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Unread 29-01-2008, 15:26   #47
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Might be worth a read

From Westmeath Examiner 19/01/2008

To hell and back on trains - commuters angry over poor service

Ronan Casey

Commuters from the Mullingar area are seething with Iarnród Éireann over what they claim to be a desperate track record of poor service on the commuter line to and from Dublin.

As the state transport provider introduces new carriages, more expensive fares and a new timetable, commuters who pay upwards of 2,600 euros per year to take the train are livid that they have not been provided with adequate answers to a litany of a complaints.

From late services to overcrowded trains, from unheated carriages to unexplained breakdowns, from false promises to a general lack of passenger information, rail commuters have suffered more than most in recent years, and the Mullingar Commuter Group which represents hundreds of commuters from the area allege that Iarnród Éireann has led them on a 12 month merry go round in 2007.

200 regular train users have signed a petition over the past year, and made comments on the service. They are angry that many of their suggestions have not been taken on board by Iarnród Éireann.

The service has been compared to that of a third world country, and the commuter group members are also livid that many of their complaints have allegedly been “swept under the carpet” by Iarnród Éireann.

The Mullingar Commuter Group, and dozens of other commuters who have contacted the Examiner in recent weeks, want at least some of the following: - An evening service from Dublin to Mullingar. It was suggested that it could be one of the later Maynooth trains which would continue onto Mullingar (or Longford) where it would sit overnight making a new early morning service a possibility.

- An earlier service from Mullingar which would arrive in Dublin before 8am. Commuters feel this could be achieved by either the above, or by moving a 6.45am service from Enfield departing from Mullingar instead at 6.20am.

- A manned helpdesk as commuters feel they are constantly moved between spokespersons. They want to see Iarnród Éireann hire a passenger liaison official. Commuter Derek Newcombe says “Iarnród Éireann customer service is designed to deter passengers from contacting them”.

- Extra carriages, particularly on the 18:05 home from Dublin. One commuter claimed overcrowding on it is so bad that he has not had a seat between Dublin and Maynooth in over 18 months.

The Examiner has seen a log of complaints prepared by the commuter group, and many of the responses from Iarnród Éireann have proved to be contradictory, particularly in relation to timetable changes.

For example, in May 2007, commuter Antoinette Glennon wrote to Iarnród Éireann wondering if the weekday 7am service from Longford to Dublin was going to start in Sligo from the start of 2008. Michael Power of Iarnród Éireann said the company had “no plans to start it in Sligo when we change the timetable in December”. Then, in December, the company revealed that the new 07:26 service from Mullingar would, in fact, start in Sligo.

In a communication to Mullingar Commuter Group member Eleanor Maher in October 2007, Paul Slowey from Iarnród Éireann promised a much sought after night service after 7pm.

“Following various representations, we will be operating an additional service from Pearse Street Station to Mullingar at 9pm, serving all stations in between,” trumpeted Mr. Slowey. However, there was to be a quick about turn from Iarnród Éireann, who explained a few days later that “we looked seriously at operating a 9pm service, (but) due to driver and rolling stock resources, this could only be achieved by cancelling the 18:17 service beyond Maynooth.”

Heating on the train has been a big issue for commuters. Some claim there was no heat for a full three weeks in November. “The lack of heat during the winter has become an annual event,” said commuter Derek Newcombe. “This is just a total lack of respect shown by Iarnród Éireann to their passengers.”

However, it is unlikely that new trains will be laid on early in the morning as Iarnród Éireann made it clear in numerous communications that they are prioritising improvements to the stations with the greatest numbers between Maynooth and Ashtown. “Very heavy loadings are being experienced on certain trains with the result that, on occasion, passengers are being left behind at stations,” a spokesman detailed last year.

He explained that providing an extra service out of Mullingar in the morning within the current carriage resources “would require significant alterations in scheduling with either an extra set in Longford in the morning or running a very early morning service out of Dublin. With both distance and time involved this would be at the expense of passengers at intermediate stations, where the need is greatest.”

Commuters also refute Iarnród Éireann claims that the route has a punctuality rating consistently over 95%. One commuter alleges that some evenings the Dublin/Sligo services are late leaving Dublin and reaching Mullingar, but because they make up the time elsewhere on the track, by the time they reach Sligo they are not regarded as late.

A three-hour breakdown which made national headlines in early November last year was not an isolated incident, with commuters detailing several similar breakdowns which received little attention. They also claimed some of these were unexplained.

This week, Iarnród Éireann`s chief spokesperson Barry Kenny said all breakdowns are explained to passengers. He also held out some hope for further timetable changes to be taken on board. He said a 9pm service “is something we would like to introduce ourselves” and he predicted there would be demand for this “good service”. But to introduce it now, something has to give.

“With the amount of rolling stock on the line and available crews we would have to cancel the 18:17 service, which is an important service as it is. The number of people discommoded by this would far exceed the amount of people the later service would satisfy. However, as we go forward, it is certainly something we aspire to introduce, and we will certainly look at doing so in the near future as at that stage new rolling stock and train crews will be available. At the moment, we must use what we have to prioritise our peak time services.”

He indicated that a service after 7pm will be considered for the next timetable change.
He said they do take commuters` views on board when they prepare new timetables, and will continue to do so. This may see the 6.43am Enfield service move back down the line to leave Mullingar instead.

“We will certainly look at this in the future. What Mullingar passengers need to be aware of is that the service is ONLY going to expand in the future, and an extra morning service is an area we`re looking into.” He said there are “competing demands” at the moment, which is making a decision on this not feasible at present.

He admitted there has been “intermittent faults on the fleet” with their heating system, “but we have put additional maintenance resources to that and we hope to see an immediate improvement there.” He said the company has a customer services office, customer services manager and a service planning manager who all “endeavour to assist customers in every regard and will continue to do so” so there was no need to hire a liaison officer.

He concluded by saying there are no plans for extra carriages to augment the four for the 18:05 service as, by the time it leaves Maynooth, there are seats.

Last edited by ThomasJ : 29-01-2008 at 15:44.
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