It was just after lunchtime at Dublin’s Heuston Station on Thursday and what is the main artery in Irish Rail’s transport network was teeming with activity.
Streams of passengers could be seen disembarking from a number of services, many of them visibly exhausted following their journeys. It is becoming a familiar sight – commuters stressed or irate, having been forced to stand for hours due to routine overcrowding.
Several who stopped to talk to The Irish Times described the situation as “horrendous”, with no room to move on board, elderly people on the floor between carriages, and access to toilets simply not an option.
Frances and Samantha Webb from Co Mayo travelled on the 9.45am service from Westport to Dublin with Samantha’s 10-year-old son Jamie, who was diagnosed with leukaemia in March.
“There were only three carriages,” said Samantha. “People in Roscommon couldn’t get on at all. They were left there. They put on a bus then in Athlone. It was unreal. For the time of year that’s in it, three carriages just isn’t enough.
“This is Jamie’s first time travelling on a train in a year and a half because he shouldn’t be on a train but we’d no other choice because we’re going to Barretstown for the weekend with Crumlin children’s hospital.”
Frances, who is Jamie’s aunt, said he struggled with the overcrowding. “This child is in bad health and he can’t be standing up,” she said. “This was a respite for him to get away for a few days.
“He was frustrated. His mammy brought him down to try to find a seat and he was in a panic then because I was up the other end of the train, so his mammy had to ring me and I had to make my way down to them.
“It was terrible. We were all like sardines in a can on top of one another. If there was an accident or an emergency, where was everyone? We’re standing and standing and standing. Everyone was stressed out.
“It’s a laughing stock down the west. I’m on the train regularly and it’s always like that. It’s pure ridiculous now. The only thing we can do down the west now is have a protest. It’s a pure disgrace to be honest. It’s pure ridiculous every time you come on it.”
Jackie Hennigan from Ballina said the situation was exacerbated by young people consuming alcohol on board. “They weren’t causing trouble in fairness to them but, oh my God, the overcrowding was shocking,” she said. “It was horrendous.”
Her husband, Kevin Hennigan, said they were on their feet for three hours after getting on the train at Manulla, Co Mayo just after 10am. “There were 29 people standing in the area between two carriages,” he said.
“When we got to Athlone, they took them off and they put them on a bus to take them here. After another stop or two it was jammed again.
“There was an old woman of about 70 beside me and she was actually sitting down on the floor where the two carriages join because she couldn’t stand up. She had to get off in Athlone. She wasn’t able to come to Dublin.
"It was all the way down the aisles. You couldn't move. You couldn't go to the toilet. You couldn't go anywhere. People were gone demented. People were trying to squeeze three people on to a seat instead of two. I'll never travel on Irish Rail again."
Jim Byrne from Co Kildare said he was supposed to meet friends who were to come aboard at Athlone but they never made it. “They couldn’t get on,” he said. “They had to get on a bus to Dublin so I’ll have to try to arrange to meet them somewhere else.
“I was between carriages so it was hard to see exactly how many people were on board, but it was a lot.”
Irish Rail spokesman Barry Kenny said: “We do monitor numbers on board and drivers report to us. Trains can safely accommodate heavy loading, but when it’s over a long distance, we want to ensure that everyone has a seat.
“Obviously it’s extremely uncomfortable if you’re standing for long distances. We apologise to people who experience that, but [we] are working to maximise available capacity and urgently acquire new trains.”