Train Travel in Ireland
The train network in Ireland is not really a “net” – it is more like a fan, with trains radiating primarily from a central point (Dublin). The outer destinations are largely unconnected.
For example to go from Galway to Limerick, a distance of about 64 miles by road, involves going almost back to Dublin, changing train and then starting out for Limerick, which by road would be a journey of 187 miles.
This is somewhat compensated for by bus services connecting outer regions, but does make train travel a frustrating experience at times. There are also considerable portions of the country not served by trains at all.
Trains in Ireland – Overview
The rail network in Ireland is run by Irish Rail, a state owned company. Trains are in general punctual and comfortable, though some are due to be upgraded and it is easy to see why.
Trains are often very crowded. This is especially true of:
- all trains leaving Dublin on Friday afternoon/evening and returning to Dublin on Sunday evening/Monday morning.
- Trains between Dublin and destinations within an hour to two hours away at commuter hours on weekdays.
At those times especially it is important to arrive early if you want to have a seat on your journey. Standard class seats cannot usually be reserved and are filled on a first come, first served basis – see Classic Service below for exceptions.
On crowded trains passengers unable to find seats are allowed to stand. Given that there are few or no handles for them to hold, this is a practice which has obvious dangers in the event of an accident, aside from the discomfort of traveling this way.
Tickets, Reservations and Further Information
The Irish Rail website has extensive route and timetable information.
It also has an online ticket booking system for some tickets which is frankly one of the most difficult and unwieldy online booking systems I have ever encountered, but take your chances!
You can also contact them by phone (9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday only):
From within Ireland: 1850-366222
From outside Ireland: 353 1 703 2613
There is extensive information here about types of tickets and passes that can be purchased for train travel, most of which include at least some bus travel also.
Touring Ireland by Train
Not many visitors are aware of the very good value train tours provided by Irish Rail, mainly departing from Dublin. They depart daily during the summer months, visit a wide range of destinations and there are several packages available that include accommodation.
These are an excellent and cost effective way to tour Ireland. More info
Eating on the Train
Intercity Trains will have a dining car where surprising good, if expensive, meals are served.
There are also trolleys which move through the train selling hot and cold drinks, sandwiches and snacks. Again these are expensive and the food provided is at best so-so, it may be better to take your own snacks along.
Upgraded Train Travel
There are several types of upgraded ticket, some of which cost relatively little more for a very much more comfortable trip, especially at busy times.
These are not widely advertised, even on the Irish Rail site it is very difficult to find information or prices about some of them.
This allows you to reserve a standard seat on busy trains – usually Friday evening Intercity trains.
There is a snag: a booking can only be made within 2 hours of travelling. So basically it means that instead of standing in line at those times, you book your Classic seat and then while away the waiting time spending your money in overpriced station shops and restaurants. Or maybe I am being cynical!
This is available to most destinations but not on all trains, so you will need to enquire in advance about availablility. You will have a comfortable reserved seat in a spacious carriage, with table service for dining.
Cost: An additional €10.50 per journey on top of the normal fare. Resevations can be made within 28 days of travelling. For longer journeys especially at busy times, this is well worth considering.
City Gold (Dublin-Cork), First Plus (Dublin-Belfast)
These upgraded tickets entitle you to a comfortable reserved seat in a plush and spacious carriage with table service for dining and lots of leg room. There are laptop stations, personal audio and complimentary newspapers. This service is primarily aimed at business travellers.
Cost: €29.90 per journey. Ouch! Bookable within 28 days of travelling.