Ireland by Rail

by Bernard McCormick Tuesday, September 25, 2012 No Comment(s)


Compared to the United States, Ireland is not a terribly advanced country. Parts of it are. Major cities, notably Dublin, have excellent roads and striking (but not very tall) modern buildings and sports venues that compare with the best we have. This alongside churches and castles that go back centuries, and at least one bar where the Vikings used to enjoy a taste.

Out in the country, however, there are places where you are back in the 1800s, with lanes so narrow that cars cannot pass without one pulling off the hard surface. But then those areas do not have that many cars either. But in one respect, even in rural areas, Ireland sets an example that should be followed in the U.S. Its public transportation is outstanding. Most of the people attending the Notre Dame-Navy game in September arrived on a rapid transit system that compares with the best in this country. You can’t get to the former Joe Robbie Stadium like that.

But what really is impressive is the intercity train system. It connects Dublin with the major cities in all directions, and is a model of what Florida should have, and might someday when the plans for a Miami-Orlando train become reality, and when Tri-Rail eventually switches service to the Florida East Coast tracks. The Irish trains are sleek, comfortable and run on time. They look like the bullet trains of Europe and Asia. But they run on tracks that go back to the earliest days of railroads – not the tremendously expensive systems that bullet trains require.

Our first ride was from Dublin north to Belfast, where there is a connection at the same station to a train to Derry, but the last leg of that journey was out of service as the track is being modernized. After a few days in Donegal, the land of the family ancestors, we headed to Galway. This trip was by bus, for Donegal is lightly populated, and does not warrant a train. From Galway it was back to Dublin.

These trains are fast by U.S. standards. Except for the Northeast Corridor, our trains are limited to 79 miles per hour.  In Ireland we clocked on an iPhone speeds over 90 miles an hour, and consistently in the 70s. And even with stops every 15 miles or so, the trips were quick. The railroads, though dating back to the 1800s, have few grade crossings, and hardly any in urban areas. The 106-mile ride from Dublin to Belfast (with a dozen stops) took a bit over two hours, and the scenery was so spectacular you almost wished it were longer. From Galway to Dublin, 129 miles, it was two hours and a half. And that was with eight stops along the way. 

Who needs to go any faster than that for short distances? For comparison, an Irish-style train from Fort Lauderdale to Palm Beach, with stops in Boca and Delray Beach, would take about 45 minutes. Some days you can spend that much time just getting to I-95 and back to the downtowns.  And this is without the enormous cost of building a new system. It would be necessary to eliminate some grade crossings, especially in our cities along the route, but that cost is minimal compared to constructing a new system to accommodate bullet trains.

When it comes to getting from town to town, the New World has much to learn from the Old.

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