Train in vain: On the overcrowded sardine can from Westport
At the height of the tourism season, is it too much to ask Irish Rail to add more carriages?
Aine Ryan on the platform after getting off the overcrowded Westport train on its arrival at Heuston Station. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times
It’s chaos and we are only in Ballyhaunis. I’m on the 9.45am train from Westport to Dublin Heuston and there are only three measly carriages and the aisles are already filling up fast with those who have nowhere to sit.
I hadn’t even had my coffee on my arrival in the lashing rain, but surely Barry Kenny [corporate communications manager at Irish Rail] et al know this is still the height of the tourism season along the Wild Atlantic Way and Westport is a honeypot for visitors.
Despite the fact that Irish Rail was hauled over the coals about serious overcrowding – sardines in a tin – on this route on Sunday morning last, it’s happening again. Blame all those students and young people heading to the Post Malone gig tonight in the RDS. But, to be fair to them, they tell me they booked their seats days ago.
As my wise companion sitting beside me observes: “When we booked our tickets three days ago, the train was almost booked out. Could Irish Rail not see that and add more carriages?”
She and her friends are students in Dublin and clearly have become inured to the foibles of Irish Rail.
“They don’t seem to cop on that when there is clear demand they should respond with more carriages,” her friend says.
We are sitting in Roscommon when a crackly voice comes over the intercom. There’s an apology and a bus from Athlone for all those people who don’t have seats.
But as my student companion observes: “Why didn’t they just put in enough carriages in the first place?”
So we have crossed the Shannon and we can breathe again. There is a mass exodus in Athlone for that eleventh-hour miracle of a bus. However, all the good-humoured students heading to the big shmoke for some revelling stay aboard – seats or no seats. Ballina boys Matthew Walsh, Dillon Kelly and Peter Timlin are having a great chat about school and holidays and girls. Of course, there’s talk about Mayo football, too – well, they haven’t gone away, you know.
Peter Timlin says: “This is really shocking for older people. I don’t get how if they see the train is heavily booked online, why they can’t add more carriages. It’s crazy.”
We’re stopped in Tullamore and the boys have been offered a seat by an escaping mammy and her babes in arms. But ochón, only minutes later they are back standing as the legal entitlees arrive onboard with rucksacks and bags.
The laughter continues as they work out how to get across the city from Heuston to the RDS. Should they, perhaps, stop along the way for some libation?
Meanwhile, way back in the Wild West, one local politician is pretty pissed off. Westport Fianna Fáil councillor Brendan Mulroy, who took to the airwaves after he survived last Sunday’s iron horse pilgrimage from Mayo, texts this disgruntled passenger: “I am shocked that Irish Rail have not taken the warning of last weekend seriously. I have contacted the HSA again this morning. An urgent investigation needs to take place.”
And, for this weary public transport traveller, there is the soothing thought of a medicinal lunchtime brandy in the bar at Heuston. The overcrowded train is running almost on time for my connection to Cork Kent at 2pm.