I HAD an appointment in Tralee on Friday at 3.15pm. It meant taking the 11.00 rail service from Dublin Heuston. Its schedule arrival time in Tralee was 2.58pm. It would take me less than 10 minutes to walk to the venue.
The train was full. There was a large number of senior citizens on the train, which meant they were availing of their free travel passes. Somewhere south of Sallins I overheard an elderly lady talking about her holiday in the Caribbean to be quickly corrected by the man beside her, saying that they had been in the Canaries.
The train arrived on time in Mallow, where passengers for Tralee changed trains. The Tralee train was due to leave Mallow at 1.30pm. It was a relatively new train - a South Korean built rail car. Anyone who uses the Dublin Cork railway will have noticed that in recent years Irish Rail has built a dedicated workshop south of Portlaoise, which is dedicated to servicing this fleet of rail cars.
It was 1.30 and the train was still at the platform. People were standing on the train. The seat reservation digital display system was out of order so passengers who had no reservations were sitting in seats that most probably were booked. Others with bookings were standing and annoyed. The doors of the train were closed and the air conditioning was not working.
1.45 and still not a move. People were beginning to get 'edgy'. Sitting opposite me were a German couple. They were obviously going on a walking holiday in south Kerry. They were reading their holiday guide and a book on walking tours.
Circa 1.50 the driver did tell us that there was a problem with the braking system on the train. Modern trains use an air brake that requires the brakes building up air in the system. Our train was not managing to do that so there was no way we could move off.
At about 2pm people were beginning to get more agitated and the woman who mistook the Canaries for the Caribbean was talking about calling the Joe Duffy Show to explain her plight on the stationary train. Sometime about 2.10 Irish Rail decided that our train was going nowhere and buses arrived to bring passengers to Tralee and all the intermediate stations. The German couple opposite me took it in their stride and as the woman was getting off the train she commented in a friendly and nice way that it could happen anywhere. And off the two of them went to the bus with not a bother on them.
The Irish lady with the free travel pass was greatly agitated and giving out hell that this could only happen in Ireland and that probably all the bosses at Irish Rail are living in colossal houses and never use the train but travel about in their big company cars. It was now approximately 2.20 and I decided that there was no way I could get to Tralee on time for my appointment and made the decision to return on the next up train back to Heuston.
Irish Rail could not have been more pleasant and caring. They supplied me with a complimentary single ticket back to Dublin and assured me that the company would listen to my case when I explained to the them that I had missed my appointment. Of course the State has an obligation to care for its citizens, to see to it that there are adequate health, educational, social facilities available for all its citizens.
But it did cross my mind on that stationary train in Mallow it's hardly a Godgiven right that the State is obliged to ferry pensioners all over the country for free, especially if you have spent the last few weeks in the Caribbean, or even the Canaries.
A special word of thanks to the Station Master in Mallow and the ticket agent. If I had one quibble with Irish Rail it would be; how safe is it to run passenger trains with no Irish Rail personnel travelling on the train? Commiseration to the Irish Rail personnel at the platform, who had to listen to loads of silly guff from a number of Irish passengers holding free travel passes.