Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Mullingar Train Station on track for change

By Lorraine Murphy

New carriages by the end of the year, real-time information displayed on the platforms, help for visually impaired passengers and automatic doors. These are just some of the changes happening at Mullingar Train Station. With increased fuel costs, reduced fares and more students than ever commuting from home, passenger numbers through the station have exploded in a relatively short time.

Until now, there has been little or no increase in capacity but extra carriages on the line are just one of the improvements passengers can expect this year. Gerry Fagan has worked at the train station for over 20 years. He told Topic about the upcoming improvements, the boom in travel and how times have changed at the station.

“Automatic doors are going in as we speak and we’re hoping to get electronic boards to show real-time train information in the next three to five months. New security cameras will be installed, the place has been painted, the signs are European standard and we have anti-vandal seating that can’t be destroyed. Everything is improving but we have a long way to go to catch up. Car parking facilities have gone to machines. They’re saying that the numbers travelling this year are going to be pre-Covid, back to the boom times. It’s unbelievable the amount of people travelling.”

Car parking

The car park at Mullingar Station is operated privately by APCOA. “It’s all automated now,” Gerry said, “there’s no need to get a ticket from the machine and put it on your car, it is booked by entering your car registration which they’ll check with a handheld scanner.”

Parking can be booked at prebook.apcoa.ie by selecting Mullingar train Station from the list. “Or come in to the ticket machine at the station and pay for parking by card or with cash,” Gerry said. ”You can pay by the day, week or calendar month. It’s great if it’s raining, you don’t have to go back to the car or if you’re arriving late with no time to spare.”

Not tech savvy

Automated ticketing for older or less-tech savvy people can be daunting and it might stop them travelling, but there is no need to worry according to Gerry. “Using the ticket machine can be a challenge for older people, but if you take your time, show them once or twice they fly it then. Sometimes they miss a digit or can’t find the email but if we’re here we can look up the train manifesto so there’s no need to panic. If you have booked a ticket online, just show us here, go ahead onto the train and then scan it when you arrive in Dublin. We will help but if we’re not here, there’s a phone number on every ticket machine. It’s 01-836/6222. It will take you to an operator who will talk you through it.”

Sick/ unable to travel

With huge numbers travelling, pre-booking seats is advised but what happens if you get sick and can’t travel? “Don’t print off the ticket,” Gerry said. “Contact that number 01-836/6222 and cancel it.You won’t get your full price back, you’ll get some of it, but the minute you print off the tickets, it’s too late.”

Additional needs

One of the options when booking tickets online is to request a wheelchair space ahead of time. “Here in the station we know when a train is coming with a wheelchair because we have the manifesto every day. Therefore if someone comes in with a wheelchair we’ll know if there is room for them. The very best thing to do is to book online as soon as you know you are travelling, it ensures there is a space kept for you. Book online and the earlier the better.”

If travelling with bicycles, Gerry’s advice is the same. “There is only room for two bicycles on the train. You can get six or seven cyclists coming down from Enfield who show up wanting to get the train back. They can’t travel because there’s only room for two and you can’t leave bikes in the carriages.”

Students

One of the areas in which Gerry has noticed change is student travel. “Since last September, the number of students travelling has really increased. They can’t move out of home with digs so expensive and the student fares were reduced to €8 per day. They are like shift workers this year, a crew going early in the morning and coming back early and a crew going at lunchtime and coming back in the evenings. There are so many of them travelling.”

Seat reservation

Since 2022, passengers have been able to book their seats online. Once booked, their name or reservation number appears over their seat. The system has taken time to settle but is working out well. “There are usually CSRs (Customer Service Officers) on the train coming out of Sligo and Dublin and they know who should be in what seat,” Gerry explained. “They can see if someone is sitting in a seat that’s booked from another station and they will let them know they will need to move. It’s common sense.”

Sometimes problems arise when the train is replaced and the reservations not displayed according to Gerry.

“Sometimes we have to take a train out of service and put on a different train, meaning names aren’t displayed over the seats. The train has been stopped for a reason, like a flat tyre on a car. We know it’s inconvenient and we don’t do it unless it’s necessary.”

Medical appointments and treatment

People travel on the train for a myriad of reasons, including for medical appointments and treatment. Gerry has seen many people take this journey through the station.

“It’s very unfair in this country for sick people because everything is in Dublin. They might be going to James’s for a cancer appointment, getting off in Drumcondra and walking to The Mater. You can see the stress on their faces, young and old, it’s heartbreaking but then you see something wonderful. A woman in her late twenties was going up and down for treatment for eight or nine months then stopped coming. One day she came back in and her hair had come back. She looked really great and had such a smile, it was just wonderful to see.”

Booking in the station – no seat allocation

The only way to reserve a seat on the train is to book the ticket online meaning tickets bought in the station don’t come with a seat allocation. This is an issue Gerry is aware of. “At the moment, for now, the only way to book a seat is online but we’re improving all the time. Everything in the station is highlighted grey and yellow for visually impaired people now and we have new signage on the wall.”

Major changes in the last 20 years

With over 20 years service, the biggest change Gerry has seen is in technology. “It’s a different world. From single cabins and pulling levers in the signal cabin to it all being centralised and computerised. People have changed too. They can be less likely to converse or say please or thanks, and they can dig the heels in when they are convinced they are right. The toilets can be left in a terrible state even though they are for everyone’s use, there’s no respect yet what would happen if they were closed?     

“If we continue this way, in five or six years time there could be an automated door where you go straight through and you’ll see no staff but Irish Rail are making great efforts to recruit fourteen or fifteen hundred people because they want to improve and when it comes down to it, people want to see faces, they want someone there.”

Keeping going

With all the changes in technology, passenger numbers and behaviour, it is his family that gets Gerry out of bed in the morning. “If you don’t show the kids an example by getting up and keeping going they’ll lie back and do nothing. If they see you out working, that’s what they’ll do and the characters too. You meet some great ones coming in and out every day. It’s up to yourself what you make of your day. You could come in here and be brute ignorant to everyone and go home in bad form, bringing it onto everyone. But if you come in grateful for the job that pays for the house and puts food on the table and do your job, you go home much happier!”

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