Pandemic travels: On the omicron express with Irish Rail – December 2021

Off we went. We passed through Thurles where some passengers boarded. At about 16.55 we took an unscheduled stop in Ballybrophy Station. Nobody was alarmed. The train driver requested over the tannoy, that the conductor make his way to the driver’s carriage. After 30 minutes the Irish Rail conductor came through each carriage announcing that there was a train broken down in Port Laoise (our next scheduled stop). This train had to move before we could proceed. Still no cause for alarm.

Social media revealed that it was the 12.25 service that was stuck. Consequently so was the 13.25 service behind it. We were on the 15.25 service. This sounded like quite the back up outside Port Laoise. The conductor apologised for the inconvenience, but he had no idea when we would move. This was frustrating. Twitter revealed that it was a major technical fault that caused the stoppage of the 12.25 service. That train was described by frustrated passengers on board as being ‘jam packed’ (Irish Rail were operating at 100% capacity again) and that there were no working toilets as a result of the technical failure. I estimated that they had been trapped on board by almost three hours by this point. After 75 minutes in our windowless train we set off from Ballybrophy. Thankfully our driver had the savvy to open the train doors for a tiny bit of air circulation. There were no windows on this (or any) train. Which shouldn’t be an issue – unless you are in the middle of a global pandemic where the new airborne omicron variant is running rampant of course.

Limerick Junction

Our train moved for 10 minutes. It appeared that that the passengers on the 12.25 had finally been released from their chariot. We were now in their place. After three hours waiting Irish Rail decided to move the passengers on that service to the train behind it (the 13.25?) and operate only a single line into Dublin – leaving the broken train in Port Laoise. We were now stuck in Port Laoise for another hour. As previously mentioned there were no windows on the train. There was no water on this train either as the refreshments carriage remained closed because of Covid (despite trains operating at 100% capacity). I am a type 1 diabetic. I hoped my sugars wouldn’t drop. The bottle of vodka the woman in front of me was bringing with her, on her trip to see her Dublin boyfriend might stave off her thirst, but it would do nothing for my sugars.

The most frustrating aspect about the whole situation was the lack of communication from Irish Rail. I am not talking about the conductor who remained as uninformed about what was happening as the stranded passengers. He was the face of Irish Rail however so people were venting their frustration on him. I felt a great deal of sympathy for him.

Irish Rail would not confirm when we would move again. They refused to confirm why the 15.25 service (the train I was on) was allowed to leave Cork when they already knew that the earlier trains had been delayed for hours by that point. Why were people left for hours in stuffy, trains without toilets or water? Did they make any efforts to contact coach companies to move people off the trains? Would there be water provided for passengers on arrival in Heuston? Would there be antigen tests provided so that people could monitor if they caught covid on any of that afternoon’s Irish Rail Omicron Express services? Would there be contact tracing for the passengers on the trains that Irish Rail already knew would be stuck for hours when they boarded in Limerick or Cork? Would there be full refunds for all passengers? We had no idea.

Finally at about 19.30 we got moving again. We finally arrived in Dublin Heuston at 20.20 – over two hours late. Ground staff were on hand to give us a form to claim a refund. It will never be known how many cases of Covid 19 were transmitted on those big Omicron Express trains from Cork to Dublin, as Irish Rail made no effort to gather this information.

The disregard for both customer service and public health shown by Irish Rail yesterday was quite staggering.

2 thoughts on “Pandemic travels: On the omicron express with Irish Rail – December 2021

  1. I wouldn’t remotely fault the train leaving Cork as I imagine Irish Rail anticipated the line would be clear by the time you approached the Portlaoise area. What you could legitimately criticise is a failure (assuming that was case) to inform passengers of a potential delay ahead. This at least would give people a choice of making alternative arrangements.

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    1. The 12.25 would have been stalled at Port Laoise for 90 minutes by the time the 15.25 even left Cork. The failure of Irish Rail to have a plan B inn case of such situation is its responsibility. It is unrealistic I think to ask passengers to make alternative arrangements at 15.20 as they arrive in Kent Station (or Colbert Station) for a trip to Dublin.

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