senior management are very aware of this issue and monitor all services daily but regrettably unless substantial investment is made by the Government to purchase additional carriages the crowding [sic] will continue.”

So, as Roger says, senior management are “very aware of this issue” and that makes him wonder “why in the first instance they have not or perhaps cannot consider some signage on trains to remind passengers of the need to show up at least 20 minutes early to claim their seat. It’s also interesting to see that the customer care representative has blamed the Government for a lack of investment in their infrastructure as the reason behind the overcrowding. Our rail service is important for both commuters and other passengers, perhaps this issue is one that you could raise with Irish Rail for the benefit of all passengers.”

We contacted Irish Rail and its spokesman Barry Kenny said season ticket holders can opt to reserve seats only for specific journeys but he accepted “this isn’t practical as it would be a significant additional cost”.

Heavily discounted

He said the nature of peak commuting “does involve seating and standing, and it is not practical to reserve individual seats, not least because this would restrict the flexibility for commuters to travel on different services each day should they choose. Season tickets are heavily discounted, and represent the lowest cost per journey of all tickets sold, with tax relief also available if purchased through the Taxsaver scheme.”

He said Irish Rail does not sell all carriages online for reservations, “ensuring there are unreserved carriages for holders of existing tickets, such as season tickets, return portions of open returns etc. We are in the process of increasing staffing on board trains, which will benefit longer-distance commuters in particular in ensuring customers are informed when boarding of carriages without reservations, and ensuring pre-booked seats aren’t occupied. Of course, ensuring seat reservations are displayed is crucial: we continually work to do this and have a very high reliability of the system now.”

He concluded by saying Irish Rail was working with the National Transport Authority "to secure investment to allow us to refurbish disused carriages and order new carriages to ensure we have the trains to keep pace with the rising demand we are seeing."

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor