Rail­ing against threat to trains

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - The Letter I Wish I’d Sent - Carlo Ge­bler Carlo Ge­bler is a writer, a teacher at the Os­car Wilde Cen­tre for Ir­ish Writ­ing at Trin­ity Col­lege and a men­tor to pris­on­ers in North­ern Ire­land work­ing on be­half of the Prison Arts Foun­da­tion

IHEARD Leo Varad­kar on the ra­dio last year: he spoke of the mys­tique of the rail­way, boasted he’d ac­tu­ally been on a train ear­lier that day so knew of what he spoke, and then added (sternly) that all over the coun­try of Ire­land there were sta­tions and lines that weren’t be­ing used and rail­way work­ers who were be­ing paid to sit around do­ing noth­ing.

Ob­vi­ously, he implied, he would like to cut all this waste out by clos­ing lines and sta­tions, which would spare the Ir­ish tax­payer a great deal of un­nec­es­sary ex­pense — though of course to do this he would need to be in power.

I com­mute from Sligo to work in Dublin at Trin­ity Col­lege and the Amer­i­can Col­lege.

In the morn­ings, I usu­ally get the 6.43 out of Dro­mod: this leaves Sligo at 5.45 and is usu­ally a fifth full by the time it ar­rives at Dro­mod.

There are of­ten 40 pas­sen­gers and more on the plat­form wait­ing to board at Dro­mod at 6.43. By the time the train gets to Dublin it is rammed: it is com­mon to see pas­sen­gers who have got on at En­field, Kil­cock or Maynooth stand­ing all the way into Con­nolly.

In the evenings, I get the 7.05 to Sligo: again, as in the morn­ing, pas­sen­gers are nu­mer­ous — you need to get on board at least 15 min­utes before de­par­ture from Con­nolly to be sure of a seat.

Af­ter Mullingar the train emp­ties quite a bit, but will still be quite full. I’ve of­ten alighted at Dro­mod (es­pe­cially if it’s a Fri­day) along­side 60 other pas­sen­gers.

They say about 40,000 in­ter-rail pas­sen­gers (I’m leav­ing out the fig­ures for those who used the Dart or the Com­muter ser­vices) use Ir­ish Rail daily, most of whom are go­ing to Dublin, and I’d be one of them.

But me and all those pas­sen­gers wait­ing at Dro­mod at 6.43 may not even show up in the statis­tics.

I have been told ticket sales fig­ures are based on sales at the book­ing of­fice, while tickets sold at the vend­ing ma­chines out­side sta­tions aren’t in­cluded (for the 6.43 at Dro­mod, every­one uses the vend­ing ma­chine).

Could Ir­ish Rail re­ally not in­clude ma­chine sales in their sales stats?

It seems in­cred­i­ble, but that’s what I’m told. If true, then there are more in­ter-city users than is re­ported: but even if that’s not the case, 40,000 peo­ple go­ing to Dublin daily by train are 40,000 peo­ple not us­ing cars to travel to Dublin, and that can only be a good thing.

Once a year, Ir­ish Rail does a snap­shot of every sta­tion — a pic­ture of ac­tiv­ity at a cer­tain time. It seems to me that Ir­ish Rail in­vari­ably do the snap­shot at a time the sta­tion is qui­etest: 3pm on a Tues­day in Novem­ber ap­pears to me to be their favourite time, be­cause that’s when there is no one around. They won’t do 7.30am or 8am on a Mon­day in late Septem­ber, when sta­tions are mobbed by students go­ing to Dublin.

I would also point out that though it’s easy to pull some­thing out (a rail­way line, for ex­am­ple), it is dif­fi­cult to put it back. It also in­cred­i­bly waste­ful to take it out, only to re­store it later.

We tore up our tram lines in Dublin in the 1950s be­cause we were so cer­tain the car was the future. Now we’re put­ting them back.

The way we are head­ing, it ap­pears we are about to re­peat the mis­take with our rail­ways.

Trains, es­pe­cially our ru­ral and west of Ire­land ser­vices, are in se­vere dan­ger of clo­sure.

We can tell our­selves that by clos­ing them and tear­ing them up we will save money, but we will even­tu­ally end up hav­ing to re­in­state them. We will also, by tear­ing them up, ag­gra­vate the re­sent­ment that ex­ists in the those parts of Ire­land that aren’t Dublin or the east.

Those of us liv­ing in the prov­inces see Dublin get­ting ser­vices and lines of­ten at the be­hest of com­mer­cial in­ter­ests: the re­open­ing of the Phoenix Park tun­nel is a case in point.

We should be mak­ing the rail sys­tem work for the whole coun­try and to do that we have to sup­port rail out­side Dublin and the east. We also need to take freight off the roads and put it back on the rail­ways.

And we need to re­mem­ber that it is be­com­ing more and more ex­pen­sive to live in Dublin.

Peo­ple who can’t af­ford to live there (and I’m one of them) com­mute to work in Dublin and the rail­way is the best way of get­ting there.

A fi­nal point: vot­ers in the coun­try at large (and Dublin too, for that mat­ter) are go­ing to be in­clined to sup­port a party that cat­e­gor­i­cally com­mits it­self to pre­serv­ing what we have.

They will not be in­clined to sup­port a party that cat­e­gor­i­cally com­mits to cut­ting what we have.

A party that wants to im­prove or aug­ment rail ser­vices is go­ing to be even more at­trac­tive to vot­ers (but note I didn’t say that).

My fee­ing is that the prom­ise to keep what we have (in­clud­ing re­open­ing moth­balled lines) will be enough. Later on, and money al­low­ing, new lines can be built.

But right now, just keep­ing what we have will be suf­fi­cient.

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