Friday 19 December 2014

10 Best: Irish train rides

Published 24/09/2011 | 05:00

All aboard! Pól Ó Conghaile picks his favourite rail trips through the countryside

Derry to Coleraine

Michael Palin described the journey between Derry and Coleraine as one of the most beautiful train rides in the world. The first stretch of that route is, in many ways, the sweetest. The train follows the River Foyle into the countryside, whizzing along the sandy Benone Strand before passing beneath the Mussenden temple through one of the country's longest tunnels.

Hop off at the quaint station of Castlerock for a beach picnic or to explore local National Trust properties. It's a coastal cracker.

Details: Tel: 048 9066 6630; translink.co.uk.

Journey time: 45 minutes,

Price: £12.50/€14.30 (adult return).

Full steam ahead

The Railway Preservation Society of Ireland (RPSI) keeps a host of real-life Thomas the Tank Engines that you can join on a schedule of routes north and south of the border.

Coming up next are a series of Santa Specials leaving Belfast and Portadown (the Irish routes are sold out) on December 3, 4, 10, 11, 13, 17 and 18. Blasts of steam and chug-along nostalgia aren't the only reason tickets are quickly snapped up -- dining cars include a full bar serving draught Guinness.

Details: steamtrainsireland.com.

Journey time: Varies.

Prices: €18 (Santa Special).

Dublin to Rosslare

The coastal jaunt from Dublin to Rosslare is arguably the most scenic of all Irish rail journeys.

Pick your highlight: the Avoca viaduct? Killiney Bay?

That slow passage along the waterfront in Wexford town?

In the latest endorsement of the route, Michael Portillo recently travelled the tracks for a future episode of BBC2's 'Great Railway Journeys' series.

The train terminates at Rosslare Europort, but we recommend disembarking at Wexford for a mosey, before catching the return trip.

Details: Tel: 1850 366 222; irishrail.ie.

Journey time: Three hours, depending on stops.

Price: €29.40 (monthly return).

Waterford & Suir Valley Railway

It's a small train. And a small track. But the Waterford & Suir Valley Railway is a big idea -- a community heritage project taking passengers for a jaunt along the old Waterford to Dungarvan line.

The station is Kilmeaden, the ticket office is an old train carriage and several dinky carriages are tugged along a hidden stretch of the River Suir by a Simplex locomotive that helped excavate the Channel Tunnel.

It shuts on September 30, but there's a 'spooky express' for Halloween.

Details: Tel: 051 384058; wsvrailway.ie.

Journey time: 50 minutes.

Price: €8.50/€4.

Dublin to Sligo

Departing Dublin's Connolly Station, this line passes through the Phoenix Park before following the Royal Canal towards Maynooth.

The midlands stretch varies between low-lying countryside, stops in Mullingar and Longford and close brushes with bodies of water such as Lough Bofin, before crossing the River Shannon at Carrick-on-Shannon. The approach to Sligo is from the south -- watch out for Knocknarea, atop of which Queen Maeve is said to be buried, before disembarking.

Details: See irishrail.ie.

Journey time: Thee hours and five minutes (depending on stops).

Price: €44 (monthly return).

Cork to Cobh

Departing Kent Station, the journey to Cobh lasts just 24 minutes, but boasts more scenic gems than the entire Cork-Dublin InterCity route.

The route makes its way over the Belvelly Channel, with stops including Little Island, Fota Wildlife Park and Carrigaloe, before arriving into Cobh's redbrick railway station.

This port town was the final departure point for RMS Titanic on its ill-fated voyage in 1912, and an exhibition in the station tells the story of emigration from the town.

Details: Tel: 1850 366 222; irishrail.ie.

Journey time: 24 minutes.

Price: €6.55 (day return).

Dublin to Belfast

The viaduct over the Malahide estuary hit the news for all the wrong reasons two years ago, when a section of the track plunged into the water moments after two rush-hour commuter trains passed over it.

Thankfully, it's back to being a scenic highlight of this InterCity route jointly operated by Northern Ireland Railways and Iarnród Éireann.

After Malahide, keep your eyes open for two other viaducts, one crossing the River Boyne at Drogheda and the other, the 18-arch Craigmore Viaduct, stretching a full quarter-mile through Co Armagh countryside.

Details: See irishrail.ie or translink.co.uk/enterprise.

Journey time: Two hours and 15 minutes (depending on stops).

Price: €55 (monthly return).

Dublin to Galway

The best is kept for last on this InterCity staple. After swinging past Oranmore, the train hits a coastal stretch along Galway Bay where, on a good day, views stretch as far as the hills of the Burren in Co Clare.

Prior to that, the gorgeous iron railway bridge over the River Shannon at Athlone is an engineering marvel -- it dates from 1850 -- and the boggy midlands bring their own, slow-burning charm, before the train crosses Lough Atalia and lands passengers at Eyre Square.

Details: Tel: 1850 366 222; irishrail.ie.

Journey time: Two hours and 40 minutes (depending on stops).

Price: €48 (monthly return).

Howth to Greystones

During rush hour, Dublin's Dart trains are uncomfortably crammed and sweaty. Off-peak, however, they transform into mobile viewing platforms along Dublin Bay. And what views!

Think of Killiney Bay, clickety-clacking through the Aviva Stadium, or the cliff-hugging coastal section from Bray to Greystones.

There are elevated views over the north inner-city (not to mention the leafy gardens of Dublin 4) and no shortage of cafés and coastal walks in both Howth and Greystones.

Details: Tel: 1850 366 222; irishrail.ie.

Journey time: One hour and 18 minutes (without changes).

Price: €4.40/€1.85 (single fare).

The West Clare Railway

The West Clare Railway enjoyed a colourful career before its closure in 1961 -- the original line inspired Percy French's 'Are ye Right There, Michael?' -- and this restored section, a labour of love by local man Jackie Whelan, is as much a trip down memory lane as a fun-sized, 4km train ride.

Trips depart by the original Moyasta station house and, like the Fintown Railway in Donegal or the Lartigue Monorail in Listowel, are as much a testament to community spirit as the heyday of rural railways.

Details: Tel: 065 905 1284; westclarerailway.ie.

Journey time: 20 minutes.

Price: €7/€3.

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