GOD Almighty, the country is gone bonkers! Celebrity status is wallowing in having cold water thrown on it, and those of us who aren’t celebrities are being left out in the cold. I’m not sure where the real heroism lies, if it isn’t with the Irish rail workers who – instead of the soaked celebrities – have become the butt of our latest outpouring of national opprobrium.
On Sunday, for instance, thousands of football fans were outraged at having to change their travel plans because ‘selfish’ Irish Rail workers went on strike on the day of the All-Ireland football semi-final decider. They plan to do the same on All-Ireland hurling final day, which is the ultimate treachery. We all know where our priorities lie, but do we have to be so uppity about it?
I’d love to know what Jim Larkin would think of people whinging over being “inconvenienced” because of a strike by workers who look set to have their pay packets docked by up to six per cent at a time when the rest of the country is lining up for a pay rise. Many of the whingers are young people who studied CSPE at school, but obviously the course didn’t include anything about industrial relations or the rights of workers. Others are Travel Pass holders like me, who are absolutely furious whenever our privileges are threatened. I only have the pass for a short time, and the thoughts of Irish Rail going belly up before I’ve even managed to make proper use of it would kill me.
Now, of course, there are two sides to every story, but if Irish Rail is facing bankruptcy, I don’t think they can put all the blame on the payroll bill. Some of their services - like the intercity Limerick/Dublin express – are streamlined and utterly efficient, and presumably making money. Others - like the Limerick/ Ballybrophy service - are woeful and badly supported by the public. I took the early morning train from Birdhill to Ballybrophy a few months ago and I thought I was travelling on a chugging ‘iron horse’ across the Wild West. At one stage I was convinced that half a dozen injuns had landed on the roof, the train was going so slowly.
There were shades of Percy French’s West Clare Railway too – but unfortunately there was none of the atmosphere. It took us half the day to get to Ballybrophy, and then we had to wait on the platform in the middle of nowhere, hoping that another train would come along and pick us up before the injuns came back. Thankfully, it did. Along came a sleek, streamlined monster - the last word in luxury - travelling at what looked like the speed of sound. Only we couldn’t find a seat on it when we boarded and some of us had to stand.
No great inconvenience, though, because we were in Dublin in half the time it took us to come from Birdhill to Ballybrophy.
Now, what I’m trying to say is that in this day and age, when we’re all in a big hurry, Irish Rail can’t expect to make money from a two tier transport service, especially the tier that is far from comfortable and takes so long to get you from A to B.
There were only a few passengers on the train, and most of them hopped on in Roscrea. I felt so bad about it that I was going to offer to pay for my ticket to help keep the line open.
I was one of the first passengers to use the line when it was first revived amid great expectations, a few years ago. I travelled to work on the train every day from Birdhill – mainly to avoid all the parking tickets I was accumulating every week in the city. Even then, it was a bit weird. Sometimes it didn’t turn up at all, and we’d be told that the train was held up somewhere near Silvermines, because of cows on the line. Actually one time we were traumatised to hear that a cow had been hit.
On another occasion, travelling home in the evening, I found that I was the only passenger on the train. I was mortified passing the level crossing at Lisnagry in case anyone driving on the N7 would spot me. But what caused me most concern was the realisation that cash strapped Irish Rail was spending a fortune getting me home.
For all that, this line does have a social function – not to talk of a political one – and could be a profitable service if it was a bit more attractive.
But calling on people to support it is futile until they upgrade the line, improve the travel time and make the carriages a bit more comfortable. At the moment it’s very far from being the ‘Dart of the Mid West’.
In the face of such inconsistencies then, maybe we could suffer the inconvenience and be at least a bit more considerate and respectful towards the workers who have to take industrial action to protect their livelihoods. And if we really feel like venting our rage, those of us who don’t enjoy any kind of celebrity status and feel a bit left out of the ice bucket phenomenon currently sweeping the land, could throw a few buckets of ice over our own heads and make a donation to help save Irish Rail from meltdown.