Ireland’s rail network may not stack up to the comparable infrastructure in many other European countries, but travelling Ireland by rail is an increasingly viable alternative to taking the bus, and with the right web-fares, can actually be reasonably good value.
It’s also a great way to let the picturesque scenery of Ireland pass you by as you relax and take in the sights.
Dublin - Local Rail
Only Dublin lays claim to operating an efficient and useful urban and suburban rail network.
The LUAS is the most recent initiative; a light rail tram system operating throughout the city and beyond, while the DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transport) suburban rail network connects the city centre to both the inner and outer suburbs.
The Luas Smartcard allows you to pre-pay for journeys taken on the Luas, which can be a useful way of getting in and around Dublin, while the DART offers a weekly pass to frequent travelers.
Beyond the Pale - Local Rail
Outside of Dublin not much in the way of urban rail exists, so getting around Cork, Limerick or Galway by rail is not an option. A limited suburban rail network exists in Cork, and is planned for Galway, but doesn’t serve enough of the suburbs to be useful.
The National Network
The national rail network has undergone a significant depletion since the early 19th Century with various tracks having shutdown. This is something which has been criticized as counter-productive.
There’s now just one-third of the finished railway that there was back then, with the result that large parts of the country are not served by rail, although most major cities and towns are.
Cork to Dublin
By far the most popular route connects Cork and Dublin. For tourists arriving in Dublin Airport you will have to taxi or bus it to the City (as of yet no Irish airport is connected to a railway station), but a direct line connects Dublin’s Heuston Station to Cork’s Kent Station in an average of two and a half hours and the route is renowned for its punctuality and reliability.
North and South
Those travelling around the Republic can do so fairly easily. The Intercity routes between Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway, Sligo, Waterford, and Kerry are reliable and usually punctual.
One line does operate between the Republic and the North, connecting Dublin to Belfast, but has been dogged by security and logistical problems since coming into operation, with some journeys taking a massive five hours instead of two. However, on average the journey from Dublin to Belfast takes just over one-and-a-half hours.
Railtours and Ticket Packages
For those wishing to use the network extensively, to tour around the country, CIE operate Railtours Ireland, allowing tourists to tour the country by rail over the space of a few days. Several different routes are offered at competitive prices.
For those wanting something a bit more flexible, unfortunately there’s no such thing as a week or even day pass on the national intercity routes; journeys have to be booked individually.
Prices can sometimes be prohibitive, but can be substantially reduced by booking over www.irishrail.ie. €10 (approx $12) each-way fares can often be booked between Cork and Dublin, while other intercity routes are also sometimes advertised on discount.
Regularly, though, such routes can often cost in excess of $50, and given the relatively short distances, it probably makes more sense to look for alternatives at that price.
Students holding an international student travel card can also avail of discounts, as can holders of Ianrod Eireann’s own travel-card, allowing travelling students the chance to see the country at a good price.
Although the rail network leaves a lot to be desired, particularly in its non-connection to the national airports, with a bit of online searching it can be a good and relatively inexpensive way of getting around Ireland for your stay there.
Visit Irishrail.com for more details.