Friday, 6 December 2019

How a six-minute wait at
Limerick Junction became
a five-hour journey by rail

In the bleak mid-winter at Limerick Junction … where even the seating on the platforms is fenced off on a dark, raid-soaked night (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

On my regular journeys between Limerick and Dublin, I normally use Dublin Coach, known to most people in Limerick, Clare and Kerry as the ‘Green Bus.’

Route 300, the M7 Express, is efficient, comfortable, reliable, runs every half hour, is normally punctual and has good WiFi too.

The only intercity bus service that beats it, in recent experience, is the regular bus between Bratislava and Vienna, that runs every hour, and takes about 75 minutes, and the €5 one-way fare includes complimentary coffee and a newspaper.

But sometimes I feel guilty about using the bus. I know it would be more environmentally friendly and would help to reduce my carbon footprint. But good intentions do not always translate into action.

I had a series of church-related meetings in Limerick throughout the day. By late evening I was closer to the railway station than the bus stops at Arthur’s Quay, and decided to catch the train to Dublin.

But there was something inside me that was telling me not to. Of course, there were memories of bad experiences on the that route in the past. But I dismissed them, got a ticket, and found the doors for the 17:50 train to Dublin were closed against me just as I was about to board.

What could I do? I shrugged my shoulders, went for a double espresso, took out my laptop, and worked for the best part of an hour before going for next train at 18:50.

The signs said it was going from Platform 3. But it was leaving from Platform 4. Was this an indication of what to expect on the journey?

The timetable said the train would arrive at Limerick Junction at 19:18, with a connection train to Dublin at 19:24. This is a train from Cork and Mallow to Dublin. Limerick is the third city in the Republic of Ireland, yet there is no direct rail link with either Dublin the capital or Cork the second city. Why, even Limerick Junction is not in Co Limerick – it is actually in Co Tipperary, close to Tipperary Racecourse but 3 km outside Tipperary Town.

A six-minute wait may seem efficient. But I was soon reminded that why almost every time I opt for the train rather than a bus from Limerick to Dublin I regret my decision.

At Limerick Junction, we were told the train to Dublin was delayed. There was an incident on the line, that was never explained. We could expect a delay of an hour or an hour and a half.

On asking, I was told no replacement buses could be expected – it was too late in the day to arrange that.

Once again, I was stuck at Limerick Junction with no connecting train and no alternative bus. It seems this place is wet and freezing cold, not just in the depth of winter, but at the height of summer too.

There is no place to buy a cup of coffee, there is no shop, apart from some poorly stocked vending machines, and the one waiting room has less capacity than the average number of passengers on a train.

The perpetual repairs to the platforms mean most seating in the open spaces is fenced off. The choice is between spending 90 minutes in an over-crowded, dimly lit, sweaty waiting room, or standing in the chilly, wet winter weather, wedged between smokers and vapers.

Half an hour after being told the next train would be in half an hour, we were told to expect a train an hour later.

By the time I boarded the train to Dublin, there was no trolley service … no coffee? Nor were the phone chargers working in the carriage. Passengers left high and dry at Limerick Junction, who had been using their phones to make alternative arrangements and to contact family members were now left with uncharged phones.

I asked about this. The phone charging system can only be switched on from outside the train.

Could this be done at Portlaoise, the next station?

No, I was told. At that time of the evening the staff authorised to do this have gone home.

Gone home? Obviously they were not waiting for a train.

I took comfort in the fact that the WiFi system was available, and worked for a while on my laptop, with a little time to read Leonard Cohen’s posthumous collection of poems, The Flame, which I had brought with me.

One staff member, under pressure and feeling the tension, moved between the carriages, desperately asking whether anyone was travelling on to Dublin Airport. Their panic was imaginable.

It now seemed the train would arrive in Dublin at 10:30 or 10:40. Passengers were reminded to collect Irish Rail forms to claim a refund. But surely that was no compensation for people who travel on a Public Services card.

Of course, we had not paid for our tickets that evening. But we have paid for them through our taxes. What compensation was there for people who had made arrangements to be met but who could not recharge their phones and contact anyone late at night at the edges of Dublin’s city centre?

The staff at Heuston Station in Kingsbridge were hard-pressed, but more than helpful. Irish Rail called and paid for the taxi to Knocklyon. But a journey that should have started in Limerick at 17:50 ended in Knocklyon at 23:00. The 17:50 train from Limerick was supposed to have arrived in Dublin three hours earlier at 20:00.

The Green Bus takes less than 2½ hours to get from Arthur’s Quay to the Red Cow Luas stop. I’ll skip Limerick Junction the next time.

But if the Government is serious about cutting carbon emissions, there must be better ways of organising public transport, including more investment in Irish Rail, in rolling stock and in the facilities for passengers at stations.

‘The Flame’ by Leonard Cohen … comfort reading on the train between Limerick Junction and Dublin last night

Reading Saint Luke’s Gospel
in Advent 2019: Luke 6

‘He called his disciples and chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles’ (Luke 6: 13) … the 12 Apostles in two sets of icons in the tiny Church of the Twelve Apostles on the island of Gramvousa off the north-west coast of Crete (Photographs: Patrick Comerford; click on images for full-screen view)

Patrick Comerford

During the Season of Advent this year, I am joining many people in reading a chapter from Saint Luke’s Gospel each morning. In all, there are 24 chapters in Saint Luke’s Gospel, so this means being able to read through the full Gospel, reaching the last chapter on Christmas Eve [24 December 2019].

Why not join me as I read through Saint Luke’s Gospel each morning this Advent?

Luke 6 (NRSVA):

1 One sabbath while Jesus was going through the cornfields, his disciples plucked some heads of grain, rubbed them in their hands, and ate them. 2 But some of the Pharisees said, ‘Why are you doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?’ 3 Jesus answered, ‘Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and gave some to his companions?’ 5 Then he said to them, ‘The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.’

6 On another sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. 7 The scribes and the Pharisees watched him to see whether he would cure on the sabbath, so that they might find an accusation against him. 8 Even though he knew what they were thinking, he said to the man who had the withered hand, ‘Come and stand here.’ He got up and stood there. 9 Then Jesus said to them, ‘I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?’ 10 After looking around at all of them, he said to him, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He did so, and his hand was restored. 11 But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.

12 Now during those days he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God. 13 And when day came, he called his disciples and chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles: 14 Simon, whom he named Peter, and his brother Andrew, and James, and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, 15 and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Simon, who was called the Zealot, 16 and Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

17 He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. 18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.

20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said:

‘Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 ‘Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
‘Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.

22 ‘Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice on that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

24 ‘But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
25 ‘Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
‘Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
26 ‘Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

27 ‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32 ‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

37 ‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.’

39 He also told them a parable: ‘Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? 40 A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher. 41 Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 42 Or how can you say to your neighbour, “Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye”, when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye.

43 ‘No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; 44 for each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. 45 The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.

46 ‘Why do you call me “Lord, Lord”, and do not do what I tell you? 47 I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. 48 That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built. 49 But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.’

A prayer for today:

A prayer today (Saint Nicholas’ Day) from the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG, United Society Partners in the Gospel:

Let us pray that we may be inspired by the generous ministry of Saint Nicholas and ensure that all the needs of our community are met.

Tomorrow: Luke 7.

Yesterday: Luke 5.

The Twelve Apostles on the High Cross at Moone, Co Kildare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org