Thought of driving a train through Irish countryside is pure bliss

The Way I See It

Fr Michael Commane

For the first time in its history Irish Rail is advertising for locomotive drivers outside the company. Until now all its locomotive drivers were chosen from Irish Rail staff. There may have been occasions when the job positions were also open to Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann drivers.

So, when I saw that outsiders could apply I made further investigations. I have to be honest, come out with my hands up and admit that my age may be against me, though in the advertisement the only age specification is that the applicant has to be at least 20. There is no mention of an upper age limit and we are living in a non-ageist environment. Or are we?

I spent 60 minutes answering the first part of the procedure for the job. It is an online questionnaire and test. The online application process closed on Monday January 14 and late applications will not be considered. So, if I was building up your hopes for a job as a locomotive driver, I'm afraid you will have to wait until the next time they are advertising for drivers. Note that I use the words 'locomotive driver'. No self-respecting railway driver would use the word train when the correct term is locomotive.

I never had a train set. We had a horrible teacher in first class who told us there was no such thing as Santa and that was the very year he was bringing me a train set. Santa never came that year.

But over the years I have made up for what Santa failed to bring me. In my early 30s I was teaching in Newbridge College when Irish Rail was replacing old timber sleepers with cement ones and at the same time they were putting down continuous welded rail between Newbridge and Sallins, which meant the clickety-click of rail travel would be history. During that time, I spent many hours walking stretches of the track while crews were out modernising the railway.

Later, living in Germany I experienced the introduction of their InterCity Express (ICE) trains, which are now travelling on some tracks at 320 km/h. After German reunification German Railway (Deutsche Bahn), owned by the German State, began an enormous job of rebuilding the old broken down railway system that existed in the former East Germany.

Today every German city from Aachen in the west to Dresden in the East, from Flensburg in the north to Garmisch Partenkirchen in the south is connected to the ICE system, which offers the most superlative pleasure in travel. What the Germans have done with railway infrastructure in and around Berlin in the last 29 years is mesmerising.

Irish Rail have also made giant steps in the same period. The fleet has been modernised. The signalling system upgraded. There is an hourly Dublin -Cork service, a two-hourly service between Tralee and Dublin. And there are excellent schedules between Dublin and Galway, Sligo, Limerick, Waterford, Belfast. And all these routes are served by modern rolling stock. Indeed, WiFi is now available for free on all Irish Rail InterCity services. Guess what, German Rail charges for the use of the internet.

Gosh, I'd love to be a locomotive driver. With the first hints of the days getting longer and prospects of spring in sight the thought of guiding a train through the Irish countryside is pure bliss. We need to cherish our railway.

Nearly forgot to mention I passed the first hurdle and have been invited to take the next test.