'The city was horrendous' - Traffic at a 'standstill' across the country with gridlocks and packed buses
It was a morning of misery for commuters as the Irish Rail strike led to gridlock on streets and packed buses.
Over 150,000 rail passengers knew in advance that their travel plans would be affected, however thousands of Dublin Bus passengers also found themselves caught up in the chaos this morning.
Conor Faughnan, head of consumer affairs with the AA, said the strife started in Dublin’s outer commuter belt and just got worse closer to the city centre.
“The 150,000 people who normally travel by rail had to force themselves onto the buses. This meant if the buses are full out in the suburbs they can do nothing but drive all the way into the city full. We had reports this morning from bus passengers saying buses were passing them by at bus stops because they were already full.”
In a morning of severe traffic delays, the worst affected route was the N11.
“The N11 route from Wicklow all the way into the city was horrendous - from well south of Greystones, all the way into Dublin city centre, as was all the parallel routes, particularly the Rock Road,” said Mr Faughnan.
“The N4, N7, M1, M50 were all busy this morning. Right across the greater Dublin area, everyone commuting felt a level of frustration.”
He pointed out that this time of the year, as the schools return from their mid-term break and in the run-up to Christmas, is already a busy time for traffic and that the rail strike just made a bad situation even worse.
“The rail strike worsened the situation significantly. On an ordinary day if we don’t have a rail strike, we still have a problem with public transport capacity. Even on a good day there’s a physical short-fall. The workhorse that is Dublin Bus is already doing everything that it can.”
On the Howth Road at the bus stop that serves the 29a, 31a, 31b and 32 buses there was a large number of commuters at 8am.
“I’ve been here ten minutes and three buses have gone by and could not stop because they were full,” said Sandra Kater (45).
“I’m going to Stephen’s Green and I’ve had to tell my team I will be late. I might start walking,” she told Independent.ie.
“I know people strike for a reason, but this has so much impact on everyone. It is huge,” Sandra added as another bus went by without stopping and she put her Leap card back in her wallet.
It was the same situation for Kylie Mooney (29) who was trying to commute to the city centre for work.
“Last week I saw 13 buses in a row go by here without stopping. I’ve just contacted someone to come and collect me and give me a lift,” she said.
In Fairview the situation was the same.
Bus after bus drove past the busy stop where the cycle lane was bustling with two-wheel commuters.
Colm Meagher (50) decided to walk into town instead of wait for a bus.
“You’d normally get a bus no problem, but three or four have gone by now and haven't stopped,” he said.
He said the train drivers were right to strike.
“It’s an inconvenience, but an acceptable inconvenience for me. Fair play to them for striking for what they believe in, but somebody should step in now and sort it out,” he said.
Meanwhile in Cork commuters suffered renewed traffic headaches as Iarnrod Éireann staff staged the second of their five scheduled 24 hours strikes.
While Cork is less dependent on commuter rail services than Dublin, the loss of InterCity and urban rail services to Cobh, Mallow and Midleton resulted in heavier traffic on roads into the city and increased congestion.
One caller to Cork radio station 96FM estimated that the rail strikes add between 10 and 20 minutes to journeys into Cork city at peak rush hour.
The heaviest congestion was reported at Dunkettle Roadabout and at the Commons Road.
However, worst hit by the strikes have been foreign tourists unaware of the impending rail stoppages.
Two US tourists were shocked to arrive at Kent Station today to discover that all rail services were suspended until Wednesday.
"We were planning to travel to Dublin for the last three days of our Irish vacation," Pat Hanratty from Chicago said.
"We didn't realise there was a rail strike because we weren't listening to radio or buying newspapers.
"We will have to get a bus to Dublin now so, I suppose, it will cost us about three or four wasted hours.
"But it could have been a lot worse - at least we are not flying back until Saturday."
Cork business groups including Cork Chamber of Commerce and Cork Business Association expressed concern that any protracted rail dispute could hit the vital Christmas trade period.
Three more strike days are planned for November 14, 23 and December 8. Irish Rail has also suggested that there could be more strike action over the Christmas period.
Irish Rail has confirmed that any customer who purchased a ticket for today is entitled to a full refund.
Commuters who have booked tickets for any of the upcoming scheduled strike days are also entitled to full refunds from Irish Rail. Customers who have purchased tickets for those dates will see their bookings automatically cancelled. A full refund will be issued a week prior to the date of their planned journey.
No further bookings will be accepted on proposed strike days.
Those with monthly or annual tickets can apply to Irish Rail for a refund for the days their commute was affected by strike action. A form will become available on the Irish Rail website to apply for refunds after the planned days of strike action.
Irish Rail workers want a 3.75pc a year pay rise over three years, to match wage hikes recently given to Luas and Dublin Bus workers.
Talks had been ongoing between unions and company management at the Workplace Relations Commission earlier this month, but they failed to reach an agreement.
Three more days of action are planned in the dispute, an action that a SIPTU spokesperson said was 'regrettable'.
SIPTU TEAC Organiser, Greg Ennis, said: “Regrettably there has been no initiative taken by either the management of Irish Rail or the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Shane Ross, in seeking to find a solution to this dispute.
“Our members do not wish to be returning to the picket lines tonight but they have been left with no alternative. They remain resolute and strong in their belief that it is only by conducting industrial action that their concerns about the future of the company and the failure of staff to receive a pay rise in 10 years will be adequately highlighted.”
He added: “It is time for the Minister for Transport to accept his responsibilities and commence a process involving all the stakeholders to ensure that the crisis in Irish Rail is speedily resolved. If he continues to sit on his hands and do nothing the current dispute will worsen, with three more days of industrial action already scheduled with a further escalation in the lead up to Christmas an unfortunate but very real possibility.”
Also speaking yesterday, Iarnród Eireann said that they remain committed to the WRC process.
"Iarnród Éireann remains committed to this process," they said in a statement "and to resolving this claim through dialogue, and through the industrial relations machinery of the state. Customers should not be disrupted in any way while this process – set out by the Labour Court – has not yet been concluded, and we urge trade unions to join us in referring the outstanding issues to the Labour Court.
"Iarnród Éireann has offered a 1.75pc increase for one year to employees, to be facilitated by measures including performance management, absenteeism management, revisions to redeployment policy and payroll. It committed to discussing more substantive productivity issues to fund further improvements in earnings beyond the one year agreement in a defined period."
Speaking yesterday, Minister for Transport Shane Ross said: “I sincerely call on all parties to the Iarnród Éireann pay dispute to continue to use the services of the Labour Court and the WRC. It is vital for the travelling public – and also for the staff and for the company itself – that public transport is sustained, and that the dispute is resolved in a realistic, fair and workable manner”.